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Beaters’ pay and the living wage

David Frost delves into the impact of Real Time Information (RTI) on beaters’ pay

woman with pheasant on shoot

The new shooting code enforces that all shot game should be handled as meat for the food chain

Most of us go beating or picking-up for fun and don’t think of it as a form of employment with formal beaters’ pay. There are few exceptions to this principle, such as in areas where shoots form an important part of the seasonal employment pattern – grouse moors in summer and shoots in tourist areas in the winter, for example. Officialdom sees it differently.

Since 1999 there has been a national minimum wage, now called the “living wage”. It’s currently £7.20 per hour for those aged over 25 and less for younger people, dwindling to £3.87 for the under 18s. There are few exemptions from the need to pay the living wage unless the employment is very casual and the sum paid is a token gesture merely covering expenses such as petrol and a packed lunch. Most shoots, especially those doing let days, will not be covered by this exemption so will have to pay the “living wage”.

In practice

What does it mean in practice? Let’s take a typical weekday commercial shoot where beaters are almost always over 25. The working day will vary in length according to the nature of the shoot and the time of year but we’ll assume five hours as that’s convenient for the mathematically challenged. Work in this context means the actual time you are working and does not include lunch breaks or the coffee and chat before getting on the beaters’ wagon. Five hours at £7.20 is a neat £36 per day.

So far, so simple but even casual workers are entitled to paid holiday under EU rules. It used to be the case that employers added 12.07 per cent to basic pay to cover holiday entitlement, but the European Court of Justice says this “rolling up” is illegal. Sadly it doesn’t say anything that is helpful to the practicalities of casual life on a shoot.

The tax man will want his slice of your pay so after basic rate tax the actual sum in the brown envelope will be £28.80, no longer the neat round figure we started with. Tax should be deducted by the shoot under Real Time Information (RTI) and most people will have nothing further to do.

No more brown envelopes

Until a couple of years ago when beaters were given a brown envelope with no questions asked and were responsible for their own tax affairs these issues hardly mattered, but we’re now in the third season of RTI.

RTI requires the shoot to keep a proper record of its casuals and to report sums paid and tax deducted to HMRC shortly after payment. Round here most shoots grossed up the old pay for tax, which meant the brown envelope contained the same number of notes after tax as it had always done.

A few shoots said they would pay tax where it was due which resulted in taxpayers (mostly men) being paid a gross wage which was larger than that paid to non-taxpayers (mostly women). This is unlawful because it discriminates against the women, and workers doing the same job must get the same pay.

If it’s happening to you, you need to raise it with the shoot because it may be unaware of the legalities. Additionally, if the taxpayer is just getting the minimum wage the non-taxpayer won’t be and that too is unlawful. Enforcement of the minimum wage legislation lies with HMRC and I’ve heard of one shoot that is under investigation for not paying its casuals the minimum wage. There are penalties for not doing RTI and for not paying the minimum wage.

Beaters out in the field

What doesn’t count

Lunch and the option of a brace of birds at the end of the day do not count as pay. Lunch, always greatly appreciated by the beaters, is potentially a benefit in kind and liable to tax. If the meal is provided by the shoot on its own premises and is available to everyone involved in the shoot (including office staff) there is no tax liability. On the other hand, lunch in the local pub is a taxable benefit.

Pickers-up are in a slightly different position from beaters and fit the criteria to be self-employed. On the plus side they can claim expenses, which are not available to employees, but the downside is there is no entitlement to the minimum wage or holiday pay. They are paid on presentation of an invoice and not through the payroll. Customarily they are paid 10 or 15 quid more than the beaters to reflect the added costs of maintaining their dogs and, on many shoots, of having to provide their own transport.

Keeping accounts for beaters’ pay

The other downside of self-employment is that you have to keep accounts and do a tax return. Some pickers-up don’t want the hassle so opt to be an employee. For those prepared to do the paperwork there are significant expenses that can be offset against income. These include all the costs legitimately involved in maintaining the dogs all year round such as vet bills, kennelling and food. Whereas an employee’s place of work will be the shoot, a picker-up’s place of work will be where the dogs are kennelled. This means that mileage at 45p can be claimed for travelling to/from the shoot as well as driving round it. For pickers-up whose home is distant from the shoot, this can be significant. When costs are offset against income very few pickers-up will have a tax liability and it may be possible to offset losses against other income.

It has become more common since the introduction of RTI for beaters to be paid by BACS. It saves the shoot a lot of hassle in handling cash, especially the £28.80 of our fictional shoot, but the beater is deprived of the pleasure of handling a few used notes. Lastly it’s worth mentioning that if you are on benefits you may be able to work up to 16 hours per week – three days on our fictional shoot – without losing them.