The introduction earlier this year of the reporting of real-time information (RTI) about casual labour payments to the tax office has been seen by some as a backdoor attack on shooting. It isn’t. The RTI reporting of such payments was brought in to cover seasonal workers such as fruit or hop-pickers. Because of the way they’re paid, beaters and pickers-up come under the same umbrella.

It will also help the Government to identify people who are on benefits, claiming they’re unable to work because of ill health, but who are fit enough to work and simply don’t want to. In essence, nothing’s changed. Cash payments to beaters have always been taxable; what has changed is the way in which they are recorded.

In previous years, we’ve sent our cheque for contributions (on casual labour payments) to HMRC at the end of the season. We’ve kept records of who’s been paid and how much, and have deducted the amount of tax at source. Beaters getting £25 a day were actually getting paid £25 after deductions. This year it’s a little different. We’re still deducting tax at source but now we have to record and report all payments to HMRC within seven days of their being made.

It’s not a huge job once everything has been set up, but it is nevertheless something extra for a keeper or shoot captain to have to do at the end of every shoot day when he’d rather be doing something else. Accounting and bookkeeping weren’t things I imagined I’d be doing when I first started in the job, but they’re very much a part of modern gamekeeping.

In an attempt to keep it simple (if that’s possible where tax is concerned), I’ll explain what we do on our shoot and how we go about it.

Form filling

The beaters and pickers-up are asked to fill in a P46. This is a form for an employee without a P45 and can be downloaded from the HMRC website. When we first introduced this (more than 10 years ago), one or two of the lads complained and said they’d go somewhere else if we insisted on it. I insisted, and guess what? No one left. I explained to them that it wasn’t my money and that if they wanted to be paid, my employer insisted that we had all their details.

Once everything was made clear and they knew we paid the tax and that it wasn’t going to affect them, no one minded. The only people RTI might affect are those who claim benefits and don’t want their beating money declared in case it reduces the money they get from the state.

The P46 asks for the basics – the name, address, date of birth and National Insurance (NI) number of the person filling it out. There’s a question on current employment status, which simply requires a box to be ticked, and the person filling it in should also sign it. Some of our lads – especially the older ones – didn’t have their NI numbers to hand on our first day, so I chased them up on the phone the following night to make sure we had all the forms completed by the end of the week after the first shoot. The second part of the P46 is filled in by us, the employers.

A few self-employed people beat for us but, to make things easier (for us), we class them as employees as well. To try to differentiate between the employed and self-employed would be adding more work to what is already a fairly complicated system to set up. One thing we did come across that we weren’t expecting involved a lad who picks-up for us and works for a company that is worried about industrial espionage. Under his contract of employment he’s not allowed to take on another job while he’s working for them. Though picking-up doesn’t have any connection with what he does as a day job, getting paid for it would land him in trouble. There was no way round it, so he decided to pick-up for nothing, because he wanted to work his dogs. In return, I make sure he gets a decent peg or two on the cock’s day. Any of the lads who are still at school or college are asked to fill in a form for student employees (which used to be called a P38). Student employees are usually exempt from paying tax, but still need to fill in the form so that HMRC knows where the money you’re paying them is going.

List of names

On shoot days in the the past we’ve taken the names of everyone who’s there, usually first thing in the morning in case someone’s late in for lunch or heads out early on stop for one of the afternoon drives before we’ve managed to put their name down. The next day I would have filled in a sheet with the names of the beaters and helpers from the day before and, if we weren’t shooting again that week, given it to the lady who does our books, so she could keep a record of it for the tax office. This year each group of payments will be cross-referenced with the P46s, recorded and then sent electronically to the tax office within seven days. The electronic sending within seven days is what’s referred to as RTI.

HMRC will undoubtedly be looking for shoots that either don’t want to or are unwilling to comply with the new rules regarding RTI and beaters’ wages this coming season. If you think it doesn’t apply to you, have a look at the HMRC website (www.hmrc.gov.uk) – there are
very few exceptions. Get on it now while you can to make sure you don’t get pulled up, fined and used as an example.