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Avoid the umbrella trap

Avoid the umbrella trap


08 Jan, 2019

Former Royal Engineer Rob Burgess (pictured) tells us about the pitfalls of umbrella companies for self-employed contractors – and how he can help you avoid them

On 31 March 2016, I was medically discharged from the Royal Engineers after 15 years and set free into the big wild world of civilian life. I was a fresh-faced, requalified gas engineer. I started to work for myself, with my brand-new business, and expected the phone to be ringing off the hook non-stop! 

How wrong was I?! I searched everywhere for work and finally there came an opportunity to work for a very well-known British gas company … 

I was delighted to get this job as it was my first test in the real world. On completion of initial training, I was told I’d get a £1000 payment – which I was happy to take for spending two weeks sitting in a classroom and taking a few practical tests. 

During the course, however, my agency informed me that I’d need to be with an umbrella company. For what? I’d be working indoors not outdoors! Why did I need an umbrella? I’m an engineer! 

If you’re planning on going into this world, I want to let you know that I can give you the help I myself needed

Unbeknown to me, an umbrella company is there to deal with payments for you when contracting. They sort out your tax and national insurance so you don’t have to worry about anything apart from being paid. 

Or so I thought.

In fact, what happened was that I was forced into the agency’s Preferred Suppliers List (PSL) of umbrella companies. What right an agency had to force me into a payment system for my own work was beyond me, and illegal. 

When agencies do this, they’ll have fingers in different pies and getting kickbacks per contractor, so while they’re watching Man United play in Dubai on a friendly, you’re paying for it and losing out on money, which is highly unfair when all they do is press a few keys and earn commission on the real workers. Sometimes you can’t help this happening, so you just have to suck it up and find another route, but keeping your money coming in is vital while looking elsewhere. 

With all the messing around and failures, I wasn’t earning, I ended up losing the £1000 bonus and almost went bankrupt. 

After a year of trading on my own and clawing back financially, my injuries proved to be too much, so I had to give up my business and retire from a physically active job. 

Out of the frustration of what had happened to me, I decided to do some research on umbrella com­panies and hopefully help out agency workers that could end up in the same financial dilemma I did. 

I found a company that doesn’t involve itself with the agencies and is actually a protector, in some way, for contractors, so I applied for a job – and got it! 

Now I spend my time contacting ex-military recruitment agencies, helping out as many war heroes as I can, as well as the RAF Regt, getting them the correct information and guidance they need to get into the contracting world. 

This isn’t an advert. I’m getting nothing for this. I just want to throw protection over my Veteran family so that, if you’re planning on going into this world, I want to let you know that I can give you the help I myself needed. 


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