Company which employed Norfolk drivers caught up in multi-million-pound tax case
PUBLISHED: 06:00 09 September 2020 | UPDATED: 08:30 10 September 2020
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Workers at a haulage firm were affected by a multi-million-pound tax case, which left them struggling to find out who they actually worked for and inaccuracies on their payslips.
From 2013, drivers at Roger Warnes Transport Ltd in Great Dunham, West Norfolk, stopped being employed by Roger Warnes Transport and were instead transferred to a new company called In Tandem Resources Ltd.
In Tandem Resources then sub-contracted them back to Roger Warnes Transport and there was no change to their pay or conditions.
The move meant Roger Warnes Transport no longer had to worry about payroll and pensions. In Tandem, meanwhile, charged Roger Warnes a fee and gave staff access to shopping discount vouchers and pensions.
Ian Barclay, operations director at Roger Warnes since June 2016, said it was “a successful strategy” and the company had taken professional advice at the time.
But last year HMRC took In Tandem Resources to tribunal for underpaying tax and “inaccuracies in VAT returns”.
A dozen other companies also signed up to In Tandem, employing up to 1,500 people.
Roger Warnes Transport was not involved in the tribunal case and there was no accusation of wrongdoing against it, but the In Tandem scheme was criticised by HMRC. In Tandem was asked to pay £4m in penalties for “careless” inaccuracies.
Last July Roger Warnes Transport ended the arrangement with In Tandem after a string of issues with payroll forms either being too late or not correct. They took payroll back in house.
“It was a mutual agreement because of personnel issues,” Mr Barclay said. “Staff had issues such as P60s not being correct and being too late.
“In Tandem were fed up with personnel problems and we were as well.
“We had no contact with HMRC but when people came to us with tax problems we tried to help.
“On pensions, we got a bit nervous because they were not making payments as timely as we would have done, but they were being made.”
Mike Patman, who worked for Roger Warnes until earlier this year, said: “Every year I worked there I got a tax bill. I challenged it with HMRC, saying I’m PAYE and phoned up In Tandem to query it but got no help.
Mr Patman, 44, said he also had issues with his payslips.
“HMRC basically said I had not paid enough contributions for what I’d worked,” he said
“They also said I had been unemployed from January 2019 to March 2019 when I was working every day.
“I don’t know how it was miscalculated.”
In response Mr Barclay said Mr Patman had never raised an issue with them about payslips and it was a matter for In Tandem.
In Tandem, which was based in Milton Keynes, has now been dissolved, but its parent company, Ashwood Capital, which is still operating, has not responded to requests for comment.
Staff working for In Tandem and Roger Warnes Transport were also employed by several different other companies, according to payslips, leading to confusion about who staff were actually employed by.
Mr Barclay said: “In Tandem would say, we have to change the name, sometimes with very little notice to us.
“They would say that is part of our strategy.”
Ex-driver Eamonn Head, 62, from Lincolnshire, said he had been trying to take Roger Warnes Transport to an employment tribunal for the last three years for unfair dismissal, but there has been a series of delays because of a dispute about who he actually worked for.
The case has cost £20,000 and fees have got so high, his union has stopped funding it, he said.
Earlier this year, a judge said he worked for In Tandem, not Roger Warnes, as that was the name on his payslips.
But as In Tandem has been dissolved, he cannot take action against it.
“It has taken three years and three barristers just to find out who I worked for,” he said. “It has been a nightmare.”
Joanna Richards, from the United Road Transport Union, said she had helped four former Roger Warnes Transport workers.
“Unfortunately, we couldn’t afford to keep supporting the cases through an employment tribunal,” she said.
“The workers’ legacy contracts do say Roger Warnes Transport Ltd, but if we look at members’ payslips there are various different companies listed.
“This means establishing the legal entity that is actually the employer proved to be almost impossible.”
•How did it work?
The In Tandem scheme was the “brainchild” of a former tax inspector turned businessman called Roger Purkiss, a tax tribunal was told last year.
Mr Purkiss, who lives in the US, believed that companies could save thousands by outsourcing their payroll to In Tandem, the tribunal heard.
But the tribunal was also told that the scheme had “unforeseen and unfortunate” VAT consequences.
HMRC’s Fraud Investigation Unit began looking at In Tandem in 2015 for inaccuracies in its VAT returns.
During the tribunal, Mr Purkiss blamed some of the problems on his associate John Davies, who was later convicted of fraud for a separate scheme, not linked to In Tandem.
HMRC argued at the tribunal that In Tandem and Mr Purkiss must have known they were submitting inaccurate tax returns to HMRC.
At the tribunal, Mr Purkiss blamed software and his former business partner, Mr Davies, whom he said carried out a “wilful and malicious attack” on In Tandem’s systems.
Mr Purkiss, meanwhile, said he had liver cancer in 2015/16, further adding to issues with the scheme.
The First-tier tribunal ruled that the VAT inaccuracies were “careless” rather than deliberate and penalised In Tandem Resources £4m on appeal.
HMRC said it was unable to comment.
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