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For global employers looking to hire from the United Kingdom, navigating its employment laws and payroll tax systems is essential knowledge. It’s not only a matter of legal compliance, but also lends you a strategic advantage. 

The UK with its rich history of evolving employment laws and tax structures, presents a unique set of challenges and opportunities as you set foot in this market. From National Insurance Contributions (NICs) to the Pay As You Earn (PAYE) system, the intricacies of the UK's payroll taxes are essential knowledge for your sustained success in this competitive business environment.

Recently, over 500 companies were  publicly denounced by the UK government  for failure to comply with employer payroll requirements. High-profile defaulters included Estee Lauder Cosmetics, in a “clear message” from the authorities that no one is spared from such breaches of employment law.

Read on to gain a better understanding of how to navigate these key aspects of international employment law in the UK and how to use Employer of Record (EOR) services to ensure legal compliance. Whether you're a local business or a global entity employing staff in the UK, this guide will equip you with the essential regional labor standards and mandatory employer contributions to manage your payroll responsibilities effectively. 

Understanding Payroll Taxes In The UK

In the United Kingdom, payroll taxes form a crucial part of the national economic framework. Let us take a look at a few central components of this system before exploring what  applies to your business. 

National Insurance Contributions (NICs)

NICs are a fundamental aspect of the UK's social security system. Employers, employees, and self-employed individuals contribute to NICs, which in turn fund various state benefits, including pensions, the National Health Service (NHS), and other welfare initiatives. You can calculate your NICs as a percentage of your employees’ gross earnings above a certain threshold, which is subject to change each tax year.

Pay As You Earn (PAYE) System

PAYE is the system through which the UK’s HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) collects income tax and NICs via employment. You are responsible for deducting these contributions from your employees' wages before payment. The PAYE system ensures that income tax and NICs are paid incrementally throughout the year and helps manage the financial burden for employees while ensuring the steady collection of taxes for the government.

Workplace Pension

This auto-enrollment scheme mandates UK employers to enroll eligible employees for workplace pension and contribute towards it. Both you and the employee make contributions, which are a percentage of the employee's earnings. This initiative aims to encourage saving for retirement, with the minimum contribution rates set by the government.

Employee Income Taxes

You are not supposed to pay these as an employer, but you can deduct tax from the employee's payroll for this purpose. The UK's income tax is progressive, meaning higher earners pay a higher percentage of their income. Understanding the current tax bands and personal allowances is crucial for accurately calculating the tax deductions from your employees' wages.

Here's a glance at the latest income tax rates for employees in the UK:


Income Range

Tax Rate

Personal Allowance

Up to £12,570


Basic rate

£12,571 to £50,270


Higher rate

£50,271 to £150,000


Additional rate

Over £150,000


Employer Contributions To NIC 

Now that we’re familiar with the broader concepts, it’s easier to understand your National Insurance Contributions (NICs). You are required to make NICs on behalf of your employees. They are calculated as a percentage of the employee's gross earnings that exceed a specific threshold. This threshold is subject to annual reviews and adjustments. As of the recent tax year, most employers contribute at a rate of 13.8% on earnings. Notably, there is no upper limit to employer NICs, which means that contributions continue to accrue on all earnings above the threshold.

  • Class 1 Contributions: The most common type of NICs relevant to both employers and employees under the PAYE scheme are Class 1 contributions. These are split into two parts: the portion deducted from employees' wages and the portion paid directly by the employer. The rates and thresholds for these contributions can vary each tax year.
  • Other Classes: Other classes of NICs, such as Class 2 and Class 4 contributions, are relevant for self-employed individuals, offering a different set of rates and thresholds. They are not applicable to foreign companies doing business in the UK.

Employer Responsibilities Towards The PAYE System

The Pay As You Earn (PAYE) system, places the responsibility on you as an employer to deduct the correct amount of income tax and NICs from your employees' wages before they are paid. Under PAYE, you are tasked with several key responsibilities:

  • Deducting Tax and NICs: You must calculate and deduct the correct amount of income tax and NICs based on their employees' tax codes and the amount they earn.
  • Reporting to HMRC: You must also report payroll information to HMRC in real-time, typically on or before each payday, using the Real Time Information (RTI) system. These records must be kept for at least 3 years.
  • Paying HMRC: The deducted amounts must be paid to HMRC, usually on a monthly or quarterly basis, depending on the size of the employer.

Other Employer Contributions and Levies

In addition to National Insurance Contributions (NICs) and managing income tax through the Pay As You Earn (PAYE) system, you are also responsible for other contributions and levies as a UK employer.

Apprenticeship Levy

The Apprenticeship Levy is a government initiative aimed at funding apprenticeship programs across the UK. It requires all employers with an annual pay bill of more than £3 million to contribute 0.5% of their total pay bill, minus an annual levy allowance of £15,000. This levy is intended to improve the quality and quantity of apprenticeships, offering employers a chance to invest in training and developing new talent.

Workplace Pensions and Auto-Enrollment

Under the auto-enrollment workplace pension scheme, employers are required to provide a workplace pension for eligible employees. Employers must automatically enroll employees who:

  • Are aged between 22 and state pension age
  • Earn at least £10,000 per year
  • Work in the UK

You must contribute a minimum percentage of the employee's qualifying earnings to the pension scheme. The total minimum contribution, including both employer and employee contributions, is set by the government and is subjective to each employee.

Benefits in Kind

You can also provide Benefits in Kind (BIK), which are non-cash benefits such as company cars, private health insurance, student loan repayments, and childcare vouchers. These benefits are taxable, and you are responsible for reporting them to HMRC, and paying any related Employer National Insurance Contributions.

Other Considerations

You may also face sector-specific levies or contributions, such as the Construction Industry Scheme (CIS) deductions if you are a construction contractor. You need to be aware of and comply with any sector-specific obligations.

How To Calculate Employer Contributions In The UK?

Let's use the above information to now calculate payroll taxes. We'll illustrate this using the hypothetical example of your employee Jose, who earns £60,000 annually. 

For the latest tax year, you are required to pay Class 1 NICs at a rate of 13.8% on earnings above the secondary threshold (£8,840 per year). Since Jose earns £60,000 annually, your NIC calculation would be:

  • Earnings subject to NICs: £60,000 - £8,840 = £51,160
  • Employer's NICs: 13.8% of £51,160 = £7,060.08

The Apprenticeship Levy applies to employers with an annual pay bill over £3 million, requiring them to pay 0.5% of their total pay bill minus a £15,000 allowance. Assuming you do not exceed the £3 million threshold yet, you would not be liable for the Apprenticeship Levy in this case.

Under auto-enrollment, the employer's minimum contribution must be 3% of their employee's qualifying earnings, which, for the recent tax year, fall between £6,240 and £50,270. Since Jose's salary is above the upper limit, your calculation for him will be based on the maximum:

  • Qualifying earnings: £50,270 - £6,240 = £44,030 
  • Minimum employer pension contribution: 3% of £44,030 = £1,320.90

Summing up the above contributions gives us the total annual cost to Jose's employer:

  • NICs: £7,060.08 
  • Apprenticeship Levy: £0 (assuming the pay bill is under £3 million) 
  • Pension Contributions: £1,320.90
  • Total Annual Employer Contributions: £7,060.08 + £0 + £1,320.90 = £8,380.98

Key Payroll Components in the UK

The above example only lists your employer contributions to an employee like Jose But in addition to this, you also need to be aware of the other elements of payroll management for compliant administration of salaries. Here are some other payroll components to keep in mind:

Employment Contracts And Documentation

The UK labor law does not require written employment contracts to define the terms of employment, but the following information has to be documented under the Employment Rights Act 1996:

  • Employee's full name and address
  • Date of birth for employees under 19
  • Job title and description
  • Start date of employment
  • Details of pay (amount and frequency)
  • Working hours
  • Holiday entitlement
  • Details of any employment benefits
  • Notice periods

In the absence of a written employment contract, you need to identify which terms of a contract are legally binding.

Minimum Wage and Deductions

The UK has a national minimum wage and a national living wage, which vary by age and apprenticeship status. This resets on April 1 every year. In order to qualify, employees must be at least: 

  • School leaving age to get the National Minimum Wage
  • Aged 23 to get the National Living Wage 

The current minimum wage for those aged 23 and above is £10.42. For other age groups, it varies between £5.28 and £10.18 depending on the above factors. 

Gross pay includes all earnings before any deductions are made, encompassing basic salary, overtime, bonuses, and commission. Like the £60,000 salary for Jose, it serves as the starting point for calculating deductions and contributions that you are supposed to calculate as an employer. Deductions include income tax, National Insurance Contributions (NICs), and employee pension contributions. Benefits in Kind (BIK) are also taxable and must be reported to HMRC.

Annual Reporting and Tasks

At the end of the tax year, you need to complete several tasks, including submitting the final payroll report, updating employee payroll records, and preparing for the new tax year by updating payroll software.

You must also keep payroll records for at least three years, including P60 forms, details of payments, deductions, employee leaves, and sickness absences. These records are essential for compliance and may be requested by HMRC.

Setting Up Payroll In The UK

For foreign employers looking to establish a workforce in the UK, setting up payroll is a crucial step that involves understanding and complying with local tax laws, employment regulations, and reporting requirements. 

There are two key approaches that employers consider while setting up payroll: opening a local entity or using an Employer of Record (EOR) service. Each option has its own set of considerations and implications.

Setting Up a Local Entity

Establishing a local entity in the UK, such as a subsidiary or branch, allows a foreign company to hire employees directly. This approach provides full control over the business operations and workforce but comes with significant responsibilities and compliance requirements:

  • Registration: Your business must be registered with Companies House and HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC). This involves obtaining a company number and a PAYE (Pay As You Earn) system registration for employee tax and National Insurance contributions.
  • Compliance: You are responsible for adhering to all UK employment laws, including workers' rights, benefits like pension schemes, minimum wage, working hours, and health and safety regulations.
  • Tax Obligations: You have to ensure you are deducting payroll taxes, including income tax and NICs, under the PAYE system and ensuring timely and accurate reporting to HMRC.

Partnering with an Employer of Record (EOR)

An Employer of Record (EOR) is a third-party service provider that compliantly hires and manages your talent in the UK without the need to set up a legal entity. This approach is often more flexible and reduces administrative time :

  • Compliance and Administration: The EOR handles all local employment compliance, payroll processing, tax withholding, and reporting requirements on your behalf.
  • Quick Market Entry: Using an EOR allows you to quickly enter the UK market without the need to establish a local entity, making it an ideal solution for testing the market or for companies with a smaller footprint.
  • Expertise and Support: EORs offer expertise in local employment laws and payroll regulations, providing valuable support and guidance to ensure compliance.

Why Borderless AI?

Navigating the complexities of establishing payroll and employee contributions in the UK can be a daunting task as a foreign employer. However, with Borderless AI as your Employer of Record (EOR), you can simplify this process, ensuring a smooth and compliant entry into the UK market.

Borderless AI offers a revolutionary approach to global HR, enabling your business to hire and manage talent worldwide without the need to set up a foreign entity. 

Our platform alleviates risks associated with global employment through zero-deposit solutions, dedicated in-house support, and access to AI-powered agents for global HR. 

Our service is designed with your needs in mind, offering unparalleled customer experience and the first-ever AI agent Alberni. Alberni addresses questions regarding global employment, generates employment contracts, and analyzes your current employment agreements for over 170 countries.

With Borderless AI, you can onboard, manage, and pay your international team all in one integrated platform—streamlining your global operations and ensuring compliance every step of the way.

Visit us at Borderless AI and schedule your demo to learn more. 


Borderless does not provide legal services or legal advice to customers, contractors, employees, partners, or the general public. We are not lawyers or paralegals. Please read our full disclaimer here.

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