Limited Company vs PAYE Umbrella - 'The ultimate (quick) guide'

PAYE Umbrella

This is where you ' the contractor' essentially become an employee of the umbrella company. You submit time-sheets to the umbrella who will in turn, invoice the end client (or agency) for the work done by you. You will then be paid as a PAYE employee less the umbrella fee.

You will usually be allowed to claim some basic expenses, however be cautious of umbrella companies advertising 'special' dispensations or expense policies 'approved by' the Inland Revenue, that claim to allow expense claims without the need to produce receipts. The Inland Revenue have made it clear that they intend to challenge any company considered to be actively encouraging tax avoidance through fraudulent expense claims.

Limited Company

It is very important to stress that these must be genuine, one person limited companies and not a 'scheme' dreamed up by what are nothing more than marketing organisations.

The first things you, the contractor will need to do are form a limited company and open a business bank account (your accountant will help you with this). The director controls invoicing, the company bank account and decides on how much to pay themselves, which is made up of a combination of salary and dividends.


The limited company's contract can either be with the end client or the agency and the company can claim as tax free expenses: travel and subsistence, hardware and software, training, professional subscriptions, business telephone, accountancy fees plus any other business costs.

Below, we've summarised the pros and cons of each method, for a more detailed review.

Limited Company PAYE Umbrella

Limited Company
Advantages Negatives
The most tax efficient way of working. There is a certain amount of paperwork involved, usually about 10 - 15 minutes per month.
Claim a wider range of expenses Can be costly if you contract for a very short period of time, then go back to permanent employment.
Access to the Flat Rate VAT scheme. Not ideal for contracts less than £25k per year.
You keep complete control of your financial affairs meaning you do not have to risk your money with any third party administrator.  
Running your own business isn't difficult; submit spreadsheets to your accountant - just like umbrella time-sheets and expenses.  
Greater opportunity for tax planning than PAYE Umbrella  
PAYE Umbrella
Advantages Negatives
Very easy to use, you simply enter your timesheet and expense details and wait to be paid. The most expensive way of working. You will receive a salary that is subject to full PAYE Tax and NI, it's just like being a permanent member of staff again.
All tax and NI is deducted before you receive your money, so you will have no further taxes to pay. You are reliant on the umbrella company to collect your money from the client or agent and then to pay it on to you.
Ideal for short term contracts.  
Ideal for contracts less than £25k per year.  
Good if you are unsure if contracting is for you and you're really just in between permanent jobs.  
Someone else will be doing all the paperwork.  

Illustrations / take home pay calculator

You may also find the following pages, guides and case studies useful:

  • Take home pay - Limited company or Umbrella company - the real story
  • Contractor Calculator - How much could you be taking home
  • First time Contracting or Freelancing? - A summary of the alternatives along with pros and cons
  • Step-by-step Guide to Contracting - Download a FREE copy of our guide
  • Limited or Umbrella? Can't decide? - We help you decide which is best for you
  • Take home pay case studies - Examples of contractors using a ltd co. & umbrella co.
  • Umbrella company guide - Everything you ever wanted to know about umbrella company services
  • IR35 Guide - A great plain English guide to IR35