Freelancing on the side: what tax do I pay?

Freelancing on the side, image of a woman doing taxes | Crunch

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    If COVID-19 has you reassessing your career path, but you’re not quite ready to quit your regular job yet – you’ve come to the right place. This bumper article contains a wealth of handy information about how to kickstart a freelance, self-employed career while balancing a regular full-time job.

    We’ve previously written about how you can start a business while still working. This can be a good way to reduce the risks of setting up a business to still have some income coming in. And, contrary to popular belief, the terms ‘employed’ and ‘self-employed’ are not opposites. In the strange world of HMRC, it’s possible to be employed and self-employed at the same time – in fact, it’s actually pretty common. But what implications does working on the side have for your freelance/self-employed tax liability? Do you have to declare that you're self-employed right away, and if so, who to?

    If you’re considering making a bit of extra money by working for yourself on top of your main job, read on for everything you need to know, including what self-employed tax and National Insurance you’re expected to pay, and how to pay them.

    Before we get started, you might like to check out this handy video we put together on how to get the ball rolling with freelancing on the side.

    Don't have time to read this article now? Why not download a PDF version and read it over a cuppa later?

    Freelancing on the Side banner - a free guide | Crunch

    There are various reasons why someone might want to be employed and freelance (as self-employed) at the same time. Some may want to earn a little more. Others may be more entrepreneurial – many small businesses are started by people in full or part-time employment.

    Whatever your reasons, you need to know that there’ll be some tax issues for you to think about – so let’s get to the nitty-gritty.

    How much income tax will I pay as a sole trader freelancer?

    The figures in the following example are based on the HMRC published rates and thresholds for the 2021/22 and 2022/23 tax years.

    Your Income Tax is always calculated on total earnings, so you’ll have to pay tax on amounts above the Personal Allowance for your combined income from employment and sole trader profits (from self-employment). We’ll talk about the difference between income and profits a bit later.

    It’s important to realise that if your sole trader profits push your total earnings into a higher tax band, you’ll have to pay the higher rate.

    A worked example based on earning a salary of £35,000 as an employee, and £20,000 as self-employed is shown below. Note there are different income tax rates for residents of Scotland.

    Tax year 2021/22 2022/23
    Income from an employer £35,000 £35,000
    Profits from sole trade (self-employment) £20,000 £20,000
    Total income £55,000 £55,000
    Personal allowance (£12,570) (£12,570)
    Total taxable income £42,430 £42,430
    Income Tax paid at basic rate (20%)* £7,540 £7,540
    Income Tax paid at higher rate (40%)* £1,892 £1,892
    Total Income Tax paid £9,432 £9,432

    * There are different income tax rates for Scottish residents

    You’ll pay income tax of 20% on all earnings above your personal allowance and below the upper limit of the basic rate, which is £37,700 for the 2021/22 and 2022/23 tax years.

    You’ll pay income tax of 40% on all earnings above the basic rate limit until you reach the higher rate limit (which in the 2021/22 and 2022/23 tax years is £100,000). In this example, you pay 40% tax on income of £4,730 in the 2021/22 and 2022/23 tax years, due to the higher thresholds.

    When you prepare your annual Self Assessment tax return, you will disclose the tax already paid on your earnings from your employer (in this example £35,000 would have been taxed under PAYE arrangements). So HMRC will know you have already paid tax on part of your total income. The amount of tax you pay on your profits from self-employment (£20,000 in this example) will be worked out by HMRC when you submit your Self Assessment. You can find out more about how to complete your first Self Assessment in our handy article.

    Check out our tax rates and thresholds article for more information on the UK Income Tax rates.

    What about National Insurance?

    The National Insurance you pay on your income from your employer won’t change, but it’ll be a bit different for your income from self-employed profits.

    Firstly, if your self-employed profits exceed £6,725 for the 2022/23 tax year (£6,515 for 2021/22), you’ll have to pay a flat rate of £3.15 per week for 2022/23 (£3.05 per week for 2021/22). This is called Class 2 National Insurance.

    You usually pay Class 1 National Insurance through PAYE via your employer, but Class 2 is paid directly to HMRC through a direct debit, which you can register for online at We’ve got an article with all the information you need on how to register as self-employed, including who you need to contact and when.

    If you’re doing well and earning a higher self-employed income, you may also have to pay Class 4 National Insurance. For the 2021/22 tax year, this is charged at 9% for all self-employed profits between £9,568 and £50,270, and at 2% for all profits greater than £50,270. For the 2022/23 tax year, it is charged at 10.25% for all self-employed profits between £9,880 (rising to £12,570 from July 2022) and £50,270 and at 3.25% for all profits greater than £50,270.

    Just like your Income Tax, Class 4 National Insurance contributions will be worked out on your Self Assessment tax return.

    Let’s use the same figures from our previous example to demonstrate how this all works:

    Tax Year
    Tax Year
    Profits from self-employment £20,000 £20,000
    Class 2 National Insurance (52 weeks @ £3.05/£3.15 per week) £158.60 £163.80
    Class 4 National Insurance

    Rate is 9% & 10.25% on profit between £9,568 and £50,270 (rising to £9,880 to June 2022, then £12,570 from July 2022 and £50,270 in the 2022/23 tax year) – in this example the profit is only £20,000 so:

    • 9% * £10,432 (2020/21)
    • 10.25% * £8,103 (2023/23)
    £938.88 £830.51
    Total National Insurance paid £1,097.48 £994.31

    Remember, you’ll have your Class 1 National Insurance as an employee to pay too. This is paid through PAYE deductions made by your employer for your paid employment – you can find details on the website.

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    Sole trader or limited company?

    As a self-employed person, you can choose to operate as a sole trader, or form your own limited company.

    The basic difference is that if you’re a sole trader then there’s no legal separation between you and your business. You’re personally liable for all activities of the business, including debts.

    If you form a limited company you create a separate legal entity and you have no personal liability. However, you’ll have specific legal and statutory responsibilities to fulfil as a director of the company. This also has a number of tax implications.

    Read more about the differences between sole traders and limited companies.

    What about expenses?

    One of the main benefits of registering as self-employed as a sole trader is that you get to offset your business expenses against your income. You’re only taxed on your self-employed profits.

    There’s a similar situation for limited companies - where Corporation Tax is only paid on company profits calculated after allowable expenses. These can include salary and pension contributions as well as certain travel and subsistence expenses. 

    What exactly is considered to be an allowable expense and how to claim is a complicated affair, so we won’t get into that here. Instead, take a look at our article on sole trader expenses, or our article on limited company expenses, and bear in mind the “wholly and exclusively” rule (i.e. anything you claim as a business expense must be entirely for business use).

    The Crunch Personal Tax Estimator

    The Crunch Personal Tax Estimator can help you to plan for the tax you may have to pay on your personal income including sole trade income, salary and dividends if applicable. You can read our Personal Tax Estimator article and download our calculator to try it out.

    Download our Crunch Personal Tax Estimator

    Crunch Personal tax estimator 2021/22 →

    When should I tell HMRC?

    Although your employer doesn’t need to know, the taxman definitely does! HMRC recommend that you let them know as soon as you start trading from your new business.

    It’s a legal requirement to register with HMRC as a new business if your earnings as a self-employed sole trader are more than £1,000 in a tax year.

    If you’re already employed full-time, this may happen as soon as you receive your first self-employed income. Once you have earned more than £1,000, you’ll have until 5th October after the end of the tax year to register as self-employed and register for your annual Self Assessment, or risk paying a fine. 

    However, if you are unlikely to earn over £1,000, you don’t need to file a Self Assessment as HMRC has introduced the £1,000 trading allowance to remove the need for filing a return in such circumstances. Find out more in our article.

    Will my employer find out?

    Although it usually won’t be a problem, it’s understandable that you might not want your employer to know that you’re working on other projects. Be careful, though, because your employment contract might forbid you to take on outside work, especially if there is a risk of competition with your current employer.

    Your tax affairs are entirely confidential and HMRC will not inform your employer if you also register as self-employed. However, be aware that if you form a limited company your details are publicly available at Companies House, so your employer could find out about your business that way.

    Of course, we’d never recommend that you mislead your employer. However, it’s possible to start outside work without disclosing it. Just be aware that you do so at your own risk.

    Our article ‘How to set up a small business while working on the side’ will give you practical tips on taking those first steps.

    Sole Trader Business Expenses guide