Some 200 law firms could fall within the scope of the new apprenticeship levy of 0.5% on company payrolls, preliminary analysis of the new measure suggests.
The levy, announced in the spending review yesterday, will be imposed on businesses with wage bills of over £3m a year and be charged from April 2017. The government says the scheme will raise £3bn a year by 2019-20 and fund three million apprenticeships.
Tony Williams, principal at Jomati Consultants, told the Gazette that even if partners' remuneration is excluded from the wage bill calculation, the levy will still hit all the top 100 UK firms and the vast majority of the top 200. The London offices of US and other international firms will also be affected, he said.
According to the government, those who pay the levy and are committed to apprenticeship training ‘will be able to get out more than they pay into the levy, through a top-up to their digital accounts’.
Williams said the levy may force a number of firms to develop apprenticeship programmes so that they get their money back.
It will not be clear what the full implications will be for law firms until more information emerges about whether the government’s definition of wages covers compensation to partners.
Catherine Shepherd, an employment lawyer at London-headquartered Osborne Clarke, said that although an LLP with a wage bill of over £3m might be liable to pay the levy, members of LLPs in England are not employees under employment law and so would not be included in the pay bill for this purpose.
She said: ‘We’ll be in a better position to understand the full implications when the finance bill is published next month.’
But international firm Eversheds warned that due to the significant amount the levy is projected to raise, it will be a ‘significant burden’ on any of the employers that will be subject to the levy.
It said: ‘While the objectives of the levy are positive and to be supported, it will be difficult for large UK-based businesses to consider the apprenticeship levy as any more than a further payroll tax with a direct impact on after-tax profitability.’