Umbrella payroll explained – Costs, best providers and free calculator

Navigating the world of payroll can be a complex task for both employers and contractors. Over the years, various payroll systems have been developed to streamline the process, and one such model that has gained prominence in the UK is the umbrella payroll system. This article aims to demystify the umbrella payroll mechanism, shed light on the associated costs, highlight some of the best providers in the market, and provides a free umbrella payroll calculator.


22 November 2023 update:
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt announced in the Autumn budget that employee NICs would be reduced – the new standard rate will drop to 10% from the previous 12%.
Video: Answering your common questions about payroll prices and costs

What is umbrella payroll?

An umbrella payroll is a system where a third-party company acts as the employer on record for contractors who are working on temporary assignments. In other words, the umbrella company handles all the administrative tasks like tax calculations, National Insurance contributions, and issuing of payslips, freeing the contractor to focus solely on their work assignments.

How does umbrella payroll work?

  1. Contractor Signs Up: The contractor signs up with the umbrella company.
  2. Timesheets and Invoicing: The contractor submits timesheets to the umbrella company, which then invoices the client or recruitment agency.
  3. Payment: Once the client pays the invoice, the umbrella company processes the payment, deducts its fees, applicable taxes, and National Insurance contributions, and pays the contractor.
  4. Expenses and Benefits: Some umbrella companies offer benefits such as sick pay, holiday pay, and pension contributions.

How much does umbrella payroll cost?

The cost of using an umbrella company varies widely depending on the services offered. Generally, there are two fee structures:

  1. Fixed Fee: A set amount is charged irrespective of the contractor’s rate. This typically ranges from £20 to £30 per week.
  2. Percentage-Based Fee: A percentage of the invoice is taken as a fee. This can range from 2% to 5%.

It’s crucial to read the terms carefully and understand what services are included in the fee. Some companies may charge extra for additional services like insurance coverage or faster payment processing.

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Which umbrella payroll providers are best?

Selecting an umbrella company should be done carefully. Here are some well-regarded providers in the UK:

  1. Parasol: Known for their comprehensive service and excellent customer support. They offer a fixed fee model.
  2. Contractor Umbrella: Offers a variety of services and is transparent about their fee structure.
  3. PayStream: Provides a range of payroll solutions and financial services for contractors.
  4. Giant Group: One of the older umbrella companies, offering a wealth of experience and a variety of services.

Points to consider while choosing a provider:

  • Compliance: Ensure that the company is compliant with UK tax laws and regulations.
  • Fees: Understand the fee structure and any additional charges that may apply.
  • Reviews and Recommendations: Look for reviews and seek recommendations from peers or industry experts.
  • Customer Service: Strong customer service support is essential for resolving any issues that may arise.


Umbrella payroll can be an efficient solution for contractors seeking to simplify their payroll process. However, it comes with its own set of costs and complexities. It’s imperative to carefully read terms, understand fees, and choose a reputable provider to make the most of this payroll option.

FAQ about umbrella payroll companies

Navigating through the intricacies of umbrella payroll can be daunting, especially for those new to the concept. To help you gain a better understanding, here’s a compilation of frequently asked questions and their answers.

What is an umbrella payroll company?

An umbrella payroll company acts as an intermediary between contractors and their clients or agencies. It handles administrative tasks like tax calculations, issuing of payslips, and National Insurance contributions.

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How do I get paid through an umbrella payroll company?

You submit your timesheets to the umbrella payroll company, which invoices your client or agency. After receiving payment, the umbrella company processes it, deducts its fees and any taxes, and pays you the net amount.

Are umbrella payroll companies legal?

Yes, umbrella payroll companies are legal and operate in accordance with UK tax laws and regulations.

Do umbrella payroll companies offer employment benefits?

Many do offer benefits like holiday and sick pay, as well as pension contributions, but this can vary from one provider to another.

What fees do umbrella payroll companies charge?

Fees can either be a fixed amount per week, typically ranging from £20 to £30, or a percentage of the invoice amount, which can vary from 2% to 5%.

Are the fees tax-deductible?

In most cases, the fees charged by an umbrella company are deducted before your income is taxed, effectively making them tax-deductible.

What is IR35, and how does it affect me?

IR35 is tax legislation aimed at identifying ‘disguised employees’—contractors who work like employees but bill through limited companies to gain tax advantages. Using an umbrella payroll company generally keeps you outside the scope of IR35.

Can I claim expenses?

Some umbrella payroll companies allow you to claim certain work-related expenses, but these are usually processed following HMRC guidelines.

What about National Insurance contributions?

The umbrella payroll company calculates and deducts both employer’s and employee’s National Insurance contributions before paying you.

How do I join an umbrella payroll company?

Usually, you’ll need to complete a registration form, provide identification documents, and sign a contract of employment with the umbrella payroll provider.

Can I work with multiple clients?

Yes, you can work with multiple clients while employed under a single umbrella payroll company.

Is there a minimum contract length?

This varies among providers. Some might offer more flexibility than others regarding contract length.

How quickly can I get paid?

The speed at which you’re paid can depend on the payment terms with your client and the umbrella company’s own processes. Some companies offer faster payments for an additional fee.

What happens if my client doesn’t pay?

Your payment is generally reliant on the client paying the umbrella payroll company first. However, some umbrella companies offer insurance options to cover this risk.

Can I switch umbrella payroll companies?

Yes, you can switch umbrella companies, although you should check your current contract for any terms related to termination or fees.

Do I need professional indemnity insurance?

Some umbrella payroll companies include professional indemnity insurance in their fees, but if yours doesn’t, it’s advisable to purchase it separately.

Can I take holidays?

Yes, you can take holidays. Some umbrella payroll companies offer paid holiday leave as part of your employment benefits.

What happens to my pension contributions?

Many umbrella payroll companies offer pension schemes and will contribute to your pension pot as part of your employment package.

How do I terminate my contract with an umbrella payroll company?

The procedure for termination should be outlined in your contract. Usually, you’ll need to give notice as specified in the agreement.

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