Secondary Class 1 contributions: apprentices under 25

Part of Living Wage (Reporting) – in the House of Commons at 1:26 pm on 3rd February 2015.

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Photo of David Gauke David Gauke The Financial Secretary to the Treasury 1:26 pm, 3rd February 2015

I beg to move, That this House
agrees with Lords amendment 1.

Some right hon. and hon. Members may recall the important initiative on apprentices announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his autumn statement on 3 December. The Chancellor announced that the Government will abolish employer class 1 national insurance contributions for apprentices under the age of 25 from April 2016, building on the removal of employer class 1 national insurance contributions for all under 21-year-olds from April 2015.

Amendments to section 9 and new section 9B of the Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act 1992 and the Social Security Contributions and Benefits (Northern Ireland) Act 1992 give effect to the Government’s intention to abolish employer class 1 NICs for apprentices under the age of 25. From April 2016, employers of apprentices under the age of 25 will pay a zero rate of secondary class 1 NICs on the earnings of those employees, and that zero rate will apply to earnings below the upper earnings limit.

As my right hon. Friend the Chancellor made clear, apprenticeships are at the heart of the Government’s drive to equip people of all ages with the skills valued by employers. This measure is intended to support employers who provide apprenticeships to young people by removing the requirement that they pay secondary class 1 NICs on earnings up to the upper earnings limit for those employees. The measure is also intended to support youth employment. Under this Government, employment is at its highest ever level while unemployment is now lower than when the Government came to power. However, there is more to do to tackle youth unemployment and ensure that no one is left behind.

The amendment provides a zero rate of employer class 1 national insurance contributions on the earnings of apprentices under the age of 25 from 6 April 2016. The measure will apply to both new and existing apprentices aged under 25 and is not time limited.

The main features of the clause are, first, that there is a regulation-making power to define “apprentice”. There are existing statutory definitions relating to apprenticeships. For example, in England and Wales, the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009 introduced the concept of an apprenticeship agreement, which is defined in part with reference to “an apprentice”. Because education and training is a devolved matter, and because not all apprentices are employed under apprenticeship agreements, we will need to look at the approaches taken towards apprenticeships in the different devolved Administrations. The power will allow time to discuss the definition with interested parties such as the Skills Funding Agency and their devolved equivalents. The power will also enable us to respond simply to changing statutory definitions and requirements in future.

Secondly, there are regulation-making powers to vary the age group to which the zero rate of secondary class 1 NICs for apprentices applies. For example, the Government could in future allow for an increase in the age bracket of apprentices falling into the zero rate earnings band of secondary class 1 NICs.

Thirdly, there is a regulation-making power to ensure that the benefit of the zero rate of secondary class 1 NICs for apprentices can be enjoyed only in respect of earnings below a certain level. In other words, the power will provide a means to introduce an upper secondary threshold for apprentices in the same way as we are doing for under 21s. That threshold will be set at the level of the upper earnings limit in the 2016-17 tax year.

The Government’s objective is to make all apprenticeships world class. Around £1.5 billion is spent annually to support apprenticeship training, and the Government are committed to driving up the quality of apprenticeships. We are currently taking forward a number of reforms that will have a positive impact. The Government believe that the measure will, alongside other initiatives on apprenticeships and the abolition of employer’s NICs for under 21s from April 2015, help to address the problem of youth unemployment in the UK.

I hope that, with that explanation, the House will accept the amendment made in the other place.