SexWorkCounts

A research project supporting sex workers by:

  • helping you to be recognised as tax paying contributors to society
  • helping your campaigners and allies argue for your rights
  • helping your accountants defend you against HMRC

Because sex work is real work

Coordinated by TaxRelief4escorts with support from National Ugly Mugs

The problem – sex work doesn’t count

You work hard building and running your business. You deliver memorable experiences to your customers. Behind the scenes there’s marketing, websites, bookings, emails, health & safety, bookkeeping, and endless admin to be managed. And you pay tax. But you don’t have the basic rights that other tax paying business owners take for granted.

Instead you’re stigmatised. You’re told (by people who know better than you) that you’re unrepresentative, or you’re a victim who needs to be rescued, and the best way to do that is to criminalise your clients. You’re the subject of myths: every sex worker is trafficked, pimped, or feeding a drug habit; and of course none of them pays tax. And then when your accounts are examined by HMRC they make absurdly exaggerated assumptions about your true income.

Basically, you don’t count.

And one reason for that is because there’s no solid statistical evidence of how much sex workers really earn, and how much tax they contribute. 

Sex workers

If you’re an escort or an exotic dancer, or you work in BDSM or adult films, or you provide webcamming or phone sex, you may recognise these experiences:

  • your views are discounted
  • you’re talked over, because you’re a ‘victim’
  • your work is not taken seriously so your business needs are ignored
  • you’re paying tax but made to feel you don’t count
  • you’re in fear of a tax investigation
  • and you can’t speak out without compromising your privacy and your safety

Their accountants

If you act for people in the adult sector maybe you’ve experienced:

  • clients having their accounts questioned by HMRC
  • wildly unrealistic assumptions from HMRC
  • lack of hard evidence to defend your clients

And campaigners

If you’re an individual or organisation campaigning for sex worker rights to be taken seriously you’ve probably felt frustrated by:

  • lack of reliable evidence
  • the myths and unreliable anecdotal evidence peddled by proponents of the Swedish model
  • lack of recognition that many sex workers contribute to society by paying tax

Wouldn’t it be good if we could …

Demonstrate:

  • How much sex workers actually earn
  • How much tax they contribute to the UK economy
  • And how those numbers vary for different locations and different types of work

Bust these myths:

  1. The average escort earns £87,000 per year (Office of National Statistics)
  2. There are very few independent sex workers – they’re mostly trafficked, pimped or coerced (various commentators and assorted axe-grinders)
  3. No sex worker pays tax – (the tabloid press and blokes in pubs)

Provide reliable evidence to:

  1. Campaigners arguing the case for decriminalisation
  2. Accountants seeking to argue effectively with HMRC
  3. Sex workers wanting to benchmark their earnings
  4. Support groups wanting to provide better quality advice and information

And do it in a way that ensures:

  • the data is reliable
  • there’s no risk to anyone’s privacy or confidentiality
  • it’s not time consuming
  • the results are presented fairly
  • and there’s no cost

But first …

Before we go into details of how the SexWorkCounts project will work, you need to know who is behind it and why they are doing it.

Who’s behind SexWorkCounts?

I am Jolyon

  • I’m the guy behind TaxRelief4escorts, the information web site that I started 15 years ago.
  • In 2014 I wrote Does prostitution really contribute £5.3bn to the UK economy? in which I took apart the estimates produced by the Office of National Statistics.
  • For the last 11 years I’ve also produced the TaxRelief Diary a bookkeeping diary specially designed for sex workers.
  • I’m a semi-retired accountant and I have a Cambridge maths degree so I know a thing or two about small businesses and about using numbers.
  • For personal reasons I maintain my privacy. A number of people in the industry know my identity, and I’m more than happy to meet sex work support agencies – and bring along my passport.

SexWorkCounts is supported by

TaxRelief4escorts – practical no-nonsense tax advice for UK sex workers

National Ugly Mugs – Fighting Stigma, Saving Lives

If you’d like to be listed as a supporter that would be great!

Why?

The death of the sex-work activist Laura Lee is a huge loss to those she championed and to all who knew her. I first met Laura online over 12 years ago and I was lucky enough to meet her socially a couple of times to share a meal, several drinks and a lot of laughter. Over the years we also spoke a few times on the phone and online, and shared lots of idiocy and the occasional good idea. One of those ideas was the kernel of this project. Laura was enthusiastic and encouraging, but for one reason or another it never got off the drawing board.

Laura’s daughter has asked that her mother’s campaigning work should go on. 

This project will, I hope, contribute towards advancing the sex worker rights for which Laura fought so hard, and at such great personal cost.

Laura, this one’s for you!

Here’s how SexWorkCounts will work

The basic idea is simple. If you are a sex worker, who has an accountant who you trust, you ask them to supply SexWorkCounts with a few anonymous details from your next Tax Return.

Only your accountant knows your name or your personal details. Your accountant will only release information with your specific instructions. SexWorkCounts won’t know who you are and there is no way that you could be identified from the details supplied.

We then use your anonymous data to compile a number of reports: 

  • a statistical report for Ugly Mugs and other support groups
  • a report for accountants to use as supporting evidence in tax investigations
  • a template report that your accountant can use to show you how your profit compares with other similar sex workers

Count me in – how do I take part?

Here’s how to take part

  1. Give your accountant permission to supply anonymous data to SexWorkCounts – you can download and print an authority form
  2. Give your accountant the answer to 3 questions, what type of work you do (escort, BDSM, webcam etc), whether you work full or part-time, and the gender you identify as.
  3. Give your accountant the information to complete your tax return as usual

And that’s it.

After your tax return has been submitted to HMRC your accountant will send SexWorkCounts 9 bits of anonymous data: the 3 questions you’ve answered (type of work, full or part-time, and gender), plus the following from your tax return

  1. Business description – what HMRC think you do
  2. The first 2 characters of your postcode – eg LS, CF or W1
  3. Is the business VAT registered?
  4. Turnover
  5. Expenses – just the total, no detail
  6. Capital allowances

What will I get back in return?

We can’t send you anything because we won’t know who you are. But your accountant will receive a benchmarking template that will enable her to produce reports for all her clients, so ask her for it. You will be able to see how your income, expenses and profit compare with similar businesses around the country.

We’ll also produce a summary briefing report showing the main findings that you’ll be able to download for free.

Here’s how to take part

  1. Register your interest with SexWorkCounts 
  2. After you have submitted your client’s  2017/18 Tax Return, and if you have their instructions to do so, supply the following 9 pieces of readily available data – we’ll let you have a spreadsheet to make this quick and easy
  3. Your client should give you the first 3: that’s her type of work, full or part-time, and gender.
  4. the other 6 can be lifted straight from the self-employment Tax Return pages
    1. Business description – what HMRC think she does
    2. The first 2 characters of her postcode – eg LS, CF or W1
    3. Is the business VAT registered?
    4. Turnover
    5. Expenses – just the total, no detail
    6. Capital allowance

DO NOT send us any identifying information, so no names, no addresses, no tax references

What will I get back in return

Every accountant taking part will receive a free SexWorkCounts Accountant’s Report, specifically designed to give you the data you need to defend clients in a tax investigation.

You’ll also receive a free excel template that you can use to produce a benchmarking report for each of your sex worker clients.

Here’s how to take part

If you’d like to support or promote the project that would be great.

What will we get back in return?

We aim to produce a summary briefing suitable for publication and a more detailed report.

Where appropriate we will combine other available data to help provide a fuller picture of the industry. 

Frequently asked questions

Why are you collecting data via accountants?

  • To maintain confidentiality and so you know that nothing that could identify you is passed to SexWorkCounts
  • To ensure reliability so we know the data comes from tax returns that have been submitted to HMRC

I do my own tax return. Can I take part?

At the moment, no. For data protection and privacy we do not want direct contact with individual sex workers.

It may be possible to look at a work-around involving an intermediary that maintains confidentiality and reliability.

Will you check the data comes from real accountants?

I’m not sure why anyone would want to impersonate an accountant.

But, yes, we will ensure that data comes from an email address that belongs to an accountant.

My accountant is not chartered, does that matter?

No. We are not interested in the qualifications or expertise of accountants; only whether they submit tax returns for sex workers. 

I don’t pay tax. Can I take part?

If you are a sex worker I would urge you to register and pay tax. There are accountants who specialise in adult services who can help you and take away the fear. Accountants4escorts

By ignoring non-taxpayers won’t you only get a partial picture?

Agreed, but it’s about adding another important piece to the jigsaw.

What’s the timetable

We want to collect information for the 2017/18 tax year, so

  • 6 April 2018 – the tax return submission window opened
  • 1 June 2018 – SexWorkCounts is launched
  • 31 January 2019 – last date for submitting tax returns to HMRC
  • 14 February 2019 – closing date for sending data to SexWorkCounts
  • 31 March 2019 – the number crunching is finished and we send out reports

I live in a remote area and I’m worried I might be identified.

If you are the only escort on Unst (it’s the northern most of the Shetland islands) you will not be identifiable

  1. Your accountant will only tell us the first 2 letters of your postcode
  2. The full data will not be published. We will aggregate the data into meaningful groups, for example Highlands & Islands, so that no individuals stand out.
  3. And for some work types, like webcamming, there may be no point in showing geographical variations.

Will you be selling any of the data?

No.

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