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Anyone who has chosen to pursue a career in nursing will understand that it is a rewarding job, albeit one which can be difficult and demanding. For many, working as a locum can provide some balance between job satisfaction and a reasonable work-life balance. 

In most areas, there are plenty of opportunities for qualified and experienced staff which means that the rates on offer can be significantly higher than the wages available to those in permanent employment. With such high demand, this is a good time to consider becoming a locum nurse, and if you are thinking of taking the plunge then you will want to make sure that you understand how to make the most of the options available in order to make the change work for you.

Setting yourself up as a locum nurse

If you have decided that you want to start working as a locum nurse then there are a few things you need to do to ensure that your finances are all in order. The first thing to do is register with HMRC to let them know that you will need to report your income directly to them and pay tax and National Insurance as appropriate. For many, operating through a limited company can be the most efficient way to work as it allows for better tax planning opportunities than working as a sole trader.

Forming your own limited company is a relatively simple task that can be completed in a couple of hours. You will need to contact Companies House to let them know and provide some basic information to register, and then you will have around 15 minutes of additional admin a month to keep your records up to date and your company ticking over.

Should you prefer to go for the easier, albeit less profitable, option of working through an umbrella companythen you will pay tax and National Insurance as if you were an employee. You will complete timesheets and the umbrella company will invoice the end-client on your behalf, then make the necessary deductions before paying you. This means that your take home pay will be less than it would if you were working through your own limited company, but it requires less admin on your part.

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How to get started as a locum nurse

One of the main concerns people have about giving up permanent employment is the fact that working for yourself can mean a lack of job security. However, for independent professionals who make allowances for this, the work they do can yield enough money to cover periods in between contracts or allow for planned breaks without leaving you worried about money. 

To find work, there are a number of agencies which place qualified individuals in positions all over the country, such as MyLocum and HCL Nursing which will match your skills with clients’ requirements to find you work. With the HNS spending billions on temporary staff, there is plenty of work for those who are in a position to take on short-term contracts and able to be flexible with their working patterns. A combination of skills shortages which have left departments understaffed and European Working Time Directives which limit the number of hours workers can be on shift means that there are vacancies in almost all sectors of the health service.

Rates of pay for locum nurses

The rates offered to locum nurses not only reflect their training and experience, but also the fact that they are working without many of the benefits that permanent employees enjoy. This means that the rates on offer can be hugely appealing.

A nurse practitioner can earn around £55 per hour in some areas of the country and a practice nurse can earn up to £42 per hour, but these rates can increase significantly on bank holidays and around times when many people book holidays such as Christmas. Although these rates are appealing, it is important to consider that you will need to set aside some of your invoiced income for tax and National Insurance in order to ensure that you are not met with an unexpected bill at the end of the year. If you want to get an idea of what your actual earnings could be for a range of different pay scales, then using a take home pay calculator can be a helpful way to get an idea of your potential earnings.

Benefits of working as a locum nurse 

Although the potential earnings may seem like a good enough reason to become a locum, there are plenty of other benefits to working for yourself within the healthcare industry. For many nurses, the rigours of permanent roles take their toll on their work-life balance, so if you want to inject a little more flexibility into your schedule then being a locum could be an ideal way to do so without sacrificing your income. As a locum, you can choose the contracts which suit you best, allowing you to work around family commitments, take breaks whenever you want and choose your own hours.

Working as a locum can also be a great way to broaden your horizons, so if you want to continue your studies, improve your CV with some more varied experience or just have a chance to work some different settings, you can. Because you have so much control over where and when you work, you can seek out the kind of jobs that appeal to you or that will help you to advance your career. If you are relatively new to nursing, then this can be a hugely helpful way to decide on a direction for your career and gain some vital experience in a range of fields.

If you are a trained nurse and want to get out and explore the world then you will have plenty of opportunity to do so as a locum. Some agencies specialise in placing qualified staff in international positions, and there are always opportunities for those who want to work with charities and aid efforts which can offer hugely rewarding positions for those who want them. If you wish to permanently relocate to another country, then nursing often features on the list of desired skills for those who want to gain work visas, meaning that you could gain residency in a number of different places all over the world should you choose.

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Operating as a locum long term

For most nurses who choose to become locums, the flexibility and control that they have over their own careers proves so appealing that they choose to continue. Many that start off working through an umbrella company decide that they want to switch to operating as a limited company in order to maximise their earnings and benefit from the tax planning opportunities. If you wish to set up a limited company then you might find that using the services of an accountant can help you to keep on top of the admin, take advantage of tax savings that might be available to you and keep abreast of the latest changes in the relevant legislation appropriate to your situation.

How Nixon Williams could help you

For anyone who is considering leaving the world of permanent work and becoming a locum nurse, having an experienced and qualified accountant to help you keep your finance in order is hugely helpful. When you are focussing on finding work, dealing with the admin involved in running your business and establishing yourself within a network of colleagues, worrying about tax return deadlines and trying to keep up with all the relevant legislation can be a daunting task. Because our accountants specialise in helping contractors and independent professionals to maximise their income, we can help you to take advantage of all the potential savings available to you, advise you on the best way to plan for the future and help you with ongoing tax advice throughout the year.

Our accountancy packages provide you with everything you need to take care of your finances, from the moment you make the decision to become an independent professional to planning your pension. You will never have to worry about missing a deadline and we will deal with HMRC and Companies House on your behalf to help you navigate your way through the complex and sometimes confusing tax system.

For information on how we can help you make the transition from permanent employment to working for yourself, give us a call today on 01253 362062 or email craig.whelan@nixonwilliams.com.