I am currently contracting at an educational establishment and wondering about the legal implications of taking advantage of the educational discounts offered by some of the larger retailers such as Apple. As a UK based contractor I'm thinking about the view that would be taken by HMRC and whether it could be seen as an indication of employment, and therefore count against me for IR35. I'm erring on the side of steering clear so as not to raise any red flags further down the line, in the event of an investigation. Am I being overly cautious?
First, I think this is likely to depend on a lot of things. If you are concerned it might be worth discussing the matter with a lawyer, and the question may be too broad to have a singular answer. However there is at least one major factor you would probably want to look into with the retailers you are considering early on in this process. In other words, here's home work for before your consultation with a lawyer.
How do you represent yourself to get the discount? Unless the UK has some strange twist to their law, there is nothing wrong with Apple giving you a discount because of your exposure to the world of educational institutions (or for any other reason), but if you are representing yourself as an employee to Apple, that might be quite different. So I would think "the educational institution is my customer so I would like a discount" would be most likely safe (but a brief atty consultation is probably cheaper than being wrong!), but "I work for the educational institution so I would like a discount" would be questionable.
As an aside, representing yourself as an employee when you are not is questionable for many reasons. Does it run into tax problems? Is it fraud? It's way better not to go there.