It’s not the CEOs of massive companies that are struggling, but the owners of the millions of small businesses and shops across the country. In his recent Autumn Statement, George Osborne acknowledged some of the issues that affect these small businesses, and laid down ways in which he hopes to help them.
George Osborne said in last week’s Autumn Statement, “There is one group of businesses that have found the recession especially hard – as it has coincided with a rising challenge from the internet that is only getting stronger. These are our local retailers – the shops, the pubs and the cafes that make up our high streets across Britain. With Small Business Saturday this weekend, I want the Government to do all it can to help them. We’re already changing the planning rules to help town centres compete. To get the vacant shops that blight too many town centres to open again, I am introducing a new reoccupation relief that will halve the rates for new occupants.”
His words are reassuring for many small business owners, but the question that may still be lingering in their minds is, “How does this all affect me?”
It’s clear that small businesses play a big role in the economy, and if the Autumn Statement is anything to go by, the future looks bright for SMEs. Time will tell whether the Chancellor’s promises come true, but for now, small business owners can rest assured that relief will be more available than ever. In the words of Osborne himself, “Britain’s moving; let’s keep going.”
This article was provided by 1st Contact Accounting, which gives forward-thinking individuals the tools to steer their financial affairs forward.
The Chancellor George Osborne delivered his Autumn Statement this morning against a backdrop of quietly increasing confidence. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) increased its growth forecast for the UK from 0.9% in July to 1.4% in October and the Bank of England announced in November that the UK’s economic recovery has “finally taken hold”.
Whilst the Chancellor undoubtedly has one eye on the next general election in 2015, there is still work to do to ensure the improving economic picture continues. With this balancing act in mind, the Chancellor announced:
When announcing the business rate reliefs, the Chancellor said: "There is one group of businesses that have found the recession especially hard – as it has coincided with a rising challenge from the internet that is only getting stronger. These are our local retailers – the shops, the pubs and the cafes that make up our high streets across Britain. With Small Business Saturday this weekend, I want the government to do all it can to help them.
"We’re already changing the planning rules to help town centres compete. To get the vacant shops that blight too many town centres to open again, I am introducing a new reoccupation relief that will halve the rates for new occupants."
He went on to say, "I can announce today that for the next two years every retail premise in England with a rateable value of up to £50,000 will get a discount on their business rates."
Responding to this announcement Vince McLoughlin, partner at business and tax advisory firm Russell New, said “Something had to be done with business rates and by extending the relief beyond April, this gives businesses of all shapes and sizes some breathing space in which to grow and boost local economies in 2014.”
For more on the Autumn statement, see:
To find out more about Small Business Saturday and how you can get involved, see our blog.
New tax rules introduced in April 2013 allow sole traders (ie self-employed, unincorporated businesses) to use simpler rules for recording their business expenses. So what are they and how do they make life easier?
The first new rule is that sole traders can record their costs on what is called the ‘cash basis’, which means when they are paid. For almost all sole traders, this will not be very different from what they already do, even though previous rules stated that transactions should be recorded when they are incurred rather than paid (known as ‘accruals basis’). The subtle difference is when items are bought or sold on credit or paid for at a different time.
Under the new rules, instead of recording the actual costs and expenses incurred, a flat rate amount can be claimed for certain costs. You can claim these flat rate amounts regardless of whether you decide to cash account or not.
45p a mile for the first 10,000 miles and 25p a mile thereafter. If you use a motorcycle for business, you can claim 24p a mile.
If you elect to use this method you cannot claim any other motor costs.
Instead of claiming a portion of actual expenses you can claim the following amounts:
To use the cash accounting rules your yearly turnover in a year must not exceed the vat registration threshold. You must leave this scheme when your turnover exceeds twice the VAT registration threshold.
If you opt to use cash accounting there are a couple of pitfalls to be aware of:
You can find out more about the ‘cash basis’ and ‘simplified expenses’ schemes by visiting the Tax Donut.
Running a small business can be an isolating experience for owners. They often lack people to confide in who have a sufficient understanding of their business – which is why a good accountant is so vital.
The right accountant acts as a business mentor, helping with so much more than tax strategies, business structure and the usual compliance services. In my experience, growth is best achieved if an accountant applies their skills to identify strengths and weaknesses, using the figures as building blocks to drive the business forward, tasking the owner with addressing limitations and building on assets.
But with so many accountants advertising their services, how do you select the right one for your business? The following may help to guide you in the right direction.
SMEs rarely have the advantage of large management teams with a wide range of specialisms and expertise. So, having access to suitably qualified professionals in the form of a knowledgeable and proactive accountant is essential. Someone who will keep a professional confidence and who understands a company well enough to offer constructive advice can make the difference between getting by and running a thriving and growing business.
By Carl Elsby, MD of chartered accountants Elsby & Co
There seems to be some confusion about the new Real Time Information rules (RTI) and when penalties apply. There are three situations where a fine can be imposed.
There will be no penalties if your RTI returns are submitted late for 2012 – 2013 (if you are in the pilot) or 2013 – 2014.
According to HMRC: “Penalties for inaccuracies may apply from the 2013-14 tax year. HMRC will continue to use a risk-based approach to identify employers who may be submitting incorrect returns.”
The rules here do not change with the implementation of RTI.
“HMRC will continue to use a risk-based approach to identify employers who are not complying with their payment obligations and who therefore might be liable to late payment penalties.” Full guidance from HMRC can be found here.
My advice? If you don’t think your data is accurate, don’t submit a return until it is. You won’t be fined for a late return, but will be fined if you submit inaccurate data.
Of course you will need to make sure your data is accurate and submit on time for your April 2014 payroll runs, although it’s worth noting that the last day for your RTI return for 2013-2014 is 19 May 2014.
If in any doubt about RTI contact your payroll provider or your accountant.
** After this article was published, HMRC announced a "relaxation of reporting arrangements for small businesses". According to HMRC: "Until 5 October 2013, employers with fewer than 50 employees, who find it difficult to report every payment to employees at the time of payment, may send information to HMRC by the date of their regular payroll run but no later than the end of the tax month (5th)." We’ve put together an RTI resource page that contains a handy checklist, various articles, blogs and news.
Deadlines, deadlines, deadlines! There is nothing like a good deadline to get you motivated, especially when it comes to that glorious time of year when taxes are due. Still, as we all get busy with our daily lives and other obligations, that 31 January deadline can creep up on us and leave us scrambling to complete them on time.
By mid-January an astonishing half a million people will not have filed their taxes with just two weeks left to do so. The result: many late filings and post-deadline tax returns. So, what can you expect if your tax return does not get there in time?
Okay, chances are if you file your tax return after the deadline your life will not be over with. There will be no execution mob that comes after you, but there may be something much worse – the government.
The government has not, in recent decades especially, taken lightly to the idea of missed or late tax returns. In 1992, it began to reassess the laws and provide individuals and businesses with stiffer penalties for not paying their taxes on time.
The penalties for filing your tax return late can be high. Firstly, there is an initial penalty of £100. You will then be charged £10 a day for the first three months up to the date that you submit your return, up to a maximum of £900. So, for example, if you file your tax return on the 12 February, you will incur a fine of £220 (a £100 initial penalty plus £120 for the 12 days you were late). If six months pass and you still haven’t got around to filing, you will either be fined 5% of the tax due or receive an extra £300 fine. And if a whole year goes by you will receive the same fine again. You may also be asked to pay your tax bill in full on top of all of the fines outlines above – which is something that no business wants to end up having to face.
With so many complications and filing issues, it would be better to avoid the late penalties and get on track with filing your return on time. Easier said the done! Rather than trying to take on the task all on your own, consider using the resources around you. Specifically, those in the financial fields well versed in the laws can help. Accountants are individuals who understand taxes and will be able to help you reach your end goal of filing more easily. Consider them as a great resource to avoid the penalties that late filing face.
Laura Ginn writes for www.realbusinessrescue.co.uk, a website that offers help to businesses that are in trouble.
For tips and practical advice on filing tax returns see the Tax Donut's latest blog.
Business owners take note. The self assessment deadline is fast approaching and if you haven’t filed by midnight on 31 January expect hefty fines from HMRC. Although many can take it in their stride, for the uninitiated, completing a self assessment can be a daunting affair – especially if you don’t have a head for figures.
Do a bit of research and approach your personal tax return sensibly, though (and, of course, follow our simple tips below), and you’ll have it filed in no time.
Give yourself time!
Your self assessment isn’t something you can just sit down and do in one evening. If it’s your first time, you’ll have to wait for two separate pieces of information to arrive in the post from HMRC (your Unique Taxpayer Reference number, used to identify you, and your HMRC Online Services PIN number, which gives you access to the online filing system).
Not only that, but you’ll need your previous financial years’ bank and credit card statements. Banks often make procuring these records needlessly complicated, so plan in advance to make sure you have everything you need.
A large part of filing a self assessment is just that – filing. You need to organise all your financial records sensibly, ready for entry into HMRC’s online filing system.
Categorise your records by income and expenses, and separate out revenue streams. For example, you may receive money directly through your business, but also own a rental property that nets you a few hundred quid every month. These need to be recorded separately.
Don’t rely on HMRC’s hotline
Although HMRC Online Services is full of helpful hints and tips, its self assessment hotline becomes virtually inaccessible for the last few days of January, as disorganised individuals rush to complete their tax return at the last minute.
You may be able to get through if you persist, but HMRC’s call centres shouldn’t be relied upon around personal tax season.
If in doubt – consult an expert
Those with more complicated finances may well be better off engaging an accountant to complete their self assessment. Many firms offer a one-off personal tax service for about £75, which can prove a real lifesaver if you get stuck.
Remember, you have to pay your tax on the 31 January, too
If you leave your filing to the last minute only to find out you owe HMRC thousands, that’s bad news for you and your bank balance. Filing early will allow you to find out how much tax you owe beforehand, so you can plan appropriately.
Self assessments aren’t always bad news, though. If you’ve overpaid your taxes in the last financial year you’ll be in line for a refund from HMRC and filing early means you’ll be at the head of the queue when the taxman’s purse open.
The introduction of Real Time Information (RTI) for PAYE is being billed as a positive step for all — making it easier for HMRC and employers to operate their PAYE systems. How difficult the transition will be remains to be seen but it is a significant change that every UK business needs to understand and prepare for.
Under the current system — which has remained pretty much unchanged since 1944 — employers are only required to send information about their employees' PAYE and NIC deductions at the end of the tax year. From 2013, they’ll have to do this every month — when they pay their staff. This migration process will take place between April and October 2013.
But businesses need to prepare for the change now.
Is your data accurate?
An important step, according to payroll software specialist Sage, is to make sure your records are 100% accurate. Sage provides nearly half a million employers in the UK with payroll solutions and it has been working closely with HMRC since RTI was conceived.
The wrong data about your staff, it warns, can cause inaccurate tax calculations or HMRC compliance checks.
The vast majority (80%) of data problems, according to HMRC, are concerned with inaccurate information about staff — names, dates of birth and NI numbers.
Its records show that 824 employees had the surname “unknown”, for example. 507 employees are called “A N Other” and over 2,000 have an NI number of AB123456. In addition, some 40 employees on payroll records purported to be over 200 years old!
Recording employee information for RTI
Sage has come up with a useful list of dos and don’ts to help businesses prepare:
• enter the employee’s full forename and surname
• enter a double-barrelled surname in full
• only enter an employee’s correct National Insurance number
• enter the correct date of birth in the format DD/MM/YYYY
• use “known as” names such as Bob instead of Robert or Sam instead of Samuel
• enter an initial in either the forename or surname boxes
• make up an NI number
• enter a default date of birth such as 01/01/1901
There’s more advice on data quality on the HMRC website.
Sage has produced a series of guides and webinars as well as access to training on RTI to help businesses prepare.
• After this blog was published, HMRC announced a "relaxation of reporting arrangements for small businesses". According to HMRC: "Until 5 October 2013, employers with fewer than 50 employees, who find it difficult to report every payment to employees at the time of payment, may send information to HMRC by the date of their regular payroll run but no later than the end of the tax month (5th)."
There is an ever growing number of accounting software packages available to suit businesses of any size and many that are particularly suitable for small business accounting. Making accounting easy is crucial for those running their own business, at whatever stage of development. However, should you choose to purchase accounting software from the start or is it a cost that can wait?
Generally, it’s advisable to have an accounting system in place when you start running your business. Free advice is available online from Business Link (and other sources) and it’s a good idea to make the most of such resources. Additionally, I believe it’s important to employ an accountant, if only for advice, in the early days. As your business grows, using the right system for you and taking further advice is crucial.
For the smallest of businesses a basic Excel spread-sheet is likely to be an adequate way to record your costs and income. You’ll need to know what costs can be included in this and if you are unsure, take professional advice. Setting up a spread-sheet that contains functions to calculate figures on an on-going basis will make the process simpler. If you don’t know how to do this, find someone who does. In addition to keeping the spread-sheet up to date you’ll need to create your own invoices, a Word document set up as a template is a simple way to do this. Keeping your own accounts in this way is certainly cost-effective, but is also probably the most time-consuming.
This usually comes in two types – desktop accounting software or online accounting software. Desktop packages come in the form of a CD or download that you install onto your computer. If your accounts are simple, a basic software package should be sufficient, although consider which features you will need in the future. Payroll and VAT functions may not be relevant now, but check to be sure that the package you buy can be updated with different elements as your business grows. Online accounting software is considered by many to offer more flexibility than desktop software. Accessing your accounting system via a web browser, your records and data are stored securely, which can combat any loss by theft of computer crashes, and can be accessed wherever you are or whenever you like.
Accurate record keeping is essential when it comes to small business accounting. It’s also a legal requirement (you can be fined if you fail to keep truthful and accurate financial records).
Certainly even for the smallest business, online accounting software packages can help to ensure that records are available when needed. Accounting software of both varieties will also help you to prepare simple and professional accounts for your accountant, saving them time – while saving you money. Professionally prepared accounts, invoices and reports are also well received by banks and other potential sources of funding.
Start-ups and small businesses need to ensure the records they keep are accurate and up-to-date. They also need to give serious thought to the systems they will use as part of their business planning. Preparation and accuracy in the early stages of planning and running your business will pay dividends in the future and may well be the two most important tools that will help you to establish your business.
See the Tax Donut for more information on business finance
The term “accountant” is not regulated, so anyone can call themselves an accountant regardless of their background, experience, training or professional qualifications.
Like any industry or profession, there can be cowboys or people who don’t have the ability to advise clients on all aspects of accountancy and taxation.
If the accountant gets it wrong it will be their client who ends up in trouble. This can result in HMRC imposing fines, penalties and at the very worst – a prison sentence on the client.
There are formal accounting qualifications and on gaining these, an accountant becomes qualified. Examples of qualified accountants are those that are members of recognised accountancy bodies such as:
An accountant who is a member of a recognised accounting body should adhere to rules/ standards/ethics/guidelines set by their professional body.
In addition, if they offer accounting and tax sources directly to clients, they must have gained sufficient experience to hold a “Practicing Certificate”, which is only issued by their accounting body once they have shown evidence of having the necessary experience.
Accountants holding such a Practice Certificate and providing services to clients must take out professional indemnity insurance, which gives their clients protection in the unlikely case of a complaint or litigation being brought.
Of course it may well be the case that a non-qualified accountant has the equivalent experience and insurance cover. It cannot be assumed that your accountant is qualified and you should always check.
There are many excellent qualified and non-qualified accountants around. Often an unqualified accountant is referred to by the term “QBE” (qualified by experience). The challenge lies in just how you measure the experience of a QBE accountant.
Formal training ensures that accountants have been exposed to many, if not all aspects, of accounting and taxation. While it is essential that the accountant keeps their knowledge up to date in a constantly changing space, at least they have a base knowledge.
A QBE learns by experience. If they have not experienced a particular aspect of taxation or accounting, they will not have learnt about it.
Qualified accountants who are members of a professional body must have a complaints procedure that explains what clients should do if they have an issue with their accountant.
Included in the complaints procedure will be the right for the client to complain to the relevant professional body if they aren’t happy with their accountant’s handling of their complaint.
In the event of a serious disciplinary matter, the accountant could be struck off by its professional body following a client complaint. Accountants who aren’t members of a professional body don’t need to have a complaints procedure nor is there any recourse to a professional body.
Traditionally, businesses have used a local accountant. However, businesses can now use remote/online accountants at a more affordable price.
Good remote/online accountants offer the same service and deliver the same quality as a traditional local accountant. They can be contacted, generally, by email and/or telephone when necessary.
Crucially, the credentials of remote/online accountants should be checked just as thoroughly as you would for a traditional accountant.
For a whole host of information about accounts, tax and finance, look at our Tax Donut.
We’re starting to see reminders from HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) that the tax return season is fast approaching. So what are the key facts you need to know?
Most people who have to file a tax return do so online. It’s quicker and easier and means the deadline is later – 31 January 2012. That’s also when any tax and National Insurance will be due, whether you file online or use the paper form.
If you’re filing your tax return using a paper form, whether you’re filling that in by hand or printing it from tax software, you need to get that in to HMRC by 31 October 2011.
What if the tax year that ended on 5 April 2011 was the first one for which you have to file a tax return? You must file it by 31 January 2012 if you’re filing online, either via HMRC’s website or through commercial third-party software.
If you want to file your tax return online, you must register to do so with HMRC – and that’s a different process from registering with them as self-employed. HMRC, if you’re reading this – please could you combine these processes?
I recommend filing your tax return online. It’s quicker, kinder to the environment, and perhaps most importantly of all, commercial software and HMRC’s website will calculate your tax for you. That’s not to be sneezed at. Working out your tax, by the time you’ve included National Insurance, isn’t a walk in the park.
If this is the first year you have had to file a tax return and you haven’t yet registered with HMRC to file online, do so sooner rather than later – and not just because it’s easy to forget to do it.
HMRC have to send you an activation PIN for the online filing service. They send this by “snail mail” and this can take up to seven working days to arrive.
You have to register with HMRC and be sent an activation PIN to use even if you’re going to use commercial software to file your tax return, rather than the HMRC website.
So why not make registering a task for later this month, or November, before the Christmas rush hits? Not only will you be very busy in December, so will Royal Mail, which might mean your activation PIN might get delayed in the post.
Don’t risk being late in filing your tax return. HMRC have changed the rules so that if you do file your tax return late, you’ll pay a £100 fine, even if you don’t have any tax to pay. (Historically, the fine was limited to the amount of tax payable.) And the fines increase the longer you delay filing. You will almost certainly also have to pay interest and penalties if you pay your tax late.
Don’t give more money to Mr Osborne than you have to. Register now and file your tax return on time.
Emily Coltman ACA is Chief Accountant at FreeAgent, an online accounting system designed specifically to meet the needs of freelancers and small businesses. Try it for free at www.freeagent.com
“Buying an existing business can be less risky than creating one from scratch. If the business has customers, it has income. Risk is also easier to assess because you can calculate costs, turnover and profit – and thereby predict cashflow”
Emilie Corbille of www.daltonsbusiness.com
“If you want to form a new company, you must send Companies House your registration fee plus a memorandum of association, articles of association and a completed IN01 form, which details the company’s registered office and the names and addresses of its directors (and company secretary, if applicable)”
Andrew Millet of Wisteria Formations
“By putting away some money from your earnings each month – say, 25 per cent of your gross earnings – you should have more than enough money in the bank to take care of your tax bills”
James R McBrearty of www.taxhelp.uk.com
“Even if you believe you have an excellent idea for a business, you mustn’t allow yourself to get fooled into a false sense of optimism. Test it thoroughly by doing some basic market research. Only then can you move forward on any sound basis”
Start-up author Kevin Duncan
“You should minimise your start-up costs because then you’ll stand a better chance of surviving that crucial first year. Also, it’s a good discipline to get into from day one. In business, you must keep your costs as low as possible – and avoid buying things you don’t need”
Martin Dunne of Sayers Butterworth chartered accountants
“The old saying ‘turnover is vanity, profit sanity and cash reality’ remains true. Businesses go bust in the long term through lack of profit, but in the short term, they fail because they don’t have enough cash to pay their bills on demand. Cashflow is the lifeblood of any business”
Chartered Accountant Howard S Hackney
“Having a written contract clearly sets out the roles and responsibilities of both parties, which is helpful when it comes to monitoring the relationship’s success. It can also act as proof if a supplier’s performance falls short”
Marie Kell of Andrew Jackson solicitors
“The onus is on the business to ensure staff comply with legislation. An act of omission by an employee is likely to have consequences for the business. In some circumstances, directors may even be personally liable. The consequences can be drastic”
Kevin Turnbull of Muckle LLP Solicitors
“Editorial is regarded as more believable than an advert. I’ve read that it’s 50 per cent easier to sell to someone who has read positive things about your business, products or services. And such publicity is usually no cost or low cost. Even if you have to pay someone to do your PR, gaining one piece of coverage per month can be much cheaper than advertising”
Jane Lee of IT PR specialist Dexterity
“It’s low cost and therefore less risky, because there aren’t any expensive premises overheads. You can also claim for a percentage of your domestic bills, for lighting, heating, telephone calls, etc. A home office means no commute, so you save money and time, too”
Emma Jones of Enterprise Nation
Every business has different needs when it comes to using an accountant. Indeed, some may decide not to use one at all.
Only a limited company with a turnover of more than £6.5m and a balance sheet total exceeding £3.26m needs an audit – which would require an accountant. Most other businesses can do their own accounts and tax returns, if they so choose. However, running a business is hard enough without having to learn every accounting and tax rule, regulation and law.
Most businesses need their accountant to complete what we accountants call “compliance work” – basically, filing your accounts and tax returns (eg statutory accounts, annual return, VAT, Self Assessment, Corporation Tax, PAYE, etc) in correct format, ahead of deadline.
Most small businesses have very simple accounting and tax needs. Accounts usually consist of:
So how many individual transactions would this be a year? 100? 200? 500? Not too many, really. Add a free or inexpensive accounting system to your PC to record these transactions and you won’t have to face the nightmare of bags overflowing with receipts, invoices, statements, etc.
You can save a lot of money simply by doing your own bookkeeping, of course. Modern PC-based systems also grant better control of the financial side of running a business. Thanks to accounting software (or even just a basic Excel spreadsheet system), you no longer have to wait several months after the year-end to find out how your business has performed.
Keeping your accounts up to date in this way allows you to make better decisions based upon current financial data. It also allows your accountant to provide appropriate advice based upon your current trading rather than on previous accounts, which could be two years or so out of date.
Occasionally, you might need clarification on a financial or tax matter – so being able to quickly pick up the phone to ask your accountant questions can be hugely beneficial.
Accountants like to give this advice the grand title of “tax planning”. For some businesses (ie those with a high turnover or value), it’s important to have a clear and documented tax strategy. But in most cases, a tax planning strategy can be quite simple.
Your accountant should also make sure you claim all allowable costs – those that are “wholly and exclusively for business”. Many myths exist about what you can claim (eg clothes, all lunches, etc). Some seem to think that unless you hire an ‘expensive’ accountant, you won’t get the right advice on allowable costs. Utter nonsense! The advice you get depends on the accountant – there are good and bad ones – whatever price you pay!
Planning for the long term may give you a different tax plan, for example, if you intend to build up and sell your business. In addition, your circumstances could change and it may be necessary to discuss your tax plan with your accountant if, for example, you separate from your spouse, want to retire or buy property, etc.
Trying to account for “ifs, buts and maybes” in a tax strategy can make it unnecessarily complex. Taking into account events that may never happened can lead to a flawed plan, so keep things simple, based on what you know and what is likely to happen. Make sure you keep your accountant informed of any likely or forthcoming changes in your circumstances. This will help them ensure your tax plan remains valid.
There’s no need to pay fancy fees for specialist services you’d rarely, if ever, use. You can get the best of both words by making sure your accountant provides the service you need as and when you need it – at a fair price. An accountant with core trained and qualified staff, plus access to specialist services, should easily be able to do this for you.
Since 1 April 2011, the tax paid by small limited companies (Corporation Tax) is the same as the basic rate of income tax – 20 per cent. In addition, the increase in Class 4 National Insurance contributions (NICs) should prompt sole traders to review their business structures for potential tax savings.
Maybe you decided to be a sole trader because you thought it was easier. Deciding which business structure to go for isn’t always simple. There isn’t a ‘one-size-fits-all’ answer.
Your personal circumstances should determine your choice – and only you can decide.
Putting aside the misleading perception that a limited company gives you greater status or credibility then, in my opinion, there are two major issues to consider when deciding your business structure.
As a sole trader there is no distinction between you and your business. You do not need to have a separate business bank account. All the debts of the business are your debts. If the assets of the business do not cover the debts, your personal assets could be used to pay the debts – and that includes your house.
The debts of a limited company belong to the company, which is a separate legal entity. Except in cases where personal guarantees have been given, your personal assets will not be used to pay the company’s debts. Maybe this is a more attractive proposition than a sole trader or unincorporated business structure.
The second reason for a limited liability business is based on tax savings. As a sole trader you pay:
If your profits are below the personal allowance of £7,475, in all likelihood it would be better to operate as a sole trader. You will pay no income tax and will only pay a very small amount of Class 4 NICs if your profits exceed £7,225.
If you profits are below £5,315, you can also apply for an exemption to Class 2 NICs.
A limited company pays Corporation Tax at 20 per cent on its profits (up to £300,000, after which the rate rises).
Profits can be withdrawn from the company by way of a salary for the director(s) and dividends for shareholders. Again, this assumes that the directors/shareholders have no other income.
I’ll illustrate with an example… Say your business has profits of £15,000 and you have no other income.
Tax as a sole trader would be:
Total tax = £2,335. So profits after tax are £12,665.
Tax as a limited company would be:
The profit of £7,932 is distributed from the company as a dividend and no further income tax is due on the dividend, because the total income is below the higher rate threshold.
The total available after tax is the available profits + salary – Corporation Tax = £13,413. With profits of £15,000 you would be better off as a limited company to the tune of £748. If your profits are higher the savings may also increase.
Some may argue that this would be wiped out by an increase in accounting fees – I usually respond with “not if you are using CheapAccounting.co.uk”.
There may be the opportunity to sell your sole trader business to your limited company. In doing this you may realise significant tax savings. It would be inappropriate of me to give a specific example here, because savings are absolutely dependent upon your circumstances.
So my advice is to get someone to review your circumstances and work out a specific projection for you.
This week’s Budget speech was full of references to enterprise, start-ups and growth. But it remains to be seen just how much George Osborne’s budget will actually do to help small firms in the UK.
Like every Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne has had to try and deliver something for everyone — and in business terms that includes local shop-keepers and high-growth technology firms, big businesses and the city.
But while there was some good news for small businesses — and lots of talk about helping entrepreneurs — many of the substantial changes look set to benefit large companies.
In fact, as Robert Peston noted in his BBC blog, this was a budget for big businesses.
First and foremost, the surprise two per cent reduction in Corporation Tax is good news for big companies. But what about the small business rate? That drops one per cent (as previously announced) to 20 per cent but there’s no extra reduction for small firms in this Budget.
The relaxation of planning restrictions will be music to the ears of some of the UK’s largest corporates such as supermarkets and construction firms. But will it really make a great deal of difference to the average small business?
George’s big moment was the announcement that fuel duty would be reduced by 1p, effective immediately. In addition, the planned inflation rise in fuel duty due in April was delayed and the annual 1p above inflation “fuel escalator” rise was scrapped until 2015.
But these gestures mostly represented a chance to grab — and make — the headlines with the clever message that this is the Budget that “fuels” growth. Do you see what they did there?
In fact, the price of petrol has gone up by 17p in the past 12 months and the price of diesel has risen by 23p. That’s the reality on the forecourt for small firms.
OK, yes we’re getting 21 new Enterprise Zones — but how these will work has yet to be revealed.
And yes, from April, there will be a moratorium exempting start-ups and all businesses employing less than ten people from new domestic regulation for the next three years. That’s just new legislation, mind.
And yes, the tax code is being simplified, with 43 tax reliefs being abolished. Call me cynical, but I would bet these are the 43 most obscure parts of the tax code — the removal of which may not radically reduce red tape for the average business.
OK, the government has agreed with the banks a 15 per cent increase in the availability of credit to small businesses. But how that translates into real lending remains to be seen. Does that mean that your business will get the lending it needs to invest in people, product development, equipment, stock — all necessary for growth.
Then there’s the merging of National Insurance and Income Tax. With NI costs rising, this sounds like a plan that could make a very real difference to SMEs. But it’s only a consultation. And the government is looking at merging the administration of NI and income tax, not necessarily fully merging the two systems. And anyway, it’s going to take ages…
Much of the talk about encouraging enterprise in the Budget was full of soundbites — tell the world, “Britain is open for business”, we are making the UK “the best place in Europe to start, finance and grow a business” and this is a “budget for making things not for making things up”.
But soundbites don’t fuel growth. And, as important as Wednesday’s Budget was, the effect of the sweeping cuts is about to be felt. With this year’s growth figures revised downwards, we’ve got a long way to go.
Rachel Miller, editor, Marketing Donut.
We have a full reaction to the Budget announcements in our news section. But here are a few brief responses:
Meera Shah, founder, Red Apple Delivery: “Overall for small business it’s fairly positive. The only negative is in terms of employing people - it hasn’t really given me any impetus to hire people. It hasn’t encouraged it. I think he’s done the best he can in very tough situation.”
Neil Westwood, founder, Magic Whiteboard: “I’m glad he’s addressed the fuel. I would have liked more but at least he’s done something about it. On my deliveries it’s costing me a lot more than this time last year. If anything it needs to be reduced by 20p!
“On the tax simplification they’ve got rid of 100 pages, but when you have 10,000 pages, it’s not many. They need to do more but it’s a good start.”
George Derbyshire, chief executive, NFEA: "The impression I got was that there was a range of announcements that were relatively limited individually but together made up a worthwile package. The measures on regulation, tax simplification, public procurement are all worthwhile.
“I think there’s been a reasonable stab at a growth strategy across a wide range of industry sectors and measures. Apprenticeships are a difficult sell but once the penny drops I think lots of small businesses can use apprentices very effectively.”
Chris Gorman, spokesman, Forum of Private Business: “It’s a step in the right direction but we need more radical, hard-hitting, widespread reform to really make a difference to the lives of small business owners… We wanted to some more drastic things in terms of radical tax and regulatory simplification.”
Brendan Flattery, chief executive, Sage UK: “Whether or not George Osborne’s Budget will amount to his promised ’Bonfire on Red Tape’ remains to be seen, but the three year moratorium on regulation for small businesses can only be good news for small business owners.
“The reduction in corporation tax is encouraging, and shows the Government is at least trying to match words with action. But despite this and other positive steps to encourage investment small businesses are likely to remain cautious in their optimism. A recent Omnibus survey we conducted found small business owners were left underwhelmed by the government’s efforts to get banks lending to business.”
The Wordle above illustrates the frequency of words that appeared in George Osborne’s Budget speech. The bigger the word, the more frequently it appeared – and so, we assume, the more important it is.
The biggest relevant words here are tax and new. Tax is understandable – there were a lot of announcements around the tax system and its simplification. New? Well, I guess the Chancellor took a lot of pride in announcing one "new" initiative after another.
We then have Britain (naturally) and growth. This, the Tories have been saying, would be a “Budget for growth”. Was it? Well, given that the Budget was accompanied by a downgrading of growth forecasts, we’ve got to wonder… Nevertheless, the words business and businesses are reasonably prominent, too.
Work, however, is not. Neither is manufacturing, despite the apparent emphasis on this sector. One surprisingly large word is also. Well, maybe it’s not so surprising – this was, after all, something of an ‘also’ Budget. How many times did the Chancellor say, like a conjuror, “I promised you this, but I’m also giving you this.”
Investment in growth
Tax and business rates
Tomorrow (Wednesday, 23 March) will see George Osborne’s second Budget as Chancellor. Whatever measures Osborne reveals tomorrow, they will be announced against a backdrop of slow growth, rising inflation and impending cuts.
Frankly, it’s not the best time to be Chancellor. As the latest results from Sage UK’s monthly omnibus survey reveal, some 44 per cent of small-business owners are feeling nervous about the impact the Budget will have on their business. Only 5 per cent of the 1,200 survey respondents were optimistic.
So, what are we all worried about? Sage’s survey identified increased National Insurance contributions, enterprise zones and bank lending as the key issues bugging small firms. The small business groups are calling for the business tax system to be simplified and red tape to be reduced - and tax and regulation are likely to be the hottest issues tomorrow.
The coalition government itself has promised the most “pro-enterprise” and “business-friendly” Budget in a generation. They’ve suggested that they’re going to ease employment law, cut red tape and reform the planning system, among other things.
But it remains to be seen whether the government can keep small businesses happy. Follow the Budget 2011 live on the Donuts and find out what happens.
Some of you may be operating your own limited company. It might be just you, maybe you and your partner/spouse or you and your employees.
So how much can you pay yourself? Did you know that from April 2011 you can pay yourself a salary of £589 a month without paying any tax or NI?
At this level:
One of the tax-efficient ways to operate* as a shareholder of a limited company is to pay anything over and above the salary as dividends. A dividend is the distribution of ‘after-tax profits’, so it’s essential that the company has sufficient retained profits to pay a dividend.
If this rule is not followed, the dividend could be viewed as an unlawful distribution of the company’s funds.
No additional income tax** is due on dividends received where the total income of the person is below the higher rate threshold.
The higher rate threshold from April 2011 is £35,000.
Assuming that you have no other income, you can pay a divided from the company of £31,866 before you pay any additional income tax.***
Other income covers interest received, rental income received, additional dividends etc
On an annual basis you can pay:
*Subject to your specific circumstances. Check with your accountant whether this is best for you. This is a guide only.
**Corporation Tax has been paid on the company profits at 21 per cent until 31 March 2011 and 20 per cent from 1 April 2011. So while the above is free from additional income tax, Corporation Tax has been paid on the profit where profit = income less costs (the salary is an allowable cost).
***Calculation for dividend – here’s the maths!
Every business needs accounts. They may differ in format and complexity, but every self-employed person must produce accounts to complete their tax return, while limited companies must complete accounts according to the Companies Act. Here are the answers to a few frequently asked questions about start up account keeping.
Some small businesses don't like to open a separate bank account because of the charges, but if you don't have a dedicated bank account for your business, there is much more risk of confusion and your bookkeeping will take longer because there will be more transactions to account for – many of which will be irrelevant to your business.
Banks often give you a good deal when you start up, change banks or keep a minimum balance in the account. Even if there is a cost, this has to be set against the fact it will make your bookkeeping much easier, quicker and cheaper.
If HM Revenue & Customs investigates your business, you will be giving them access to your personal as well as your business income when they look at the bank statements if you mix everything up in a private account. It also means that whoever is preparing your accounts and tax returns will see details of your personal/private spending, of course.
If you operate as a limited company – although there is no specific legal requirement – you are strongly advised to open a separate bank account for the company.
Don't mix private and business expenditure. Your bookkeeping will be quicker and easier if you only put business transactions through your business account.
You will need to take money out for yourself – drawings for a sole trader or partnership; normally salary, dividends and expenses for a limited company – but once a month should be enough.
Paying private costs out of the business can create serious tax problems for a limited company, but even for a sole trader/partnership, you’ll only have to pay your bookkeeper or accountant to work their way through your private transactions. And – you may not want them to see how much you spend or what you buy.
Don't be tempted to pay for non-business things out of the business just because that is where the money is and it is convenient.
If you pay business expenses personally you are, of course, entitled to reclaim them back from the business. Try to avoid this as much as possible by using a debit card on your business account or using a petty cash tin so all payments are made directly.
Where it is unavoidable – and this will particularly apply to limited companies claiming mileage in lieu of motor expenses – take the same approach as if you were claiming expenses from an employer.
Detail the claim on a sheet of paper; don't forget to attach supporting receipts (and the mileage log if relevant); and file it in the purchase invoice file in the month in which it is paid.
Finally, try to do it at least once every month so you don't forget any costs or lose receipts and so miss out on claiming a legitimate expense against tax.
It is often easier to use a debit card linked to your business account because you should not be using a credit card as a source of finance. If you are using a credit card for business expenses, try and use it exclusively for the business (don't put private expenditure on it) and pay it off in full at the end of every month.
You will need to analyse the amounts spent on the credit card across the business expense items (eg VAT, travel, motor expenses, etc), because credit card transactions will often fall into different categories.
Sometimes credit card companies will summarise expenditure into different categories, but this is not usually very helpful as their analysis is not the same as the one suitable for the business.
This often causes confusion, but you can simply look at it as your private expenditure and make an expense claim for the business part in the way described above. If you run your own business as a limited company this may be the best way, because paying private costs from the company can cause tax problems.
You will need to have a sensible method of assessing how much the “business part” is. A common example is the cost of running your business from home. You will need to calculate how much your house costs in total and then make a reasonable estimate of the proportion of property used for the business and apply that proportion to the total costs.
It is important to realise that this is just a method of finding out what the business cost is, and if necessary being able to explain why it is 10 per cent or 20 per cent of the total rather than, say 5 per cent.
To be allowable, costs must be incurred for the “sole purpose of the business”. You cannot claim for personal expenses (eg suits or general clothing). Obviously, you can claim for the cost of the goods you have acquired to make your sales. For example, taxi drivers, minicab drivers, etc and those in the road haulage industry should enter fuel costs in this box rather than elsewhere unless they are claiming mileage rate; hairdressers should enter shampoo and hair product costs here.
At the end of the year you will need to make an adjustment for the stock you have left. So the value for cost of sales will be: the value of opening stock brought forward from last year, plus purchases made during the year; less value of closing stock at the end of the year.
Other direct costs might include: discounts; commissions; carriage; and research costs. For permanent, temporary and casual employees you should include: salaries/wages; bonuses; pension contributions; benefits; employer's NICs (National Insurance contributions); canteen expenses; any recruitment agency fees; any subcontract labour costs.
Allowable premises costs include rent; business rates; water rates; light; heat, power; property insurance; security; use of home as office; as well as repairs and renewals and general maintenance of premises and maintenance of machinery.
You can also claim for general admin expenses, such as telephone; broadband; postage/courier; stationery; printing costs; professional journals and subscriptions; insurance (eg public liability, etc). Travel and subsistence costs are also allowable, including vehicle insurance; servicing; repairs; vehicle licence; fuel (or mileage claimed at approved rates); rail/air tickets; taxi fares; hotel accommodation; subsistence/similar costs.
Advertising, marketing and promotional costs can be classed as expenses, as can fees you pay to an accountant, solicitor, surveyor, architect, stock taker, etc. You can also claim back interest and alternative finance payments on bank and other loans (including overdrafts) and alternative finance arrangements, as well as bank/credit card charges and interest charges on hire purchase agreements.
After winning a case on behalf of a client in which HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) was forced to back down and write-off more than £2,000 of previously demanded tax, Elaine Clark of CheapAccounting.co.uk has accused the tax office of not applying its own rules correctly.
“This is a terrible case. [The taxpayer] receives incapacity benefit as well as an NHS pension,” Elaine said. “HMRC was informed of the two sources of income by the Benefits Agency and the NHS, but did not act on the information provided.”
Elaine claimed under the provisions of Extra Statutory Concession A19. The full version of the concession is quite lengthy, but basically it says the tax office must waive tax owed in certain circumstances if it makes a mistake. You could claim if:
(If the tax office made more than one error, the time limit may not apply.)
If you have been sent a bill and you feel this applies to you, then you may wish to seek further advice. Alternatively, there are a number of draft letters available online. (Search for “Sample letter ESC A19”.)
HMRC correctly said it could not comment on individual cases and that the concession would in all likelihood apply only to a small number of cases.
The problem arises because our tax laws place the onus squarely with the individual. Basically, if your tax is wrong, it’s your fault – even if you were not aware of the situation or if the tax office made mistakes. This is clearly ludicrous, especially given the complexities of our tax laws.
Which is why we have ESC A19. It is an incredibly powerful clause – without it HMRC would be almost unaccountable. Six million people could be affected by recent mistakes by the tax office, through no fault of their own, so the usual rules should not apply. Television programmes such as Panorama and cases such as this have highlighted the problem.
Elaine is right – HMRC is failing to instigate the concession when it could do. It is an Extra Statutory Concession that is being debated, so surely it is not beyond HMRC’s remit to introduce a temporary measure – something as simple as sending out a slip inviting a claim, with space for the relevant details perhaps.
Ethically, this would be the right thing to do, but it would of course cost HMRC and by default the government.
Julian Shaw, Founder of The Practice Hub
There is now just over a month remaining before the standard rate of VAT climbs from 17.5 per cent to 20 per cent. VAT-registered businesses are being urged to prepare themselves for the change.
Any sales of standard-rated goods or services made on or after 4 January 2011 must carry a VAT charge of 20 per cent. All VAT invoices must charge the 20 per cent on bills raised on or after 4 January.
Retail businesses do not have to pass the increase on to customers, but they will have to pay HMRC the additional VAT.
If a customer pays on or after 4 January for an item that has been collected or delivered prior to the 4 January, the sale is normally deemed to have occurred before the changeover and the old 17.5 per cent rate applies.
Where the supply of services is continuous (ie a consultancy service), a business must charge VAT at 20 per cent on invoices issued and payments received on or after 4 January. It can, however, apply the 17.5 per cent rate for the services that have been supplied up to 3 January and the 20 per cent rate thereafter.
Moreover, from 4 January 2011 there will be a new list of flat rate percentages. The threshold for joining the scheme will remain at £150,000 in respect of income in the next 12 months and the exit threshold will increase from £225,000 to £230,000.
Non VAT-registered businesses should consider making any large purchases prior to 4 January and expect the cost of standard rated supplies to increase by 2.5 per cent. The VAT registration threshold of £70,000 remains the same.
VAT registered businesses that have questions about the time of supply and the tax point for any VAT transaction should contact their accountant to make sure the relationship between the two is correct. Zero-rated (0 per cent) and reduced-rated sales (5 per cent) will see no change.
You can visit the Jeffreys Henry LLP website at www.jeffreyshenry.com
So the coalition government set out its stall this week by outlining measures it believes will aid the UK’s five million or so small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs).
Hosting the launch event – loftily entitled the Summit for Small Business – Business Minister Mark Prisk said: “I entered government with the goal of making this the most entrepreneurial decade in our history and I'm confident today's announcements will make that a reality.” Big ambition. Bold claim.
All the major parties agree on the pivotal role SMEs are likely to play in reviving the UK economy. SMEs provide 60 per cent of the nation’s jobs and half of its GDP. And with so many public sector workers likely to lose their jobs, many will hope to find gainful employment in the private sector.
The government’s three main aims, as revealed at the Summit, are to: improve access to finance; make it easier for SMEs to win public sector contracts; and allow social tenants (ie someone who rents a property from a local council or housing association) to start their own home-based businesses (currently this isn’t allowed).
Despite the taxpayer bailouts and criticism from business groups, still too many small firms are met with refusal when seeking a bank loan or overdraft extension. Business Secretary Vince Cable has certainly been a vociferous critic of the banks in this regard.
The government says it is committed to ensuring a wide range of finance options for small businesses. The Enterprise Finance Guarantee (EFG) scheme will remain live for another four years. According to the government it will make “£2bn available to viable small companies [that lack] credit history or collateral. This will provide support to 6,000 SMEs a year.”
A further £200m will be committed to Enterprise Capital Funds, which will “support equity investments in the highest-growth potential businesses over four years.” The first of the new funds is expected to begin investing in early 2011.
The government will also work with banks in their response to the Business Finance Taskforce green paper, including the £1.5bn Business Growth Fund, mentoring and drawing up of a new lending code. Vince Cable said: “The government is doing its bit. The banks [must] play their part [by increasing] normal commercial lending to get the economy growing.”
Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne noted: “The private sector is also taking steps to provide a diverse range of finance options for businesses – a development which is welcomed by government.”
The government also wants to make sure SMEs are awarded at least one-quarter of public sector contracts, which will be welcome news for those eager to get a slice of a multi-billion pound pie. To speed up the process a standardised ‘Pre-Qualification Questionnaire’ (developed in co-operation with the Federation of Small Businesses) will be introduced in December. Designed to ease cashflow pressures, the government has committed to pay 80% of its prime contractors within five working days and these must pay their suppliers within 30 days (more good news for many small suppliers).
Cable, Osbourne, Prisk et al are not the first politicians to make speeches underlining the huge contribution SMEs make, as they quietly go about generating wealth and providing employment. Praise is one thing. Time will tell whether these latest measures are enough to have any a quantifiable positive effect on SMEs’ fortunes in the difficult few years yet to come.
Mark Williams, Start Up Donut editor
Amazingly, a change in policy means that if Companies House compulsorily closes your company you could avoid paying any Corporation Tax you owe.
How? It seems that Companies House has adopted a new approach to closing a limited company (by a process known as “striking off”) if that company does not complete an annual return.
An annual return, of course, is a snapshot of certain company information at the made-up date (ie address of registered office, details of directors etc). It is different to the company accounts and does not contain any financial data about the company’s performance.
There are no fines for filing the annual return late, unlike if you file your accounts late, where fines start at £150 and rise to £1,500 for private companies.
For clarification, I telephoned the Companies House helpline and was told: “We changed this in about August 2009. If companies do not reply to our letters, we begin the ‘strike-off’ after about two to three months. The change was as a result of a policy decision – not a change in law.”
As a result of the action by Companies House to close the company, technically, the company no longer exists. And a company that no longer exists cannot pay Corporation Tax.
Because Companies House took this action, the directors or shareholders have not avoided their duties to inform creditors.
So let’s just say you have a company that has traded, made a profit but for whatever reason has been compulsorily closed down by Companies House, then you could just start another one and do the same again.
It seems that while HMRC is told of these compulsory closures, it is not doing anything about them.
It could easily stop the close down until it has the final accounts and tax paid by the limited company.
Why doesn’t HMRC do something about it? That’s the question I would love to have answered.
Should HMRC do something? Well in my opinion – yes. At the moment, in this regard, HMRC is avoiding collecting taxes. Mind you – should we be surprised about another HMRC fiasco?
While I totally disagree with the ethics behind owners of companies taking advantage of this loophole, it is legal and done with full knowledge of Companies House and HMRC. So who am I to question it?
Caution – if the company is closed the business bank account will be closed and the money belongs to the Crown, as will any other company assets.
There may also be other reasons for not wishing your company to be closed down. However, I’m sure there will be a few who will enjoy making use of this loophole.
Elaine Clark, www.cheapaccounting.co.uk