Tag Archive | "Budget"

This is what contractors want from today’s Budget

While Chancellor George Osborne drones on today about the new Budget, here’s what contractors, freelancers and other small business owners would like to hear.

Just in time for the chancellor to reveal new tax planning measures in the Budget, a new YouGov survey of SMEs – which includes freelancers and contractors – has discovered that the kinds of things that self-employed Brits want to see discussed include things like late payments and tax relief. The survey, which polled more than 800 business owners of firms that had 50 employees or fewer, found that the most wanted subject was further relief from corporation tax for small businesses and start-ups.

Small businesses just need corporation tax breaks, as the majority of the respondents said they had less than £1 million in turnover. In fact, those surveyed said they would like to see business rates rubbed out of existence completely for any firm that has less than £800,000 in turnover.

Next up was a call for more straightforward tax, especially when it came for small firms, sole traders and self-employed contractors. HMRC needs to tackle the issue of tax returns, these respondents said, though most of the respondents that ranked this choice high tended to work in accounting and finance roles.

Meanwhile, the third most popular choice was support for late payments. Small firms need more support in dealing with late payments from larger companies, as these bigger firms have a tendency to bully contractors, freelancers, and SMEs by delaying payment for goods and services. There needs to be stricter penalties for these late payments, and small business owners want these penalties enforced on large firms that keep paying them late.

It’s obvious from these top three that SMEs are sick and tired of being pushed around by larger firms – or being subjected to things like corporation tax when multinational companies seem to have a knack for getting away without paying even a penny in some situations. Whether or not George Osborne is going to address any of these things remains to be seen, but honestly I’m not going to hold my breath. The chancellor doesn’t really have much of a proven track record when it comes to supporting SMEs and contract workers, though I suppose we could all be pleasantly surprised today couldn’t we?

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Government redefines hot pasties to keep them free from VAT

It is believed that the Government has bowed to public pressure and is to do a U-turn on its plans to impose the pasty tax. Furthermore, the intended 20% VAT charge, which was going to be imposed on static caravans is to be reduced to 5%.

Bakers and caravanning enthusiasts have been vocal in their disapproval of George Osborne’s plans to impose VAT on Cornish Pasties and static caravans. The government has now already its definition of a hot pasty in order to save face but Labour was quick to say that ministers were “incompetent”.

Under the amendment, foods such as pasties and sausage rolls that are cooling down will not be subject to VAT. Under the current regulations, most food and drink does not attract VAT, but takeaway food designed to be eaten hot does.

The problem of ambient temperature had caused a lot of debate. Sheryll Murray, the Tory MP for South East Cornwall, was concerned that an army of tax inspectors, wielding thermometers, would start invading bakers’ shops to poke around in pasties.

A spokesperson from the Treasury said that the Budget announcement was designed to take away the ambiguity in the current system and leave a level playing field for the takeaway food market. After extensive consultation, the government has improved its initial policy to make sure the new regime would be easy to apply.

However, Chris Leslie, the shadow Treasury minister, said the government should have thought the proposals through before announcing it is making new policies.

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Social media to drive the anti-pasty tax campaign

Accountants for contractors will undoubtedly remember that George Osborne introduced what has become referred to as a “pasty tax” in the Budget, at least by their counterparts in the south west of England.

There continues to be an outcry in Cornwall after the Chancellor announced that VAT would be added to the price of Cornish pasties. Bishop Fleming, an accountancy firm based in the South West now want to kick-start a social-media campaign against the tax.

Greggs, the bakery chain that originally started up in the North East, has also jumped on the bandwagon saying it will fight the proposal. Greggs saw about £30 million wiped off its share price the day after the budget announcement and the company has requested a meeting with government ministers to talk about the implications of implementing VAT on its products.

Currently VAT is charged on pasties that have been specifically heated for consumption, but under the new rule, full rate VAT will be charged on pasties when they are still above ambient room temperature after baking.

As from the 1st of October, any pasty that is not below ambient temperature will attract VAT at 20% and according to Robert Bailey from Bishop Fleming in Truro, this is madness. Shops will need to implement a two-tier system for pricing.

A Twitter campaign against the tax is already underway at #pastytax and Bishop Fleming has vowed to use social media to fight the campaign until the consultation period ends on the 4th of May.

Back in 2010, Subway fought a legal battle to have toasted sandwiches zero-rated for VAT. The claim was rejected by the first tier tribunal, but Subway says it will appeal the decision.

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Will contractor accountants face higher tax bills?

An economic think tank has claimed that an additional 1.3 million people, including contractor accountants, are going to be forced into the higher tax band thanks to the changes made in the Chancellor’s Budget last week.

As from April 2013, the threshold at which people pay tax at 40% will decrease to £41,450. Currently people can earn up to £42,475 before the 40% rate kicks in. According to the Institute for fiscal Studies, this will mean five million people in the UK will be paying the higher-rate tax by 2014. Next year, 15% of workers will be affected by the higher rate; in the 1980s it was just 5%.

The Institute also questioned the Chancellor’s claim that the Treasury will only lose £100 million when the 50p tax rate is axed in April 2013. Mr Osborne said in his Budget speech that this loss would be more than compensated for by measures such as increasing the stamp duty on properties costing £2 million or more.

The IFS has described this year’s Budget as a “hotch-potch of reforms”. Osborne said his reforms were revenue neutral but that assumes the rich who avoided paying income tax at 50p will be prepared to pay it at the lower 45p rate.

Paul Johnson, a director at the IFS, said people who got a taste for tax avoidance may carry on avoiding once the rate decreases. He also criticised the Chancellor’s decision to raise stamp duty on high value properties and said a mansion tax could have been a better alternative.

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Will he or won’t he scrap the 50p income tax rate?

The big day is here at last! It’s Budget Day and accountants will no doubt be tuned in at lunchtime to hear what delights George Osborne has in store for us over the coming year.

The will he or won’t he debate over scrapping the 50p income tax has continued to rumble right up until this week. Differing views have been bandied about with some people saying it will be scrapped and a different tax imposed on the wealthy, probably on their property.

A different idea sprang up in the Daily Telegraph at the beginning of the week. According to the paper, the Chancellor is set to tell us that the 50p rate is deterring entrepreneurs and investors. The article goes on to say that the top rate will be a replaced by one at 45p in April next year. Treasury officials think that this reduction will actually bring in more revenue because fewer taxpayers will attempt to avoid it.

Labour and Lib Dem MPs are highly unlikely to welcome the move as it will be seen as a way to help the wealthy. Lib Dem ministers had agreed that the rate should be scrapped providing a “tycoon tax” was implemented in its place.

The Chancellor is also expected to announce that tax-free personal allowances will increase more than originally expected in April 2013. It is understood that this was signed off last Friday after last-minute coalition talks.

George Osborne says this Budget will help the working population. The UK wants to be a top economic power and the only way to achieve that is to confront our problems.

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Taxation of pensioners comes under the OTS spotlight

Accountants may be interested to learn that the OTS has identified several areas regarding the taxation of pensioners that need to be addressed urgently and it hopes to provide the Chancellor with its final recommendations before next year’s Budget.

Among the areas flagged for attention are the age related and married couples allowances, the taxation of savings and the admin processes pensioners have to contend with.

The OTS is investigating the way in which the tax system affects pensioners and identifying ways to simplify it. It has already reported its finding to George Osborne and will now look at ways of simplifying the system before making its final recommendations.

John Whiting, the tax director at the OTS, said that far too many people think the tax system gets more complicated the older they get. The OTS has taken the time to fully document the current system and take into account the concerns of pensioners before making any solid recommendations for change.

The OTS has now identified some ways to alleviate the problems facing pensioners and hopes that its final recommendations will help older people understand the tax system and find it easier to deal with their responsibilities.

During the compilation of its report, the OTS held meetings and roadshows around the UK and sought input from pensioners, representative bodies and tax advisers.

Robin Williamson, the technical director at the Low Incomes Tax Reform Group, said he thought the OTS had done a comprehensive job identifying and explaining the problems pensioners have with the current tax system and the LITRG is happy to have contributed to the review process.

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Budget 2012 – the new utopia of a modern Britain

One of the few advantages of resting between contracts is that you can go off on holiday without that nagging feeling that you’re throwing away lots of earnings to do so. And yes, I know my rate is annualised to cover such things, but it always niggles. Still, no time like the present so She Who Must Be Obeyed and I are off to far-flung places for a few weeks. Well, some friends are getting married over in Napier and it would be rude not to attend, wouldn’t it?

I will miss a few things though (no, not daytime television). I’m here long enough to see Wales grind England in the mud at Twickenham but I’ll miss the triumphant finale over France (hey, I’m Welsh, we’re natural optimists). I’ll miss the start of the Formula 1 season. And, most importantly, I’ll miss the Budget.

Now the Budget might not seem to be high on most people’s list of desirable things to witness first hand, but this one might actually do something for small business like mine; certainly the last two haven’t so it must be our turn.

It will be interesting to see if the Office of Tax Simplification – remember them? – comes up with anything. More importantly, will the IR35 Forum actually deliver something substantive? Looking at the minutes of recent meetings they seem to be in classic Sir Humphrey mode, failing to take any suggestion forward to a workable proposal. Since they have to report in time for the Budget, I’m guessing that they may have actually had to produce something this time round. They might even manage to work out how to distinguish between a business and an employee, something that is as obvious as the difference between a walrus and a walnut to most of us, but this is a body staffed by people who work in the civil Service so they can’t be expected to understand non-employees.

There is also a faint chance that Cameron and Osborne can agree what they want to do to support UK businesses. Or even that they together will decide that St Vince of Cable is wrong (he is, of course, but it’s worrying they haven’t spotted it yet).

Still, I’ll have my smartphone with me, so I’ll be able to keep up with things from the other side of the globe. Providing I’m not spotted doing so by the management; for some reason she is of the opinion that you don’t do work stuff when you’re on holiday. Most odd…

Ah yes, smartphones. Someone in HMRC has reached the 21st Century at last, and they have realised that a smartphone is not a PDA (remember PDAs – like smartphones that couldn’t make phone calls). As a result they have decided that having a business-owned smartphone can be taxed the same way as a business-owned mobile phone. It’s a small step, but we ought to encourage them; one day they might think of something really worthwhile.

Anyway, you will be spared my ramblings for the next few weeks. When I return it will be to the new utopia of a modern Britain with a growing economy, which recognises freelance contractors as the heroes they are and which has put St Vince back in his box.

Or perhaps not…

About the author: Alan Watts

Alan has worked in IT for most of the last 35 years, and first went freelance in 1996. He has been a PCG member from its start and has been spreading the message that freelancing is a professional career choice for many years. Alan also runs Malvolio’s Blog, a personal but highly informative take on the life of the modern freelance.

Alan Watts, Principal Consultant, LPW Computer Services

© 2012 All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.

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Do contractor accountants want to know how their tax is spent?

Last week, Ben Gummer, the Conservative MP for Ipswich, called on the government to introduce statements that explained how it intended to spend the tax it collects from contractor accountants.

Under Gummer’s proposal, UK taxpayers would receive an annual statement detailing the amount of tax they would need to pay in both the current financial year and year after. In addition, the statement would show how the money would be split between individual government departments.

The data in these statements would be based around tax returns, P60s and budget statements. He also said that when it came near to an election, the statement could include information after opposition proposals.

Ben Gummer, the son of John Gummer, the former Tory agriculture minister, believes the current tax system contains too much obscurity. Providing taxpayers with information on exactly how their taxes are spent will make it much more transparent and shift public debate, he said.

Whilst this might sound like a feasible idea in principle, is there really a need to send out printed statements? If taxes are allotted to government departments on a percentage basis, maybe the coalition could publish the data on its website; x% of your tax will be spent on defence, y% on education etc.  At least that would cut down expenditure on paper and printing.

We would all like to see a more transparency in taxation, but it has to be possible to achieve that without additional cost to the taxpayer.

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OTS considers simplifying small business taxation

The OTS is looking into the feasibility of introducing a simpler system of income tax for the UK’s smallest businesses and the issues concerning disincorporation.

The Office of Tax Simplification says the choices for making small business taxation simpler fall into two categories. It could either change some regulations to ease the complexity in certain areas, or use non-profit measures ranging from administrative changes to more fundamental reforms.

If turnover was the determining factor for eligibility for the simpler system, the OTS is considering between £20,000, £30,000 and the VAT registration threshold which presently stands at £73,000.

The OTS will evaluate the non-profit measures in use in other countries and as well as considering cost accounting or a system of charge indicators and flat rate expenses allowances. Small businesses would then prepare their accounts based on cash received and have fixed rates for expenses, or taxable profit would be a fixed percentage of annual turnover.

John Whiting, the tax director at the OTS, said tax administration is a major headache for small businesses. He wants businessmen and their advisers to provide their opinions on the different options available.

As far as disincorporation goes, the OTS is examining whether micro-business owners should be given the chance to revert to partnership or self employment status and they ways to handle the tax implications of such a move.

Alex Henderson from PwC said the scope of the consultation was too narrow; focusing primarily on sole traders. He went on to add that he would welcome a review of all business structures and any changes would also have to deal with HMRC’s concerns.

Consultations on both proposals will be running until October 7th and the official documents can be viewed on the OTS website. Recommendations will be presented to the Treasury before next year’s Budget.

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IR35 – a slap in the face? Well, no, not really

My blog for June last year was commenting on the first budget of the new Coalition government. It got a cautious welcome from me – which they no doubt appreciated greatly – and while the overall news wasn’t that wonderful, it at least looked like things were heading in the right direction.

I also mentioned an entry in the Red Book that “was a clear commitment to look hard at IR35. This was backed up by an interview in the Telegraph, where Mark Prisk emphasised the intention to lose IR35 altogether“. On that score for this budget, I have to say close, but no banana.

The Office of Tax Simplification made three suggestions for Mr Osborne; merge PAYE and NICs, either suspend IR35 or greatly improve how it is administered and maybe look at some tests to define who is employed and who is a freelance. Those of us in the “IR35 is the spawn of the devil” camp clearly hoped that suspension would be the result. Sadly, however, it was not to be; IR35 remains in place.

So a bit of a disaster then? Well, no, not really.

Firstly I’m inclined to believe Osborne and Gauke when they say that they could not afford to turn off IR35. Elsewhere in the Budget they confirmed the December 9th announcement regarding the closure of offshore EBTs that are being used to step around paying any taxes at all by many high earners. Without IR35, these guys would simply incorporate and go back to the same old job as a pretend freelance: the classic Friday-to-Monday soft shoe shuffle. With IR35 still there, they can still incorporate if they really want to, but the tax advantage would simply not be worthwhile. Which makes a degree of sense as far as I’m concerned.

Secondly, administration of IR35 is to be improved (I was going to say “greatly improved”, but it could hardly get any worse!). In other words, stop spending tens of thousands on five-year cases that invariably lose and focus instead on the ones where there may be a genuine case to answer – which, on current numbers, is about 3% of them. HMRC aren’t doing this by themselves, they will be talking to the experts on contracting who will be very clear that the net will be focused and not widened. HMG have invited PCG to be a key player in this, and for one I’m reasonably certain PCG won’t let anything through HMRC’s clutches that makes things worse for the genuine freelance.

Finally Osborne is now looking to merge PAYE and NICs. As I said last week this is a very difficult thing to achieve, but at least we have a chancellor willing to take it on. That means that if this can be made to happen, IR35 ceases to have any purpose anyway

The rest of the budget was, I thought, probably about as good as it could be given the starting position. OK, so Osborne has done a smoke and mirrors job by changing how inflation is measured and people who understand the Oil and Gas industry far better than I do are seriously dischuffed about the raid on their profits to fund the fuel equaliser, but the intent is sound.

So not the result we hoped for, nor even the result we would have quite liked, but at least we are still in there and having a direct say on how we are to be taxed. This is, despite the cries of outrage from the hard of thinking, no small achievement. PCG and Chairman Chris Bryce have done a seriously significant piece of work via the OTS and should be praised for it.

About the author: Alan Watts

Alan has worked in IT for most of the last 35 years, and first went freelance in 1996. He has been a PCG member from its start and has been spreading the message that freelancing is a professional career choice for many years. Alan also runs Malvolio’s Blog, a personal but highly informative take on the life of the modern freelance.

Alan Watts, Principal Consultant, LPW Computer Services

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What sort of budget would suit online accountants?

A number of leading organisations are calling on George Osborne to deliver a budget that supports small businesses such as contractor accountants.

Recent research from BDO found that business leaders in the UK want the coalition to speed up its plans for simplification of the tax system and concentrate on helping entrepreneurs, rather than big multinationals, in the budget.

66% of business leaders think the coalition should accelerate its plan to reform the business taxation system and make it fit the needs of all UK firms.

Respondents to the survey were also asked what measures the chancellor should take to reduce the deficit. 50% favoured more public spending cuts but very few thought the solution was to increase taxes such as income tax or VAT.

However, when the economic situation improves, 41% of business leaders believe a cut in personal taxation should be prioritised. 35% said further measures should be taken to reduce the deficit and only 6% thought a cut in corporation tax was a priority.

Stephen Herring, a senior tax partner at BDO, said the results highlight that there is an urgent need for business tax reforms to drive business growth across all sectors.

The REC has written to George Osborne asking him to make sure the Budget really is a ‘Budget for Jobs’. The letter builds on the themes of the REC manifesto to remove the barriers that are prohibiting growth and deliver opportunities and jobs.

In particular the REC suggests avoiding any increase in business taxes, implementing an NI holiday for SMEs that hire young people and scrapping the National Insurance increase. The Confederation also calls on the government to do all it can to smooth the AWR implementation and promote flexible working.

The ICAEW says the chancellor should concentrate on long-term growth plans rather than quick-fix solutions. In order to achieve this, he should develop a simpler taxation system, a better approach to supporting enterprise and a highly-skilled, socially mobile workforce.

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VAT increase was a sensible move, say SMEs

Nearly half of the UK’s SMEs have agreed that the government made the right decision to increase VAT.

Intuit, the producer of QuickBooks financial software, conducted a survey of small business owners and found that 44% support the VAT increase as a means of tackling the fiscal deficit. 13% believe that increasing income tax would have been a more effective alternative.

It also appears that, at least so far, the VAT increase has not had a serious impact on the majority of small businesses. 67% of the survey’s respondents said the rise had not impacted their business.

39% of SMEs decided to absorb the full VAT rise rather than increase prices to their customers. According to nearly 70% of the surveyed businesses, the increase cost them less than £350 to implement and slightly less than 50% claimed to have spent less than 5 hours on its implementation.

However, business confidence is still fragile and cashflow is starting to show signs of strain. The increase in fuel duty is a further concern for businesses, points out the FSB’s national chairman, John Walker.

Meanwhile, experts believe that we are unlikely to see many tax concessions when George Osborne delivers the Budget in March.

The Green Budget, published by the Institute of Fiscal Studies and Barclays Wealth, claims that fiscal loosening could be counter-productive if it leads to an offsetting of financial tightening.
Michael Dicks, from Barclays Wealth, said he expects the UK economy will grow at much the same rate as the OBR has predicted, but the risks are skewed to the downside.

The Green Budget report welcomed the reduction of corporation tax but said the ‘Patent Box’ will add needless complexity to our taxation system.

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Spending cuts hit the Treasury

The Treasury is set to lose around 25% of its workforce due to the Chancellor’s spending cuts.

The good news for the existing Treasury workforce is that this will be achieved by natural wastage with no further recruitment, as opposed to mass redundancies.

By the middle of this month, George Osborne will have settled the budgets for some of the government departments, including culture, environment, justice and transport, as well as scaling back the role his own department and the financial services function play. He’s even proposing to move staff to smaller desks in order to squeeze more people into his HQ thus saving money on rent.

Over the next four years the Treasury department will lose about 350 staff members through natural attrition bringing the number down to 1,000.

The Chancellor’s willingness to impose cuts in his own department should strengthen his hand when it comes to negotiating with other departments.

One of George Osborne’s colleagues said they would be focusing on macro analysis and spending control rather than attempting to second guess the moves of other departments.

The comprehensive spending review will cut between 25% and 40% from the majority of other government departments. The biggest challenges facing the Chancellor will be defence and welfare. Transport could also be a problem as Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, is battling with Philip Hammond, the Transport Secretary over Crossrail and upgrades to the Tube. Hammond also wants to see a cut in the £1 billion that subsidises free travel for children, the unemployed and injured war veterans.

Meanwhile, a treasury spokesman said the department would not get drawn into the spending review negotiations of individual departments; each of which have been told to reduce their admin costs by about a third over the next four years.

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Bad News, Good News?

So where was I…? Back refreshed from two weeks of idleness in the sun, and already looking for the next contract. Don’t seem to have missed anything too serious while I was away.

I managed to get back just in time for the Coalition’s first Budget. I watched it live – oh the joys of being on the bench – and for the first time in 13 years I didn’t have an overwhelming urge to throw something heavy at the TV. What a pleasure it was to listen to someone who sounded like they both knew what was going on and was willing to be honest about it.

Of course, the underlying message isn’t very nice, which is not much of a surprise unless you’ve been living in a cave for the last five years, but you have to say that the overall tone was actually surprisingly positive.

Yes, it’s going to hurt, but we knew that anyway. We’ve had the usual suspects leaping up and down in a fury about a return to Dickensian England and the public sector is up in arms about facing the same pain that private industry has been through already, but all in all I thought it was quite well judged. Let’s just hope that it has the desired result!

With my freelance hat on, it was actually pretty much neutral. I’m not planning on opening a new company and employing people so the National Isurance incentives won’t touch me the slightest, but they will help people who do want to build up their businesses. The eventual VAT rise will hurt of course, but it’s only 25p extra on something costing £10, so personally I can live with that.

The personal tax allowances are nice as well, as is the promised reduction in Corporation Tax rates. As a jobbing freelance contractor – well, when I get a job that is – I’m actually quite relaxed about it all.

The other bit of news tucked away in the Red Book (or as Cameron said to Harman at PMQs this week, in her case the “unread” book) was a clear commitment to look hard at IR35. This was backed up by an interview in the Telegraph, where Mark Prisk emphasised the intention to lose IR35 altogether.

Welcome news indeed, although we won’t break out the champagne until we know exactly what is going to come after it.

Elsewhere in the real world I’ve been plunged back in to the chaos and misery of having to deal with agencies offering work that they don’t understand on behalf of clients they don’t know to contractors they don’t want to talk to and whose CVs they utterly fail to understand. I’ve spoken to five this week and have absolutely zero confidence they know what they’re doing.

Call me an old curmudgeon but in my not inconsiderable experience it’s about one in fifty that does the job they way they tell the clients they do, so I guess I’ve a few more pointless and frustrating phone calls to get through yet. Come the revolution, I know who I’ll be putting against the wall first

Still, let’s be positive, if the reaction to the budget is positive, there may actually be some real work out there.

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