Tag Archive | "legislation"

Are online accountants ready for cross-border invoicing?

You may be aware that new EU cross-border invoicing and VAT directives come into force in 2013, but there is now concern that these are open to interpretation.

According to figures from HMRC, UK businesses rely heavily on business from the EU so it is imperative that accountants keep their clients updated with any changes to the legislation or cultural requirements. Strong processes will also need to be put in place to ensure e-invoice documents are protected.

The new EU directives are supposed to simplify invoicing legislation and remove existing barriers. Paper and electronic invoices will be treated in the same way and companies will have the choice of which method to use.

The legislation addresses the need for invoices, the content, invoicing electronically and invoice storage. It also provides recommendations for a modern set of VAT invoicing regulations.

EU countries currently differ when it comes to their expectations regarding invoices. In Southern Europe they rely on PDF formats and place emphasis on design. In Northern Europe, businesses want invoices that can be read by both humans and machines.

The majority of companies will have solid processes in place for their paper based invoicing but there have been problems agreeing electronic processes and these could lead to payment delays. In order to comply with the EU directives, companies will need to set up systems that guarantee invoices cannot be tampered with and that the information stored meets the legal requirements of the country concerned.

If the Revenue does not believe a EU invoice is genuine, the company may have problems reclaiming VAT and may be subject to an in-depth investigation. Other EU tax authorities will also be able to demand access to invoices to verify their integrity.

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Smallest firms could get more time to prepare for pensions auto-enrolment

Smaller firms may be pleased to learn that the government is considering giving them more time to get ready for automatically enrolling their employees in pension schemes.

The Pensions Regulator last week issued guidance for employers that says smaller firms sharing PAYE schemes with other like businesses will see their staging dates deferred by up to 23 months.

The new alterations are expected to be written into legislation prior to the Pensions Bill becoming law and will cover firms with less than 10 employees who are included in a larger PAYE scheme which has in excess of 239 members.

A business fitting the above description would have until the first of January 2016 to implement auto-enrolment.

The Pensions Regulator has also launched some interactive tools to explain the new regulations. As from October next year, employers and recruitment businesses will be required to auto-enrol workers after they have completed 12 weeks service. Employees then have the option of opting out if they do not want to participate in the scheme their employer has chosen. This new duty is to be phased in over several years, starting with larger organisations.

The interactive tools will help businesses establish their staging date, help them understand which employees need to be enrolled and how to enrol them, and what level of contribution is required for each eligible employee.

The REC still has concerns that auto-enrolment will create challenges for recruiters due to high levels of turnover amongst temps and the expectation that a lot of agency workers will opt-out of the pension scheme they have been enrolled in.

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Dishonest contractor accountants beware: HMRC plans to clamp down hard

Last Thursday, HMRC published new proposals to clamp down on tax agents who act dishonestly.

“Working with Tax Agents; Dishonest Conduct” lays down the Revenue’s latest proposals along with draft legislation.

Dishonest tax advisers will be subject to a civil penalty and HMRC will have the right to publish details of advisors who do not make full disclosures on its website. The Revenue will also be allowed to issue “dishonest conduct notices”, which the advisor will be able to appeal.

HMRC has admitted that the way it interpreted draft legislation early last year was different to the way most tax professionals saw it. However, it has now made substantial alterations to the original proposals to make sure that penalties would only be imposed when there was an illegitimate loss of tax.

The permanent secretary for tax, Dave Hartnett, said the Revenue has worked closely with interested bodies to draw up the new draft legislation.

Anthony Thomas, the CIoT’s president, said HMRC should receive praise for listening to the views of interested parties and returning to the drawing board to start again from scratch.

However, he does question whether this legislation is necessary and whether it is coming at the right time. He went on to say that the CIoT shares the Revenue’s desire to track down rogue advisors.

The head of tax at the ACCA, Chas Roy-Chowdhury, pointed out that HMRC has taken on board the concerns his organisation had and a man talking about tax in his local pub will not be penalized. The focus of the new legislation is on agents making mass claims for tax repayment.

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Is PAYE weighing contractor accountants down?

A recent survey by Inuit shows that 69% of small businesses are put off recruiting new staff because of the burden of PAYE.

The software provider discovered that nearly 50% of employers did not realise that their end of year returns had to be filed by the 19th of May and 28% said they did not expect to meet the deadline.

Mark Linton, the founder of The Business Growth Show, said one of the major challenges facing small business owners is not the actual process of recruiting new staff, but what to do once they’re onboard.

PAYE for small businesses is a nightmare. “How do I pay staff?”, “Is government legislation getting in the way?” And “am I doing it right?” are all questions that worry small business owners, he explained.

In previous years, there was a seven-day grace period for people who missed the deadline but now that year-end returns have to be filed online, this has been removed. Employers who did not submit on time face a penalty charge of £100 per 50 employees for every month, or part month, that the return is overdue.

SMEs are also worried about the compliance checks HMRC is about to implement. Penalties of up to £3,000 could be imposed on businesses that have not kept accurate employee records.

Meanwhile, another survey, this time from the Clydesdale and Yorkshire banking group, has found that 10% of small business owners have been late making VAT payments and 19% have missed out on grants or tax breaks.

Whilst 15% of small business owners are bamboozled by new regulations, 16% said they did not know who to turn to for advice on business legislation. Gary Lumby from the banks said it was a matter of concern that SMEs did not know how to get help and the banks hope to remedy that situation for their clients.

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Chartered Institute of Taxation hits out at HMRC

The Chartered Institute of Taxation has hit out at the government’s new disguised remuneration legislation, saying it is far too complex.

The new regulations were announced in the Finance Bill and run to 59 pages. They target third party arrangements which avoid or defer income tax on employment rewards, such as bonuses, or avoid the restrictions on pensions tax relief.

The CIoT claims that the scope of these new rules is very wide, and says the new exclusions, which were added after the original plans were disclosed, are ‘intricate and heavily qualified.’ The regulations include 14 different tax avoidance tests that govern how and when the new exclusions apply.

The chairman of the Institute’s employment taxes sub-committee, Colin Ben-Nathan, said the new legislation was penal and overrides the longstanding rules for taxing benefits in kind.

He went on to say that some pension schemes, employee share plans, smaller businesses, joint ventures and international businesses looking to relocate employees to the UK could all be impacted by these regulations. A lot of employers will turn to HMRC for clearance of their arrangements but it is not clear whether the Revenue has the resources to cope or how long it will take for them to make a decision.

Ben-Nathan concluded by saying employers could face real difficulties in assessing where they stand with these new regulations. HMRC may not agree with their view and employers will be left uncertain as to their tax liabilities.

It will probably come as no surprise to learn that the relationship between the CIoT and HMRC is at an all time low.

The incoming president of the Institute, Anthony Thomas, says he hopes to turn this situation around and return to the healthy tension that used to exist between the two bodies 10 or 20 years ago.

As well as complaints about the disguised remuneration legislation, the CIoT is dissatisfied with the Revenue’s stance over the registration of tax agents and its desire to indirectly regulate the tax community.

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Am I in scope or not? Nope, no idea…

I‘m spending quite a lot of time these days sitting on the train between home and work. It’s not enough time to do the Times crossword, nor to dig out the laptop and do half a day’s work. Even if it were the “aircraft-style seating” is exactly that, too cramped to allow you to do anything apart from sit and stare out of the window.

Doing that, you can’t help but notice the huge amount of hardware that is spread around the edges of our railway system. There are boxes of all sizes, some with arrays of cabling, some seemingly freestanding. There are odd little plaques on station platforms next to the track with sliders on that serve no obvious purpose. Some boxes are labelled but many are not. And all this on top of all the signals and points and speed limit signs and so on. you expect to see anyway.

And all this complexity so you can get on a train, be moved though a series of connections and arrive within two feet of where you got off yesterday. In other words, that complex infrastructure doesn’t impact on you in the slightest; you can get to where you’re going without having to think about it at all.

So what a shame that same approach doesn’t apply to legislation

I’ve been looking at two different set of documents recently, the clarification of the Agency Workers Regulations and some of the material around the latest position on ICTs. These are complex subjects, admittedly, but in essence the aim of the documentation is to allow you to determine to what extent the relevant legislation affects you personally. And I think both have failed in that aim.

The AWR guidance, apart from containing more typos and grammatical errors than I’ve seen in a hundred other HMG papers combined, is bafflingly opaque on perhaps its most fundamental question: am I as a freelance with my own company in scope of these regulations or not? Nope, no idea…

The reason, apparently, is because the authors want to be able to exclude artificial avoidance measures taken by the unscrupulous. They do this by including lots of fuzzy wording that’s open to interpretation. So to pursue the railway analogy, the points may be set to take you to Wales, but you may still end up in Cornwall. Why, nobody knows.

It’s the same with ICTs. The criteria are clearly stated: for example, work here for up to 12 months and you have to be paid £24,000 a year in salary. Except they haven’t defined “salary”, they haven’t defined what allowances go to make up that salary and some of their attempted clarifications are actually mutually exclusive.

Now these documents have been written by clever, educated people who have a solid grasp of the matter in hand. You have to conclude that the ambiguities in the documents are deliberate. You may accept that this is to minimise the risk of avoidance of the rules, but I’m afraid I don’t. As I said to my previous MP when debating the Arctic case, the best way to avoid people breaking the rules is the make the rules binary. You can’t really apply uncertainty theory to a set of points and expect to end up on the right track.

All in all, it’s a hell of a way to run a railway.

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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Will accountants for contractors take on the Red Tape Challenge?

Since the coalition launched its Red Tape Challenge website, more than 6,000 responses have been received, according to government data.

Businesses and limited company contractors have been invited to submit their comments on current and forthcoming legislation to give the government an opportunity to adapt the regulations before they are implemented.

A lot of the published statements have called for changes in the retail environment and industry sector champion, Dr Kevin Hawkins, urges consumers, suppliers and trade associations to visit the site and express their concerns and solutions. He described the Red Tape Challenge website as a chance “too good to miss”.

He went on to say that this is the first time the government has given those at the sharp end of complex regulation the chance to be heard. This is a golden opportunity for business owners to tell politicians about the bureaucracy that wastes time and money and suggest ways to improve things for both themselves and their customers.

The business secretary, Vince Cable, says that unless ministers can come up with strong reasons why an item of unpopular regulation should remain, government departments will scrap it.

Amongst other legislation up for debate, the website contains 278 environment regulations, 264 concerning pensions and 151 that cover employment law.

The portal has already received concerns over the Care Quality Commission agency and health and safety guidance.

One man wrote that the CQC does not understand that dentists operate small businesses and do not have the staff to spend hours filling in forms and undertaking compliance audits. He went on to point out that too much reliance is put on box ticking exercises and the government doesn’t seem to appreciate that professional staff are regulated and are committed to providing the highest possible standards.

The owner of a small construction company recommended a rethink over the work time allowable for the use of steps and ladders.

However, not everybody is happy about this new government initiative. One lady asked why the public was being asked to contribute their views when MPs are paid to sort out these problems.

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Regulatory burdens are still weighing companies down

Ed Davey, the employment relations minister, recently reinforced the government’s commitment to removing the barriers to job creation.

The minister made his comments at a breakfast event at Epsom Downs Racecourse, saying the coalition wants to remove both perceived and real barriers. He acknowledged that employers’ felt it was difficult and tricky to employ staff but stressed that the new Employer’s Charter was not biased in favour of employees.

Employers have rights too, and if they behave reasonably they have nothing to worry about, he continued.

The government will press ahead with reforms that will give employers confidence to recruit. All business organisations have complained about Employment Tribunals and so the coalition intends to reduce the unfair dismissal qualifying period.

He finished off by telling the audience that Whitehall is currently reviewing all employment related legislation and in the future, the government intends to deregulate or re-regulate rather than introducing new legislation.

It isn’t only employment legislation that is weighing employers down. The latest Annual Global Accelus Survey from Thomson Reuters GRC found that 71% of senior compliance and risk managers feel the global economy is being held back by the burden of regulations. And a massive 88% of the respondents said regulators must find better ways to ensure the regulations they are trying to enforce are effective.

In the financial sector last year, there were 12,500 regulatory updates globally and there will be even more this year, said the president of Thomson Reuters GRC, David Craig.

It’s not only the financial services sector that is weighed down by the burden of regulation either. Energy, healthcare, legal, life sciences and shipping are all heavily regulated industries and companies are getting increasingly concerned over how to cope with the daily avalanche of rules and regulations, he added.

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Are contractor accountants confused by tax avoidance policies?

The Finance Bill (2010) has laid down specific provisions for MPs regarding tax avoidance, although one tax expert says there is no obvious reason why this should occur.

Grant Thornton’s tax director, Mike Warburton, made his comment after it emerged that section 554E (8) of the Finance Bill included a clause saying that the disguised remuneration legislation did not apply to members of the House of Commons.

The new legislation on disguised remuneration schemes such as Employer Funded Retirement Benefit Schemes and Employee Benefit Trusts is intended to stop the complex arrangements some employers have been using to avoid income tax. Warburton said he found it difficult to understand why MPs need this exemption.

A spokesman from HMRC said the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority makes payments to MPs so that they can carry out their parliamentary responsibilities. These payments have been excluded from the new legislation because they are not tax avoidance. However, arrangements made by other third parties were not excluded from the new regulations.

The tax avoidance rules are thought by many to be too complicated and it is not clear which benefit schemes are covered by them.

The government has also closed the loophole that allowed people to avoid tax through the Qualified Registered Overseas Pensions scheme. QROPS lets people who relocate overseas to liquidate their UK pension. However, it was discovered that there was a clause in an agreement with Hong Kong that allowed people to transfer their pension there but still remain a resident of the UK. This legislation has now been changed in the Finance Bill.

Exchequer secretary, David Gauke, said the coalition has a clear strategy for combating tax avoidance and it will take action against anyone who takes unfair advantage of tax loopholes.

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Could contractor accountants try out flexible working?

The CIPD has backed the coalition’s plans to hold an early consultation into extending the right to request flexible working to cover all employees.

The Institute expressed disappointment that parents of older children were not to be given the right to request flexible working but said it was a positive sign that the issue is to stay on the political agenda.

The government has scrapped its plans to allow a wider range of employees to request flexible working for fear that it would lead to increased costs for businesses which in turn could hamper the economic recovery.

Ben Willmott, the senior policy adviser at the Institute, said he was heartened that the coalition has committed to an early consultation on the issue. However, the CIPD will continue to urge government to extend the flexible working right to all employees at the earliest possible opportunity.

He added that flexible working should not be seen as a regulatory burden and additional cost as many employers have already discovered that it actually makes sound business sense.

Millions of UK workers already enjoy flexible working because their employers recognise that a flexible workforce is more diverse, engaged and effective. This is likely to become even more salient as the economic recovery progresses and competition for top talent increases.

Regardless of government legislation, many companies will continue to build a flexible, family-friendly culture in their organisation and will be in a better place to attract and retain the skilled, experienced workers they need.

Willmott ended by saying that it was a sensible motivation and retention strategy to accommodate the wishes of employees wherever possible as it boosts organisational performance.

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Are contractor accountants held back by employment legislation?

Contractor accountants should be aware that the government is planning to overhaul the UK’s employment laws in order to help the economic recovery.

One of the proposals, which has already provoked fury, is to allow firms to fire employees who are underperforming during their first two years of employment, without the threat of facing an unfair dismissal tribunal. Under the current regulations, an employee can seek redress from an employment tribunal if they are sacked after 12 months.

The coalition is also looking into the system of tribunals at present. Business groups, such as the BCC are urging for immediate reform but the TUC suggested that workers could be discouraged from seeking justice if major changes are implemented.

Union leaders are also concerned that increasing the qualifying period to two years could give a green light to unscrupulous employers to break the law.

The coalition is likely to launch a consultation into the future of tribunals after business groups complained that there was a 56% increase in the number of cases in 2010.

One possible solution would be to charge claimants a deposit of up to £500 which would be refunded if the case was successful. But the TUC argues that this will deter low-paid workers from seeking justice.

Meanwhile, Vince Cable, the business secretary, has been asked to look into whether small businesses could be exempted from some employment regulations but any such changes could see the government in hot water from the EU.

David Cameron wants to see new jobs created this year in order to boost the economic recovery and whilst large companies have promised to do exactly that, smaller firms need more encouragement. Reforming the employment tribunal system and reducing the red tape for small businesses could go a long way towards providing it said David Frost from the BCC.

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Gold-plating of EU directives is to stop immediately

Shortly before Christmas, the Business Secretary Vince Cable, promised to help British firms compete better against their continental rivals, by cutting European red tape.

The Government plans to stop the “gold-plating” of EU directives in cases where implementation goes beyond the minimum standard decreed. This new policy will take immediate effect.

In future, the text of European directives will be written directly into British law and will mean that the UK’s interpretation of the law is not unfairly restricting British businesses and limited company contractors. Additionally, every five years ministers will review the European directive legislation and will consult with businesses on the application of the rules.

The ARC has welcomed the coalition’s move, saying it will help businesses in the UK compete fairly. Chairman Adrian Marlowe said that nobody has asked for favours, but by helping Britain compete, the way is set for greater employment and prosperity.

Copying EU directives directly into law without adding interpretations makes sense and this should ease the problems of actually implementing the regulations. EU legislation is not subject to open debates unlike UK led regulations. Legislation, such as the AWR, will be able to pass straight into law without parliament voting on it.

Marlowe explained that the Agency Workers Directive contains “gold-plating” that is not essential under the EU directive and this has put both recruiters and employers at a disadvantage.

Marlowe also pointed out that the use of agreements between social partners causes concern. A few organisations get disproportionate authority and if this device continues to be used he urges Mr. Cable to make sure the entire process is open and transparent.

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The harder you try…..the harder it gets!

This year, for the first time in 13 years, we were saved the interminable and ultimately disingenuous dirge that was the Pre Budget Report. Mr Brown and latterly Mr Darling’s attempts to justify what they were planning to do in the real budget with no real connection to reality is no more, happily.

Instead we were treated to 500 pages of draft legislation that covers much the same ground, albeit without the over-optimistic assessment of the chances of delivering an improvement in our financial position. A lot of it is merely tedious rate setting, but there were some very interesting items in there.

One of them is the revised ruling on various mechanisms aimed at stopping people avoiding tax and/or NICs by what HMRC clearly regard as dubious methods. Mostly these are characterised as offshore EBTs although the legislation is actually very wide ranging. It does not concern itself with just monetary reward, but also things that can be utilised as monetary reward. All very clever.

Of course, every contractor I’ve spoken to about EBTs assures me that they took that route to get around IR35 and it was nothing at all to do with minimising their tax bill. Well that’s OK, you still avoid IR35 and paying the extra 20% come April is a mere inconvenience, isn’t it…

Nevertheless, as far as most contractors are concerned this is the death knell of the EBT. Changes in the taxation of the income they provide has effectively killed them off as a commercial proposition, and means that anyone using one is in no better position than the average umbrella user. HMRC also neatly avoided the trap of making this retrospective this time, delaying any charges until the end of the tax year. So there’s time to make alternative arrangements. But there is a slight gotcha…

They also introduced what they term anti-forestalling regulations. Using a degree of wit we’d all thought they’d had drummed out of them by Brown, HMRC have twigged that if the impact is not effective until next April people might actually try and take evasive action. So they’ve ensured that any such income from December 9th – the day they published the legislative changes – is in scope.


The end result is that EBTs are, as of now, dead in the water. Which, as you may have noticed from previous musings on the subject, is something of which I approve.

Sadly, the lesson does not appear to have penetrated the skulls of some in the accountancy trade. Their immediate reaction is to disappear back into Tolley’s with their friendly local QC and look for another way to achieve the same ends. OK, so they’re protecting their business but if they could lift their collective heads from the mantra of “it’s legal to do it so it’s our right to do it” they might conclude they’re fighting a lost cause. HMRC, and indeed HMG, are clearly set on enforcing the rule that if you live here and work here, you pay taxes here. Which is something I actually agree with.

But leaving aside the schadenfreude, HMRC haven’t got it quite right, have they…?

Firstly there is vastly more money leaving the UK in the way of avoided taxation than will ever be recovered from these changes. Until they work out a way to make large corporations subject to the same principle of unavoidably paying UK tax on UK earnings – and I can’t for the life of me see how they can do that – the new rules are largely window dressing, in overall economic terms.

Secondly, and rather more importantly, they seem to have failed to exclude genuine pension payment schemes that EBTs and the like were originally intended to benefit. Which is a bit of a shame on two fronts: either the pensioners are going to see their income significantly reduced or the scheme providers will successfully appeal the change and get it reversed. Which would be a shame, in some ways.

But what it all goes to show is that the more rules you introduce, the harder it is to get the desired result.

Alan Watts can found at LinkedIn.
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Office of Tax Simplification produce initial tax allowances list

Earlier this week, the Office of Tax Simplification published a comprehensive list of all the UK tax reliefs and allowances that are available; 1042 of them!

How many contractor accountants can name all of them?

The OTS is now asking people to let them know if they have missed any off the list and invited the public to leave comments on its website if they take advantage of any of the allowances.

John Whiting, the OTS’ tax director, said he expected some people to be surprised at the number of reliefs in our current tax system. In fact, he had only expected to find a couple of hundred. Some of these allowances have a clear, valuable benefit and we do not want to change those. However, others may not be used any longer or be too complex and onerous to be of any great use, and it is those that the team wants to focus on.

Of course this long list is going to contain some odd sounding allowances such as ‘angostura bitters relief’, and this sort of relief will also be closely scrutinised.

The OTS has set criteria for abolition of an allowance and these will take into consideration the cost of administering the relief and the complexity of the legislation.

The OTS has also set up two consultative committees to take on board input from SMEs and their advisers. The small business tax review committee includes the chairman of the PCG, Chris Bryce, and Anita Monteith from the ICAEW.

In separate news, HMRC published its business plan on Monday which lays down its intention to implement real-time information for the PAYE system by April 2014.

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