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Common tax return mistakes

September 16, 2014 by Tax Donut contributor

Common tax return mistakes {{}}Britain has seen a surge in self-employment over the past 12 months, but becoming your own boss comes with the daunting task of filing tax returns. Some of the most common mistakes to look out for when filing your return yourself are:

1 Missing the deadline

It’s no wonder a lot of self-employed people leave their return until the last minute, thinking about the number crunching, hunting for receipts and statements, and finding the hours to sit down and fill in your return is all time consuming. It can be difficult to find the motivation to file early, but with the late charge rates and the amount of mistakes found in late submissions, is it wise to miss the initial deadline?     

2 Miscalculations

Maths errors are commonly found on tax returns, as well as miscalculations surrounding taxable income, childcare deductions and tax credits. These inaccuracies can be easily avoided by keeping accurate, up-to-date records, so month on month you are sure your figures are correct. Using free online tax return software is a free and simple way of keeping on top of things.

3 Not double-checking

Double-check to make sure there are no mistakes on your return. Look out for any missed information, for example, empty boxes should alert you to possible mistakes.  Recalculate your sums to check your answers are 100% correct to the best of your knowledge, and if possible have a colleague or family member check for you. If you are unsure of something always get a second opinion or contact the helplines available. It’s always best to get advice rather than shrug it off and hope for the best. 

4 Incorrect payment information

To avoid interest and penalties on repayments ensure your financial account numbers are correct. If they contain a typo or are incorrect, it can cause delayed refunds to yourself or even result in late charges if HMRC can’t collect your tax bill payment in a timely manner.

5 UTR number errors

All self-employed people have a Unique Reference Number usually referred to as a UTR. This is a ten-digit number that identifies you to HMRC. It is most important that you note this down correctly, because it can cause problems if incorrect. In the case of self-employed builders, if your UTR number is incorrect when given to someone you are subcontracting for, it could mean that you have emergency tax deducted at 30% instead of the normal 20%.

Copyright © Celso Pinto 2014. Celso is the founder and CEO of SimpleTax.

Further reading

Two years in jail for tax-dodging eBayer

September 08, 2014 by Elaine Clark
Two years in jail for tax-dodging eBayer{{}}
Copyright: Ingvar Bjork

Last week John Woolfenden was sentenced at Bolton Crown Court to two years imprisonment for cheating the public revenue and or transferring criminal property. John was an eBay trader and over a six year period he had dodged nearly £300,000 in taxes!

Many of us think of eBay as being a place where a few people earn an extra couple of quid by selling unwanted items but it is fast becoming big business; in six years John sold £1.4 million worth of DVDs, games and music. Maybe this was an extreme situation and who knows if we’ll see more of these types of cases in the future. The likelihood is high given the fact that over 3 years ago HMRC announced its intention to target e-tailers, ie those who trade on sites like eBay and Amazon.

With sophisticated technology available such as robots HMRC are able to trawl through on line transactions and see just who is carrying on an online trade – there is no place to hide from the HMRC e-tailers radar.

What is trading?

There are no hard and fast rules on when you are carrying on a trade; HMRC do give some guidance on this – known as the badges or indicators of trading.

The full list of the badges or indicators of trading can be found on the HMRC website.

Some key indicators to be aware of are ...

  • Do you intend to make a profit from your eBay business?
  • Are lots of items being sold?
  • Were the items bought specifically to sell on?
  • Were the items repaired or modified for selling on e.g. doing up shabby chic furniture.

Common sense will often tell if you are trading or not; of course setting up an eBay shop or being a Power Seller on eBay is a HUGE indicator to carrying on a trade.

Don’t kid yourself that you’re not trading when it is clear that you are – living with the stress and worry of wondering if HMRC will come knocking on your door to demand undeclared and unpaid taxes can be a nightmare. Not paying tax on the profit made on your e-tailer business is tax evasion and can result in hefty fines & imprisonment – a high price to pay for not declaring your profits.

If in doubt, declare your business profits by registering as self employed. Remember that you will pay tax on profit, which is income less your costs, so of course you need to keep all of your receipts relating to your eBay trading.

Register as self employed

If you are carrying on a business on eBay, Amazon or the like as an e-tailer, then you need to register as self-employed.

You do this on the GOV.UK web site.

Copyright © 2014 Elaine Clark. Using 20 years’ experience spent working at some of the UK’s leading businesses, award-winning chartered accountant Elaine Clark is the founder and managing director of, an online accounting service aimed at small businesses with big ambitions. Follow Elaine on Twitter at @cheapaccounting.

Further reading


How new VAT rules could affect your business

September 01, 2014 by Tax Donut contributor

How new VAT rules could affect your business{{}}Many UK businesses will be affected by new VAT rules that are set to be introduced in 2015. From 1 January 2015, the 'place of supply' of telecommunications, broadcasting services and e-services (eg video on demand, e-books and app downloads), will change in instances where the customer is a private individual.

Currently, supplies of e-services made within the EU to non-business customers are subject to VAT in the place where the supplier belongs. However, from 1 January 2015, VAT will be charged based on where the customer belongs.

For business-to-business transactions, the customer will still be able to account for any tax due through the 'reverse charge'. However, where consumers and other non-taxable people receive goods electronically, the reverse charge is not possible, so liability to account for any VAT due in one of the 28 EU member states rests entirely with the supplier.

Businesses affected by this new piece of VAT legislation should undertake a thorough review of their services, so they can reduce the risk of heavier VAT bills from next year.

This legislation is aimed primarily at large businesses such as Amazon, but it could have a greater impact on smaller businesses, which do not have the logistical and administrative back-up that multinational firms have. Those in the line of fire will need to register for VAT in each relevant EU member state where their customers are based and file VAT returns as appropriate in each state based on the rules in that country. Businesses will also need to consider the impact on pricing, website information and customer relationships.

To ease the potential administrative burden, the European Commission has developed the voluntary 'Mini One Stop Shop' (MOSS) initiative, which allows suppliers to have just one additional VAT registration and through a special web portal, account for the VAT charged on all sales to EU customers.

HMRC will start accepting applications to register for MOSS from October 2014, enabling businesses to start using the scheme from 1 January 2015. Businesses at risk must start planning now or face unwanted administrative and financial headaches at the start of next year.

Copyright © 2014 Russell New. Russell New is a firm of business, tax and charity advisers based in Upper Beeding, West Sussex.

Further reading

Posted in VAT | Tagged VAT | 0 comments

HMRC Direct Recovery of Debts: a dangerous precedent?

August 28, 2014 by Mark Williams

HMRC Direct Recovery of Debts: a dangerous precedent?{{}}The end of July brought the closure of HMRC’s Direct Recovery of Debts (DRD) consultation. As stated on government website when it opened: “Budget 2014 announced a new power that will allow HMRC to recover tax and tax credit debts directly from debtors’ bank and building society accounts, including Individual Savings Accounts (ISAs). The consultation document outlines how this will work in practice. The government would like to gather views on how best to implement this policy, including which safeguards would be proportionate and balanced to ensure that debtors do not suffer undue hardship.”

The AAT (the “UK’s leading qualification and membership body for accounting and finance staff”) is critical of details contained within the document because it feels appropriate safeguards are lacking (although it “appreciates and endorses that HMRC must be able to collect ‘established’ debt”).

The organisation wants greater consideration given to: “independent oversight”; the impact “DRD action could have on [how] banks view affected customers”; “what constitutes formal notice of an intended DRD action”; “the approach to seizure of funds from joint accounts”; and “the need to restrict HMRC from sharing data obtained around the department for non-DRD purposes.”

The AAT is urging HMRC to look closely at consultation responses received and use them as the “basis for another consultation”. Brian Palmer, AAT tax policy adviser, says: “Direct recovery of debt from an individual’s bank account was always going to be an emotive issue. This is why we would advise HMRC to take the time to consult on this matter to take on board all relevant views.”

AAT won’t support current plans because they lack “sufficient depth”, adequate safeguards and “the integral feature” of independent oversight and accountability. Should HMRC stage a second consultation, shaped by feedback gathered in the first, AAT says it will then “work with [HMRC] to see if we can [affect] a more appropriate outcome.”

The AAT is not alone in its criticisms. The ICAEW (Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales) was also concerned about the adequacy of safeguards, and “whether HMRC can be relied upon to have accurate information and exercise its judgement properly”, as well as “the adequacy of appeal rights (which are not clearly explained), and the fact that HMRC is in effect becoming a preferential creditor.

“Further, we think this measure is wrong in principle and infringes fundamental civil liberties that no-one should access someone else’s bank account without their permission or under the supervision of a judge. We believe that principle should remain. Is this the thin end of the wedge and where will it end if accepted?”

According to a Law Society Gazette headline (28 July): “City lawyers lambast plans for direct tax debt recovery”. The article states: “The government says the change will help recover debts from debtors who choose not to pay despite being able to do so. But the City of London Law Society [CLLS] has warned that the proposals are ‘seriously misguided’ and could impact on innocent taxpayers.”

CLLS’s consultation response cited two key objections: “The potential for mistakes by HMRC; and the fact it will be HMRC and not the courts [that will make] decisions.” It described the proposals as “deeply flawed” and representing “a dangerous precedent regarding the balance of power between HMRC and taxpayers”, while potentially vulnerable to a challenge under the Human Rights Act,” it warned.

Blog written by freelance content writer and Start Up Donut editor Mark Williams.

Further reading

How to avoid common RTI blunders

August 15, 2014 by Tax Donut contributor

How to avoid common RTI blunders{{}}Reporting PAYE in real time (RTI) has been in effect for most UK employers for well over a year now. While the system has worked well for most of these businesses, there also has been a fair share of criticism.

According to a recent article there are 5.5m people that have either overpaid or underpaid taxes in 2013-2014 – an increase of 300,000 from the previous year. If this is true, it is not necessarily a positive outcome for a system that’s cost £357m to implement.

Common issues

As is always the case most of the mistakes that have occurred are easily avoidable, the following are some of the most common and, at least in some cases, easily avoidable issues.

  • Where an employer has deducted statutory payments from the amounts due they must record this on their Employers Payment Summary (EPS), otherwise HMRC will think PAYE due has been underpaid.
  • Seasonal employers need to remember that in months when they have not engaged any employees, or if they have made no payments to existing employees, they need to file an EPS indicating a nil payment period. Apart from leaving them exposed to the risk of a penalty, HMRC may calculate the amount due based on the history of previous payments.
  • Because of software design limitations, some employers have been unable to create a second submission in any one period.
  • No, or late submission. A big ‘no-no’, which of course leads to a fixed penalty for a default and which applies once there is a second default. HMRC will also penalise you for late payment.

How to avoid falling into any of these pitfalls

  • Make sure all employee payroll-information is kept as up to date as possible. Inconsistencies between HMRC and your actual records can result in the wrong tax codes being used, which lead to discrepancies in tax paid.
  • Ensure all EPSs are filled out completely and sent in before the normal due date for payment of PAYE.
  • Ask your software provider if their system allows you to make more than one submission per period. Mistakes can and do happen.
  • Dedicate a specific time in your diary to completing your payroll on time each week/month. Train a member of staff to assist as part of a contingency plan that allows for annual leave, training days or sickness.

Copyright © Brian Palmer 2014. Brian is tax policy adviser at the AAT and owner of Palmer & Co (accountants).

Further reading

Will pension shortfall mean many of us will have to work until we drop dead?

August 13, 2014 by Tax Donut contributor

Will pension shortfall mean many of us will have to work until we drop dead?{{}}A survey of the self-employed carried out by Crunch Accounting found that just 44% of respondents have started saving towards their retirement, while only 34% are paying into a pension. Almost a quarter (24%) admitted “the thought of retirement hasn’t even crossed their mind”.

According to Crunch (quoting figures published in April by the Office for National Statistics) “one-man/woman-band” businesses now account for 15% of the country’s workforce. Their number has grown at twice the rate of “traditional employees” since the beginning of the financial crisis, up almost 750,000 to reach 4.58m, while traditional employment has only grown by 325,000.

The survey further found that of those who have started saving for retirement, nearly two thirds don’t believe they’re saving enough, with just 15% believing they are. If the survey is representative, it shows just how financially unprepared for the future many self-employed people are (but they’re not alone, of course).

Paltry income

As reported by This Is Money: “Millions of workers face the unenviable choice of working well into their old age or surviving on what they may judge a paltry income when they reach retirement.”

That’s according to a study of Britain’s savings habits conducted by financial firm True Potential. Based on responses from 6,000 people, it found that savers in Britain “are seeing just over £2,500-a-year going into their pension pot, which by the time they retire could be worth £116,083, the equivalent of just under £16 a day when spread over retirement. While that works out as about £450 a month above their state pension, it is far less than the £25,000 a year many plan to live on.”

The same survey had an Express headline writer concluding that: “Savings chasm means workers will NEVER retire”, with the very real prospect of “MILLIONS of Britons facing having to work until they drop”.

But maybe things started to change slightly? As reported by the BBC, according to pensions expert LCP: “Radical reform of the UK pension system announced in the Budget has already encouraged pension saving,” with the outlook now being at “its brightest for many years”.

Government tax windfall

Good news for the government, too, it seems, with The Guardian predicting that “Pension shakeup could net £4bn UK tax windfall”, with “650,000 people expected to exploit George Osborne's changes and cash in part of their pensions over the next five years.”

But the article goes on to say that pension experts are warning that “when withdrawing lump sums people may jump to higher tax bands” [currently the tax rate rises from 20% to 40% when someone’s income reaches £41,866], while “George Osborne's changes could turn into a ‘mis-selling scandal’.”

The Guardian adds: “More than 130,000 Britons are preparing to withdraw money from their pension pots every year between 2015 and 2020 under the sweeping changes which scrap rules that force people to buy an annuity, according to HM Revenue and Customs documents.”

Withdrawal advice

Tom McPhail, head of pensions research at financial services firm Hargreaves Lansdown, told the Daily Telegraph: “It is essential that suitable safeguards are put in place to ensure that [people] are alerted to the tax implications of taking all their money out.

“This is undoubtedly clever politics from the Chancellor, but if we're not careful he could end up creating a one-man pension mis-selling scandal.” McPhail advised people to spread their pension fund withdrawals over several years, so their income tax remains at 20%.

  • Blog written by freelance content writer and Start Up Donut editor Mark Williams.

Further reading

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