COVID Bounce Back abuse

The Insolvency Service has recently published information confirming that a total of 831 company directors were banned in 2023-24 for Covid support scheme abuse, up more than 80% on the previous year, and that the average length of director disqualification for Covid misconduct in 2023-24 was almost 10 years.

The Covid Bounce Back Loan Scheme was introduced at the start of the pandemic in 2020. It helped small and medium-sized businesses borrow between £2,000 and £50,000 at a low interest rate, guaranteed by the government. 

Businesses were entitled to a single loan of up to 25% of their turnover under the scheme. 

Individuals could only use the loans for the economic benefit of the business and not for personal purposes. 

Enforcement action taken against those that have abused the support schemes has ranged from companies being wound-up in court to criminal convictions, compensation orders and director disqualifications. 

The Insolvency Service has successfully applied to have 1,430 directors banned for abusing Covid support schemes since it started investigating potential financial wrongdoing in this area in 2021. 

Source:Other| 15-04-2024

Settling energy disputes

Business owners that are in dispute with their energy suppliers will be interested in the free support on offer from the Energy Ombudsman.

In a recent press release the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero confirmed the following:

“Businesses will get free support to resolve issues with their energy contracts, as part of government and Ofgem changes to tackle cowboy practices like hidden fees, inaccurate energy bills and pressurising sales tactics for energy contracts.

“Small organisations with fewer than 50 employees will be entitled to free support from the Energy Ombudsman on disputes with their energy supplier. It will extend the service to cover 99% of all businesses in Great Britain, giving them the confidence to grow – as part of the government’s long-term plan to boost the economy and improve economic security for all.

“The Ombudsman has the power to order suppliers to provide compensation of up to £10,000 or take action to resolve issues – such as raising standards for their customers, or to credit or amend customer accounts.

“The move will also enable businesses and other organisations to settle disputes with their energy broker via the Ombudsman, without the need for costly legal proceedings – as part of changes set out by the government and Ofgem today. It is a first step in a crackdown on rogue energy brokers targeting small organisations with thousands of pounds in hidden fees.

“Energy Affordability Minister Amanda Solloway has warned energy brokers to end these unacceptable practices, with the government planning to consult later this year on regulating brokers and other third-party intermediaries.”

Source:Other| 15-04-2024

What do we mean by profit?

When most business owners refer to business profits, they are likely to mean the difference between sales and costs, and more concisely, that sales exceed costs.

However, the word “profits” can prove to be a moveable feast as HMRC, banks and traders will likely have a different interpretation.

For example, do costs include:

  • intangible overheads like depreciation;
  • the write-off of goodwill; or
  • taxation.

The distinctions can prove to be important especially if comparisons are being made for benchmarking purposes – comparing the results of a business with the results for the relevant industry sector.

Company accounts display sales, costs, intangible write-offs and corporation tax charges, but any dividends taken by directors as part of their remuneration package – most directors of small companies take low salaries and high dividends to save NIC costs – are not deducted as a cost in the Profit & Loss account. And so reported profits after tax are not the complete story; any dividends taken by working directors need to be considered as these will reduce retained profits.

The question, what is profit, is therefore dependent for its usefulness as an indicator of a businesses’ health, only if its definition is fully appreciated.

Source:Other| 08-04-2024

To register or not to register

In the recent Spring Budget, the VAT registration threshold was raised to £90,000 (previously £85,000) which means that smaller businesses that did not want to register for VAT, now have an additional £5,000 of turnover they can make each year without needing to register for VAT.

Obviously, if you sell goods or services to other businesses, and they are likely to be registered for VAT, if you are eventually required to register you can do so without changing your price structure; clients can simply claim back the VAT you have added to their bills.

But problems arise if you sell to non-business customers who cannot claim back VAT.

Once your business breaches the £90,000 turnover threshold you will be faced with two choices:

  1. Reduce your prices so your customer pays no more for your services. For example, if the pre-VAT price was £120, following registration, you would need to reduce your price to £100, which plus VAT at 20% would equal £120. Unless you could increase your sales volume, this would have a serious impact on your profitability.
  2. The second choice would be to pass on the VAT to customers. In this case your price would stay at £120, but you would need to charge customers £144 (£120 plus 20% VAT). Unless the goods or services you were selling had limited alternative suppliers, this price hike will likely reduce your sales and profitability.

So, although welcome, the rise in the VAT registration threshold to £90,000 will not overly excite traders who are grappling with the need to increase prices already, to counter inflation, and cope with rising costs.

Traders caught in this do I register or not conundrum do have choices, but they require serious consideration. If you need help to consider your options, please call.

Source:Other| 04-04-2024

We are unpaid tax collectors

Clients often refer to the VAT added to supplier invoices as if it were a cost to their business regardless of their VAT position.

This is true if you are not registered for VAT, you do not have to add VAT to your sales and you cannot recover any VAT you pay on purchases. Under these circumstances, VAT is a cost.

If you are registered for VAT, cash you collect from your customers will include VAT – if the sales are subject to VAT – and you will pay the VAT collected (less any VAT you pay on purchases) to HMRC. As you are collecting VAT from your customers, paying VAT on purchases to your suppliers and paying the difference to HMRC, there is no overall cost to your business.

Whilst there is no effect on our profitability if we are registered for VAT, if we have to pay over VAT added to our sales before our customers pay our bills then there can be a cashflow issue. Fortunately, HMRC allow traders affected in this way to use a special process called cash accounting for VAT. If you qualify for this method, you will only pay VAT added to your sales when your customers pay you, and conversely, you can only reclaim VAT on purchases when you have paid for them.

Consequently, those of us who are registered for VAT and are required to calculate and make returns to HMRC, are indeed unpaid tax collectors.

Source:Other| 25-03-2024

Time to rethink the credit you offer your customers

Most business owners are driven by sales targets and to meet these targets they may be tempted to offer extended payment terms.

For example, if your business grants a customer time to pay – say 60 days – after the services or goods supplied have been delivered, effectively, your money stays in their bank account for 60 days.

Further, if you have incurred costs regarding a sale, which have to be paid for before your customer settles their bill, you are out of pocket until your account is settled.

There is a well-worn cliché in business that cash is king. Business owners should keep a weather eye on the effectiveness of their efforts to turn a sale into cash in the bank. Amounts owed by customers may look like a useful buffer – cash to come in in future months – but you cannot spend or invest trade debtors.

Once you have made a sale, if you allow customers extended credit terms you are basically saying it is OK to leave your money in their bank accounts.

A further, major risk from offering over generous credit terms is over-trading. As mentioned above, if you have to pay for your goods and services on terms less generous than those you offer your customers, you will run out of spending power unless you have substantial cash reserves.

The next time you are tempted to extend credit in order to win a sale, take advice. We can help you consider the wider consequences of your sales strategy and its impact on cash flow.

Source:Other| 25-03-2024

Public sector productivity

In a recent announcement by the Treasury, it was announced that plans are afoot to deliver up to £1.8bn of productivity benefits by 2029.

The aim is to improve public sector productivity, including releasing police time for more frontline work. 

The Chancellor is promoting increases in public sector productivity as an alternative to accepting an ever-increasing bill for public services as the government sticks to its plan to move on from the high spending and high tax approach that was necessary to get the UK through the shocks of Covid and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

According to the Treasury spokesperson, a new focus is needed on the long-term decisions required to strengthen the economy and give people the opportunity to build a wealthier, more secure life for themselves and their families. 

Covering frontline services, the plan is designed to help public servants get back to doing what is most important: teaching our children, keeping us safe and treating us when we’re sick.

According to the Office for Budget Responsibility, returning to levels of pre-pandemic productivity could save £20 billion a year. This would help manage the size of the state in the long term, whilst maintaining public service quality and delivering savings for taxpayers.

Source:Other| 11-03-2024

Companies House rolls-out new powers

The first measures under the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Act 2023 (ECCT Act) came into force on Monday 4 March 2024.

Changes introduced include:

  • greater powers to query information and request supporting evidence;
  • stronger checks on company names; 
  • new rules for registered office addresses (all companies must have an appropriate address at all times – they will not be able to use a PO Box as their registered office address); 
  • a requirement for all companies to supply a registered email address;
  • a requirement for subscribers to confirm they’re forming a company for a lawful purpose when they incorporate, and for a company to confirm its intended future activities will be lawful on its confirmation statement;
  • greater powers to tackle and remove factually inaccurate information; and
  • the ability to share data with other government departments and law enforcement agencies.

New criminal offences and civil penalties will complement the measures introduced.

The phased roll out of new powers and requirements is designed to minimise hassle for legitimate businesses. Many of the changes will be integrated into existing reporting cycles, such as the requirement to update a company’s confirmation statement.

As further measures are introduced, Companies House will let people who file information with Companies House know what they need to do via their communications channels and campaigns.

Source:Other| 03-03-2024

Crack down on ‘fire and rehire’ practices

The Government has announced action to tackle the use of controversial 'fire and rehire' practices. In a press release issued 19 February 2024 they said:

“Action against unscrupulous employers to tackle the use of controversial ‘fire and rehire’ practices will be rolled out by the Government today [19 February].

Dismissal and re-engagement, also known as ‘fire and rehire’, refers to when an employer fires an employee and offers them a new contract on new, often less favourable terms.

The Government has been clear that it firmly opposes this practice being used as a negotiating tactic. Today, a new statutory Code of Practice has been published making clear how employers must behave in this area. 

This new Code of Practice shows the Government is going a step further to protect workers across the country. This will help to preserve security and opportunity for those in work, as part of our plan to grow the economy.

In future the courts, and employment tribunals, will take the Code into account when considering relevant cases. This will include on unfair dismissal claims where the employer should have followed the Code.

Employment tribunals will have the power to apply an uplift of up to 25 percent of an employee’s compensation if an employer unreasonably fails to comply with the Code.

The new Code clarifies how employers should behave when seeking to change employees’ terms and conditions, aiming to ensure employees are properly consulted and treated fairly.

Employers will now also need to explore alternatives to dismissal and re-engagement and have meaningful discussions with employees or trade unions to reach an agreed outcome.

The Code makes it clear to employers that they must not use threats of dismissal to pressurise employees into accepting new terms. They should also not raise the prospect of dismissal unreasonably early or threaten dismissal where it is not envisaged.”

Source:Other| 27-02-2024

A new champion for small businesses appointed

An experienced entrepreneur has taken up a key role to promote the needs of small businesses to government and ensure suppliers seize the benefits of the Procurement Act.

Shirley Cooper OBE, former chair and president of the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply, met Parliamentary Secretary Alex Burghart for the first time as Crown Representative for small businesses earlier this month. 

They discussed priorities for the next 12 months, with a focus on the implementation of the Procurement Act in October, which will see further benefits for start-ups and small businesses wishing to work with the government. These include simpler processes, greater transparency and access to opportunities, as well as strengthened payment terms which will maximise value for money and innovation in the government market.

Ms Cooper will lead on the overall relationship between the government and small businesses, making sure the government gets best value from small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and that they in turn have the best possible opportunity to work with the government.

Shirley Cooper OBE said:

"I am delighted to take up this role and build on the work of my predecessor, Martin Traynor.

I look forward to working with colleagues across Government to make sure small businesses can seize the fantastic opportunities available to them in the public procurement process.” 

She will build on the work of Martin Traynor OBE, who is retiring after a five-year tenure in the post which culminated in the reforms of the Procurement Act 2023. 

Ms Cooper will also support the commitment to, and delivery of, increasing central government spend on SMEs. This spend has risen every year since 2016/17 and stood at a record £21.0 billion worth of work in 2021/2022. The Government spends around £300 billion every year on procurement.

She will be an advocate for small businesses, promoting their agenda both in government and externally. 

Source:Other| 27-02-2024