Health and Safety in the Oil and Gas Industry

Oil Gas Health Safety

It’s no secret that the petroleum industry is exposed to certain, very specific risks. If you’re a freelancer in the oil and gas industry then you will be more aware than most about the risks inherent in this line of work.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE), in its Offshore Strategic Context report for 2014-2017, outlines their priority for the health and safety of the UK’s offshore industry is maintaining the integrity of the existing infrastructure that makes up approximately 50% of current offshore platforms. The main aim of this is to avoid a major incident that could result in the death of any offshore workers.

With health and safety such a critical issue within the industry, there are a number of principal risks that the HSE find must be eliminated in order to ensure the safety of the more than 32,000 workers in the petroleum industry.

Risk of fire and explosion

Any release of hydrocarbon carries the risk of ignition, fire and subsequent explosion. Hydrocarbon releases, or HCRs, can be caused either by the breakdown or erosion of a station’s assets (pipelines, pipeline risers or process plants) or by improper maintenance.

In its report, the HSE highlights that the industry has noticed the importance of reducing HCRs and that by April 2013 there was a near 50% reduction in releases, and a plan had been set out to achieve a further 50% reduction by 2016. However, by late in 2013 there had been a 30% rise in releases once more. It’s clear that this is a continuing issue for the industry and one that could have deadly consequences if not attended to.

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Budget 2015 – Kingsbridge round-up

Budget 2015 Reaction

In his speech, George Osborne today promised that today’s final, pre-election Budget will “back the self-employed, the small business-owner and the homebuyer” proclaiming that Britain’s economy is once more on the rise, dubbing the nation, ‘The Comeback Country’.

Freelancers face a mix of measures following Osborne’s 59 minute speech yesterday, many of which appear to be aimed at making the life of the independent professional much easier, while some still target cracking down further on tax avoidance.

Despite Osborne’s insistence that Britain is in the midst of an economic comeback, much of the rhetoric used throughout the speech focused on further reducing the deficit and national debt, with Osborne even expressing at one point, “we choose… to use whatever additional resources we have to get the deficit and the debt falling.”

With that said, let’s take a look at some of the main measures from 2015’s Budget that are likely to affect freelancers, contractors and independent professionals over the course of the next year.

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Budget 2015 – the Contractor Wish List

Budget 2015

With just two days to go until Chancellor George Osbourne delivers his final Budget before the 2015 General Election, the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed (IPSE) have released a new report detailing a Budget wish list for contractors and freelancers, outlining some of the changes they would like to see from The Treasury on Wednesday 18th March.

Let’s take a look at what some of their main proposals are and how they stand to benefit the lives of independent professionals across the country.

Simplifying the tax system

At the top of IPSE’s list is a call for the Government to commit to extensive tax simplification measures. This is a perennial issue, especially for one person limited companies, for whom navigating complex tax legislation (notably IR35) is a time consuming and costly issue.

Interestingly, Derek Kelly, Managing Director of ClearSky Contractor Accounting, writes for Contractor UK that he predicts that the UK’s independent professionals would actually appreciate maintenance of the status quo when it comes to tax legislation. Specifically, he believes that effective enforcement of current IR35 legislation would receive a warmer welcome than more rules and excessive complications being put in place.

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What can contractors expect from 2015’s budget?

2015 Budget Contractors Freelancers

This year’s Budget statement from chancellor George Osborne is due to take place on 18th March. The lead up to the budget is always marked by endless predictions about what to expect from tax to duty and public spending. Rightly so, as there are very few people who will not feel the impact of the decisions that will be announced later this month, whether it’s how much tax you pay or the price you pay for everyday essentials.

But contractors, freelancers and independent professionals occupy a unique position in relation to the Budget. The rise of freelancing in the last couple of years means that freelancers can contribute to the recovery of the UK economy as it continues the uphill climb to emerge out of the recession.  Freelancing helps to create jobs and promotes entrepreneurship so it is increasingly expected that the budget will include concessions toward protecting freelancers and making the option of contracting more attractive.

So what can independent professionals expect out of the budget this year? Well, to answer that question fully we would need a crystal ball or the ability to project ahead two weeks in time. In the absence of time travel, we can explore the impact of last year’s Budget and consider what changes are likely to happen that will affect the community of independent professionals across the UK.

Budget 2014 – what was in it for freelancers?

There has been some concern that, despite the Conservatives’ pledge of being ‘the party of small business’ they have actually made very few direct budget and policy adjustments to both protect and encourage freelancing in the UK.

Julie Stewart, Chairman of IPSE, commented after last year’s budget that there is an urgent need for measurements to be put into place to empower freelancers to tackle late payment, a problem that freelancers struggle with regardless of industry. She also highlighted the importance of making the communications infrastructure, including wider access to the 4G network, much more affordable for those that have to travel but remain contactable for their business.

IPSE’s blog took a detailed look at last year’s budget, closely examining elements of it that were likely to affect freelancers significantly and any specific nods made toward the independent professional  population. It’s well worth a read and will provide plenty of food for thought. Check it out here.

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Contractor News Round-Up

Latest News

This week we’ve scoured web to find all the latest contractor news – stories, trends and research affecting the world of the modern independent professional. Read on to discover our top picks of the latest stories affecting the industry.

More than 80% of new freelancers are female

Freelance UK has this week reported on official labour market figures that claim that more than eight in ten of the people who became self-employed in the final three months of last year were women.  IPSE commented that the 2% rise in the overall number of self-employed people in the UK is almost entirely made up of women. This significant increase has been attributed to the apparent upsurge of women spotting emerging lifestyle trends and going in to business to capitalise on this insight.

If this increase spills over to the worrisome gender gap in the UK’s engineering skills crisis, could we see the start of a close on that divide in the near future?

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Study reveals freelancers happier and wealthier

Good news for independent professionals from Brighton University this week. City A.M. reports on a study conducted by the university’s business school that found that being your own boss lead to greater levels of job satisfaction and average earnings that far exceed the nation’s average.

There has been much ink spilled about the lifestyle benefits that a freelance lifestyle offers people, including flexibility in working hours and location. We feel that the benefits of freelancing certainly outweigh the perceived negatives. We’ve dealt before with time management and the key issues every freelancer must consider, and the recent swell in self-employed individuals across the UK suggests that many more people are buying into this exciting and dynamic way of life.

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Freelancing

UK freelancers cautiously optimistic about 2015

The Association of Independent Professionals and the Self Employed (IPSE), in conjunction with Elance-oDesk, the online freelance job marketplace, conducted a freelance confidence survey earlier this year that discovered that freelancers have a cautious optimism about the coming business year

Factors such as the upcoming General Election are thought to influence the way that freelancers feel about their financial and business prospects in 2015. How has your business fared since the coalition government came to power? Do you feel that a change in ruling party would have a significant impact on your prospects for the future?

To read a full, in-depth analysis of the Freelancer Confidence Index, visit the IPSE site here.

Freelancers unite to get sickness and other employment benefits

The Guardian takes an in-depth look at groups springing up across Europe that are seeking to fix the problems that are commonly associated with freelancing, rather than endure the long wait associated with trying to effect political and legal change.

Covering issues such as sickness pay and chasing clients for late payment of invoices, the piece looks at the concept of industry wide mutual support in Europe in comparison to the UK and provides real food for thought at the innovative and unique ways that freelancers find to combat uncertainty while running successful businesses.

Read more here…

Should I get my freelance contract reviewed for IR35 compliance?

IR35

IR35 is the legislation on everyone’s lips and it’s a subject that we have covered a number of times.  Since its passing into law in 2000, it’s been a priority for freelancers and contractors to make sure they don’t get caught in the IR35 net.

Some professional organisations now offer independent reviews of your contracts that check for IR35 compliance, giving you the peace of mind from the outset that you are not at risk of being caught out. This week, we’re going to investigate if these contract reviews are really worth it for independent professionals today.

IR35 – the risks

IR35 is aimed at uncovering ‘disguised employment’. This affects people that provide their services through a limited company, known as a personal services company. ‘Disguised employment’ is when a freelancer works on a contract through their limited company, but their working conditions and their contract indicates that they are working in the same way as a traditional employee.

If one of your contracts is caught by IR35 legislation i.e. – your work appears to be more like that of a traditional employee –  your income will then become subject to normal income tax and National Insurance contributions and you will lose the advantage of the low salary, high dividends tax arrangement that many freelancers benefit from.

IR35

The Assessment

If you are selected by HMRC to undergo an IR35 compliance investigation they will investigate both your contract and your working arrangements. That means that the way you work and the language of the contract you are working under need to be in agreement.

This is where the skills of a professional contract assessor really come to the rescue for a busy freelancer. Employment status experts will investigate the terms of your contract as well as delving into your working practices through the eyes of an HMRC investigator. That means that you have an objective onlooker examining your compliance for IR35 without you having to get bogged down in the finer details of this often very hard to understand legislation.

This way, you can be secure that both the wording of your contract, and the way in which you actually complete the work in the contract, are compliant with IR35, limiting your exposure to the risks of having an unexamined contract.

This, to us, is the biggest advantage of having an employment status professional review your contract and the way in which your services are delivered. It’s sure to give you peace of mind that a professional can help you prove to HMRC that you’ve taken reasonable steps to IR35-proof your contract.

When HMRC investigate the validity of your contract against the stipulations of IR35 legislation they carry out a series of Business Entity Tests.  These tests function as one of the ways to prove that your contract is at low, medium or high risk of being caught out by IR35.

Being covered by Professional Indemnity (PI) insurance can improve your IR35 stance and forms part of the Business Entity Test. That means that ensuring that you are fully covered as a freelance contractor is a vital step to cover yourself at every level. At Kingsbridge we have designed our core insurance package to cover the risks you’re exposed to as a freelance contractor. This includes Professional Indemnity, Public Liability and Employers’ Liability cover, all at levels that suit the needs of the modern freelancer.

If you wish to discuss your cover requirements then simply call our friendly, professional team at Kingsbridge on 01242 362160 and we will be happy to discuss your needs with you. Or, you can apply online to get access to cover almost instantly.

Five ways to reward yourself after avoiding the self-assessment late penalty

Tax Return UK

It’s the last day before the 31st January self-assessment deadline. That means, for many self-employed and freelance individuals, it’s the last lap before submission of your tax return and final payment of any tax that you owe for the previous financial year.

We’d hedge our bets and say that for many of you the 11:45pm scramble on 31st January is a familiar one as you race against time to get your return submitted and avoid the on the spot £100 fine that 12:00 midnight on 1st February brings.

To inspire you and get you through the last stages of the final slog toward self-assessment freedom, we’ve put together a list of some of our favourite things that you can spend a hard earned £100 on, simply by avoiding submitting your tax return late. After the effort that goes into keeping organised for January, you deserve it!

Headphones

If you’re someone that benefits from listening to music to aid concentration or to block out background noise while you’re working, a new pair of earphones is always a good investment, whether for business or pleasure.

We love these Skullcandy Crusher headphones, a snip at £89 and with a bass extension driver and built-in amplifier. Or, for a little extra pocket money you could invest in the ubiquitous Beats Solo HD headphones.

3D pen

Do you have latent artistic ability? Would you like to see your creative vision rendered in 3D? Or maybe you just like really cool gadgets that you get to play with. Either way, the 3D pen is a brilliant way to spend a little pocket money. The 3Doodler is the world’s first 3D printing pen that allows you to draw in 3D by projecting heated plastic that cools into a solid structure.

It’s a fun little gadget and could make for some exciting new additions to your desk space!

The iKettle

Do you ever get so busy that you can’t even find 5 minutes to pop the kettle on for a much needed cup of tea? Well, the struggle ends with the iKettle. The world’s first Wi-Fi kettle, you can control the iKettle with your smart phone. Struggling over an impending deadline, yet parched and in need of a cuppa? The iKettle has got your back. Inspired!

iKettle

Fitbit

If you’re like a large proportion of people, you’ll have resolved to get fitter for the New Year. The Fitbit is an integrated accelerometer. It keeps track of your activity levels, and lets you log fitness goals, calories burned and the hours you’ve slept. What’s more, it comes in a sleek and stylish wristband design. All you need to get your fitness on track for 2015.

Nike Free Runs

If you want to make sure you have something to enter in to your new Fitbit tracker, then you need to get your running shoes on! Why not invest in a treat for your feet with a new pair of Nike Free Run trainers.

Specially designed to adapt to the foot movement and stride of each individual runner, Nike Free Runs are the ultimate in supportive footwear. So, if you’re in need of clearing your head with a run, these are the shoes to carry you further.

 

Sometimes we all need a little inspiration to help get us through trying times, and the final push toward the self-assessment deadline is no different. Just remember that you don’t want to be hit with a £100 fine that you could be using to make your life a little easier with some of these handy gadgets.

How would you spend the £100 you get to keep by submitting your self-assessment return on time? Let us know in the comments below or get in touch with us on Twitter.

The funniest excuses for late tax returns

Tax Time

For the last few years HMRC has revealed its top ‘oddest’ excuses they receive for the submission of late tax returns. The creativity and, let’s face it, boldness, that’s required to approach HMRC with excuses dragged straight from the ‘dog ate my homework’ school of thought is really something to be marveled at.

From the sublime to the ridiculous, we’ve collected some of our favourite creative excuses published by HMRC in recent years:

  • My pet dog ate my tax return…and all the reminders.

A classic, ‘dog ate my homework’ turn;  it would appear that somebody’s dog has quite the taste for tax returns.

  • I fell in with the wrong crowd.

This is quite an impressive excuse…if you’re a teenager on the brink of being expelled from secondary school. We’re not sure with regard to self-assessment though.

  • I’ve been busy looking after a flock of escaped parrots and some fox cubs.

While a pretty admirable pursuit, we’re not quite sure a flock of parrots counts as a reasonable excuse for filing your tax return late!

  • Our business doesn’t really do anything.

So bold. Almost so bold, in fact, for it to inspire respect. Almost…

  • I was in Australia.

And yet, you still owe tax in the UK!

My Dog Ate My Tax Receipts

But, what is a reasonable excuse?

Tall tales aside, sometimes life events can happen that are far beyond anyone’s control and this, naturally, can affect a freelancer’s ability to successfully complete their self-assessment return. You can appeal certain penalties incurred by late submission of your tax return, as long as you have, what HMRC terms as, a ‘reasonable excuse’.

Reasonable excuses in the eyes of HMRC include:

  • The death of a partner
  • An unplanned hospital stay
  • Computer failure during the process of submitting your tax return
  • Service disruptions on behalf of HMRC
  • A fire
  • Unexpected postal disruptions

In short, a reasonable excuse extends to events that are completely out of your control and that are unexpected. You can find out further details about HMRC’s reasonable excuses here or the tax appeals process here.

Despite the light-heartedness of some of these excuses, it does serve as a good reminder that to file your return sooner rather than later is prudent, as, if you don’t have one of the excuses listed above, you could face financial penalties.

There is an immediate £100 late fine that comes into force at midnight on February 1st. Then if your self-assessment isn’t returned after three months, HMRC will charge daily penalties of £10 per day for a period of up to 90 days. So that’s at least £1,000 in late fees that you’ll face, all for the sake of a hungry dog with a craving for HMRC documents. Doesn’t seem worth it to us.

What are some of the most outrageous excuses you’ve heard for failing to file a tax return? Have you been caught out in a lie? Or do you have any tips or fool proof strategies to avoid having to think of an elaborate excuse in the first place? Let us know in the comments or connect with us via Twitter or our LinkedIn page.

Tools to keep you organised ahead of January’s self-assessment deadline

Don't Miss the Deadline

It’s no secret that January can be a testing time for freelancers. We’ve written before about the pressure to stay organised so that the march to 31st January isn’t a time you face with utter dread every year.

It’s fine to say that you need to be organised, but it can be harder actually doing what you need to. We all need a little help sometimes. That’s why we’ve come up with a list of five of our favourite organisational tools that will help you keep track of time, organise your documents and your finances and make January’s deadline less of a burden on your time.

1.       Dropbox

Dropbox is nearly ubiquitous amongst modern freelancers, especially if you’re embracing the digital revolution as it advances into nearly every aspect of our lives. Syncing all of your devices from phone, to tablet, to laptop, Dropbox ensures that all of your digital documents are accessible anywhere. And if there’s something you need to update or edit, your changes will be saved across all platforms too. An absolute must if organisation is one of your business resolutions this year.

2.       Teux Deux

We don’t know how you feel about “to-do” lists but we love them. They keep us focused, accountable and gives us a great sense of achievement every time we get to cross something off our list!

To-do lists are great for organising your time. This is especially true if you have to give over some of your precious time to organising your tax details in preparation for the all-important 31st January deadline. Teux Deux offers a really simple interface that allows you organise your list of tasks digitally. What’s more, they have an iPhone app that allows you to take your lists with you on the go. Now there really is no reason to go off track.

3.       Central Desktop

If you want to win back some time during the run-up to the self-assessment deadline then Central Desktop could be the perfect way to do it! Now, we all know that the customer (or client) is always right and pleasing them is a top priority for any freelancer. However, sometimes when you’re knee-deep in receipts in your designated self-assessment time a client call, requesting emails or documents, can be the last thing you want to deal with.

With Central Desktop you can create an online collaborative workspace that connects you and your clients. That way, resources such as project plans, agreements and progress reports are stored in the cloud and accessible by you and your clients, removing the need for unnecessary emails and gifting you extra time to focus on the important tasks at hand.

HMRC

4.       Shoeboxed

What image comes to mind when you think about the task of collecting all of your receipts together before you submit your self-assessment? We’d bet that for a majority of you it would be the frantic dash to fill an old shoebox with crumpled petrol receipts and the bill for a client dinner or two.

Shoeboxed have taken that concept and updated it for the digital generation. Giving you the ability to scan and upload receipts and business cards, Shoeboxed will turn these into expense reports and contact lists. Helping you to cut down on admin time and admin costs, this is one tracking system that could well be a self-assessment game changer.

5.       FreeAgent

FreeAgent is the ultimate accounting tool for the time-starved freelancer. If you’re not so comfortable with accounting (and it’s fair to say that not all of us are) then FreeAgent allows you to organise your expenses and  income by project, so keeping track is easy. Another freelance friendly feature is a one-click report that produces a self-assessment summary that you can copy straight to your tax return. If that’s not a time (and stress) saver, we don’t know what is!

As you can see, it’s always worth embracing what the digital world has to offer in terms of productivity and organisational tools. There are hundreds of different apps, web based programmes and software that can help you keep stress at bay and make sure you’re super organised every January!

What are some of your favourite tools to keep you organised ahead of filling out your self-assessment return? Have we missed anything out? Let us know in the comments below, or get in touch with us on Twitter!

How to avoid January self-assessment stress

31st January

January is well and truly upon us. Most of us have completed our first full week back in work and the challenges of the New Year are facing us.

January holds more significance for freelancers than most, and that’s thanks to the 31st January self-assessment online submission deadline looming large on the horizon. The first month of the year can be stressful for freelance contractors and the self-employed as you rush to collect everything your need to avoid being lumped with a hefty fine if you miss that all important deadline.

If you’re new to the process, or you’re struggling a bit in the organisation department, then read on for some of our top tips to avoid self-assessment stress this month.

Ensure you’re registered

If you’ve just gone freelance then this is an essential step. You only have to register with HMRC once to let them know you need to file a self-assessment. From then you will be reminded by HMRC every year that you need to complete your assessment.

First time registration deadlines are October 5th of the current tax year. Failure to register will incur further fines. However, if you manage to submit your self-assessment in full by the 31st January then you can reduce or even avoid late registration fees.

To successfully register you need to provide your National Insurance number and the details of your company or relevant personal details. When you’ve registered your will receive a Unique Taxpayer Reference number. This is an important piece of information so keep it safe as you will have to use this number on all subsequent self-assessments.

Keep a paper trail

There is nothing worse than the January rush, scrabbling to pull together records and evidence of your finances. It is at this point in the year that it pays to be fastidious and diligent all year round by keeping a water tight record of your incoming and outgoing expenses.

Getting into the practice of collecting business receipts and keeping a log of the relevant business transactions that accompany them is wise. It will prove to be the perfect antidote to the January rush and will make filling out your online self-assessment that little bit easier.

In terms of the type of thing you need to be keeping hold of for your records come this time of year, there really is no limit on what is important and pertinent. One missing statement can cause delays in submitting your self-assessment so it pays to be cautious. You can find a comprehensive guide to keeping documents for tax purposes on HMRC’s website here.

Don't Forget

Don’t leave it too late

This would be a good time to note that leaving your self-assessment too late is likely to cause you unnecessary delays and unwanted fines. Of course, the key to avoiding the hurry is in staying organised and planning well.

If you’re not so hot on forward planning then it’s at this point we should probably mention late penalties. If you miss the 31st January deadline then you’ll be presented with an immediate £100 fine. Not a great start to the year. Further to that, if you leave it another 90 days then you’ll start to accrue a £10 a day penalty on top of the £100 fine. So start early to avoid being cleaned out thanks to late submission!

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

If you want to avoid the flop sweat developing at 11:55pm on 31st January while you curse your lack of book-keeping skills, then it does pay to acquire the help of an accountant. Tax is, by its very nature, a complex beast and any good business person knows how to delegate. If you can keep on top of your records then a recommended accountant should be able to help you when it comes to completing your self-assessment.

There’s plenty to get your teeth into as a freelancer. From chasing clients to drumming up new business and getting your name recognised, there’s always a lot to think about. However, keeping on top of your financial records and making sure you’re fully registered with HMRC is one of the most important things you can do if you want to avoid the pitfalls of a stressed and rushed January.

What methods do you use to avoid the typical January rush to submit your self-assessment return? Are you super organised and early to the self-assessment party or do you take advantage of a good accountant to remove the pressure a bit? Let us know in the comments how you’ll be handling self-assessment stress this year!