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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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!

Summarising the Autumn Statement

Autumn Statement

Unless you’ve spent the last few days hiding in a cave (and if you have, we’re not judging you) you’ll have heard something about this year’s Autumn Statement by now. After drip feeding out key policies and figures for the last week, today was the day that George Osborne delivered his statement in full. Traditionally a modest update on the state of the economy, this year’s statement felt like a second Budget in all but name. It’s fair to say that Osborne delivered it with two eyes firmly on the looming General Election in May, its weighty spectre creeping ever closer. BBC Political Editor Nick Robinson termed Osborne’s headline announcements as “real electioneering” and he wasn’t wrong.

This statement was Osborne’s chance to cut Labour off at the pass, and his attempt to gazump one of their key election cornerstones, the so-called ‘Mansion Tax’, led to the announcement that stamp duty will be undergoing a complete overhaul from midnight tonight. Essentially, the changes will allow those buying cheaper properties to pay less and those purchasing more expensive homes to pay more (12% for the most expensive houses), equalling a tax cut of £800m, which will benefit 98% of homebuyers. As always, the statement felt more like a game of high stakes brinkmanship than anything else, but the vast majority of the outcomes were positive. Alongside that headline news, below you’ll find a brief summary of the key figures and policies Osborne announced today (courtesy of the New Statesman), as well as an analysis of how exactly the changes might impact contractors and freelancers:

Figures:

  • The economy is predicted to grow 3 per cent this year, up from the 2.7 per cent predicted in the budget.
  • Osborne will be borrowing £12.5bn more than forecast in the budget nine months ago.
  • The deficit is forecast to rise by more than expected over the next two years: £91.3bn this year and £75.9bn the following year.
  • The Office for Budget Responsibility says the deficit will pick up and fall faster than expected in following years, hitting a surplus of £23bn in 2020.

Policies:

  • A “roads revolution”: £15bn to be spent on new road funding in England. This includes a 1.8-mile tunnel to relieve congestion by Stonehenge.
  • National Insurance abolished for employers that take on apprentices aged under 25.
  • Income tax threshold to increase to £10,600.
  • A new Sovereign Wealth Fund for the north of England, so that the shale gas resources of the north are used to invest in its future, and a commitment to “northern powerhouse” plans.
  • Cutting £15bn from the Whitehall budget, and the government will spend £10bn less this year.
  • Banks will pay £4bn more in tax over the next five years.
  • Freezing universal credit, working-age benefit for two years, and ending unemployment benefits for migrants who have no prospect of work.
  • Libor fines will continue to support military and emergency service charities, including buying new helicopters for the Great Western and Kent, Sussex and Surrey Air Ambulance.
  • Extend cathedral renovation fund.
  • Refund VAT for search ambulance charities and for hospice charities.
  • Extending theatre tax break to orchestras.
  • Air Passenger Duty on flights for under-12s scrapped from next year, and from 2016, it will be scrapped for all under-16s.
  • Funding the NHS: a pledge to spend an extra £2bn a year on the NHS.
  • Pensions: completing the reforms already announced, bringing total savings of £1.3bn a year.
  • Repayment of the national debt incurred by fighting the First World War.
  • 25 per cent tax on profits generated by multinationals from economic activity here in the UK which they then artificially shift out of the country (the so-called ‘Google Tax).
  • No increase in petrol duty.
  • A new garden city in Bicester, Oxfordshire: up to 13,000 new homes to be built there.
  • Flood defences: £2.3bn investment.
  • Helping SMEs: a near £1bn boost for small businesses.
  • Reform business rates: a review into the structure of this controversial tax on small firms. Double small business rate relief for another year.
  • An overhaul of stamp duty, coming into place at midnight tonight: allowing those buying cheaper properties to pay less and those purchasing more expensive homes to pay more, equalling a tax cut of £800m, which will benefit 98 per cent of homebuyers.
  • A postgraduate loans scheme: government-provided loans offering funding of up to £10,000.

George Osborne

So, what does it mean for freelancers and contractors? In general, Osborne’s business focus is good news for small businesses. The planned restructuring of business rates will be welcomed warmly, and the continuation of a freeze on fuel duty has obvious benefits for microbusinesses across the country. However, this government’s continued myopia with regard to improving the UK’s digital infrastructure (the pressing need to improve the issue of poor broadband in rural areas for example) is still a cause for concern.

The crackdown on tax avoidance should also be applauded, but we second Andy Chamberlain of IPSE’s comment that “any changes to umbrella companies [should] provide real benefits to those using these structures and do not inadvertently affect the genuinely self-employed.” The good news on this front is that the government’s review of umbrella companies should weed out the unscrupulous practitioners (those, for example, who offset expenses against income so their taxable income is below the national minimum wage). As Rob Crossland, founder of Parasol, noted: “This could be the landmark moment that policymakers finally take the time to properly understand our industry, differentiating between unethical cowboys at one end of the spectrum and compliant, professional providers…at the other. Any umbrella company that fails to offer genuine employment rights or pay the minimum wage deserves to be placed under the spotlight. Such practices are unacceptable – they do a disservice to workers, our sector and the UK economy as a whole.” If you’re just starting out on your own and are thinking of going through an umbrella company, then make sure to do your research before hand. Get feedback and make sure they’re trustworthy and reputable. If you find a company with your best interests at heart rather than their own then you’ll be in a good place.

In addition to the above, the small companies’ rate of Corporation Tax remains unchanged at 20% (for companies with profits under £300,000), still making it an attractive proposition for sole traders who are considering incorporating their business. There were a few changes made to National Insurance too. For limited company contractors, the lower earnings limit will increase from £111 to £112 from 6th April 2015. For sole traders, Class 2 National Insurance contributions will increase from £2.75 to £2.80 from 6th April 2015. Class 4 National Insurance Contributions are currently payable at the rate of 9% if your annual profits exceed £7,956. From 6 April 2015 this will increase to £8,060. The upper earning limit (at which point the rate reduces to 2%) will increase to £42,385 from April 2015 from £41,865 in 2014/2015.

There issues raised in today’s statement are sure to rumble on over the coming weeks, and the fact remains that the Conservatives will have borrowed £219bn more in this parliament than they promised in 2010. What’s more, a lot of the issues the freelance and contractor community had hoped to see raised (rate cuts for work hubs, for example, or tax breaks for training) were neglected. The abolishment of National Insurance for employers who take on apprentices under the age of 25 is welcome news, as is the promise of government backed loans for post-graduate students, but with HMRC’s VAT MOSS issue ongoing there’s still much work to be done. Head on over to the BBC and the Guardian for a further breakdown, and check in with a few of our favourite Twitter users to see what their thoughts were as the statement was unveiled.

Tax and the modern freelancer

Tax Return

You’ve established yourself as a freelance contractor; you’ve networked, you’ve set up your home office, and you’ve completed your first contract with a new client. Now it’s time for the best bit – receiving your first cheque.

Don’t get too attached to that number, though. You need to make sure you factor in the tax you owe, now that your tax isn’t being collected on a pay-as-you-earn basis. When you’re starting out as a freelancer, it’s really important that you get your head around the realities of your tax situation in order to ensure that you don’t incur the penalties associated with paying the wrong amount of tax.

Read on to find out the kind of things that are worth considering when it comes to tax and the modern freelancer.

Consider: Registering with HMRC

Anyone who sets up as a freelancer or as self-employed has to register for business tax with HMRC. This will allow you to provide your business information and set up records for self-assessment and National Insurance on behalf of your business. Failure to do this will result in financial penalties.

You also need to arrange to pay Class 2 National Insurance contributions as soon as you start freelance work. If your profits rise above £7,956 you will be required to pay Class 4 National Insurance contributions.

Consider: Your business situation

Are you a sole trader? Are you registered as a Limited Company? Or are you self-employed? Each status has an impact on the way you pay tax and how much. For example, if you are registered as a limited company, a preference for freelancers, then you will be subject to Corporation Tax and will have to provide a Company Tax Return at the end of your company’s accounting period. If you are self-employed or a sole trader then you must fill out self-assessment tax returns and submit them by 31st October and ensure you pay any tax you owe by the annual tax deadline of 31st January.

Consider: Keeping financial records

It’s vital that you keep detailed records of your financial activity as a freelancer. It’s good practice in general but it is essential for tax purposes. There are no hard and fast rules on the format in which your records can be kept – you can do it either on paper or electronically. If you’re not naturally organised, then it’ll pay to become so because maintaining records is one of the most important things you can do.

The types of details you need to record include profit and loss information, bank statements, orders, expenses and relevant communication. The list is extensive so start as you mean to go on and keep a record of all of your business’ incomings and outgoings to help stay on top of your tax obligations.

Consider: Working with an accountant

Some of us are more comfortable with numbers than others, which is why hiring an accountant to help you with your tax obligation is a personal choice. If you’re not comfortable with the numerous regulations of freelancer tax then working with an accountant could help translate some of the more obscure rules into a language you understand and help to save you money. If you do choose to appoint an accountant, try to source recommendations from fellow freelancers.

Tax can be a daunting subject to broach when you are starting out as a freelancer, but burying your head in the sand is never a good option. Stay organised, keep on top of your records and if you’re unsure about anything, ask the people in the know!

Do you have any tips on keeping abreast of your tax situation? Let us know in the comments below.

Money

Wednesday 19th November sees the sixth annual National Freelancers Day; a day designed to put freelancing in the spotlight and to discuss the significant contribution independent professionals make toward the UK economy.

To celebrate a day just for freelancers, Kingsbridge are running a special competition on Twitter to show some love to freelancers across the UK.

Entering our competition is simple. All you need to do is Tweet us directly at @KingsbridgeProf and finish this sentence, ‘I love freelancing because…’ using the hashtag #NFD2014.

From the best answers we’ll pick five runners up, who’ll each win £20 in Amazon vouchers, and the winner will be the proud recipient of a brand new iPad mini 2.

Winners will be announced on Twitter on Friday 21st November. So get thinking, get creative and send us your best efforts to be in with a chance of winning!

False Self-Employment Legislation For Contractors

The Finance Bill 2014 has now been published, setting in motion the changes to tax law which were announced in 2013.

As you’d expect with any new HMRC legislation, there’s been significant concern and confusion around one particular element, the new False Self-Employment legislation.  Aimed at specific sectors within the contracting industry it’s still under scrutiny from industry professionals.  Not all contractors will be affected but it is worthwhile being aware of the changes in case of any tweaks to the draft.

Why is it happening?

HMRC are concerned that there are a growing number of workers operating as self-employed or as a sole trader who may, in fact, be ‘disguised employees’, sometimes hidden by intermediary companies, who are either incorrectly listed as freelance or are purposely listed that way to avoid the correct taxation. They also believe that many of these sole traders aren’t completing income tax forms and so aren’t being taxed the right amount or in some cases aren’t paying any tax or NI at all.

Also it’s worth noting that in recent years there has been a rise in the number of ‘intermediary’ companies which act as middle men between the worker and the recruitment agency. These intermediaries have previously been bearing the PAYE risk but managing it with agreed terms with the worker.

What is it?

The legislation HMRC plans to put in place will implement a new way to check up on sole traders and contractors. The plans mean that the matter of compliance passes hands to the recruitment agency rather than the intermediary (as mentioned above); this is because the agencies converse directly with clients and have more influence over how the worker is paid. HMRC will be checking up on intermediaries and looking out for those that are enabling tax avoidance to happen. They have also proposed that a statutory returns and record keeping practice be put in place.

As part of the legislation a TAAR (Targeted Anti Avoidance Rule) will be introduced, The TAAR will be designed to enable HMRC to consider the motive for setting up the employment status arrangements; whether a business is incorporated purely with the motive of avoiding income tax and also whether it achieves the motive of tax being paid or not.

When does it come into practice?

Immediately. Many concerns were raised by stakeholders who worried that the consultation period about the changes was too short a time and that it was being introduced much too quickly. They suggested that it should in fact be implemented in April 2015; however, the government believes that delaying its implementation will allow too much time for new avoidance arrangements to be put in place.

How will it affect me?

Overall, it seems pretty conclusive that limited company freelancers and contractors will not be affected. So if this is you, there is not currently anything to worry about.

Those who will feel the effects are mostly the recruitment agencies that will now have to bear the brunt of any compliance issues with hired workers. It also plans to target intermediaries that supply self-employed workers whilst denying them employment rights and avoiding NI payments. If you are a contractor who is in contact with anyone in a supply chain on a contract for services then you are liable for PAYE as HMRC will presume that you are a controlled worker. It is worth thinking if this is the case for you as you may be affected if you cannot prove that you aren’t a controlled worker.

Another section of those affected will likely be low skilled workers and may not even be aware of their self-employed status. The examples HMRC gave are construction workers, delivery drivers and ‘shelf-stackers’.

What is the industry response?

There are many doubts in the industry that this legislation will have the impact that is expected. There are worries that agencies will be hesitant in placing limited company contractors into work engagements with the changes in place, but hopefully with clear guidance from HMRC this will not be a problem. PCG in particular say that they will be keeping an eye on legislation to make sure that it is not rushed through without proper consideration.

APSCo strongly urged HMRC to consider including the following within the final legislation: statutory guidance on the compliance actions a recruitment firm should take. Statutory defence in the event that they undertake such appropriate compliance checks and a definition of a personal service company (“PSC”).

Following stake holder reactions to the legislation, agencies and other intermediaries will now have until August 2015 to make their first submissions to HMRC, and the definition of ‘intermediary’ will be tightened up to exclude genuine service providers.

A Contractor’s Guide To Self-Assessment Tax Returns

As if you weren’t excited enough about Christmas, every freelancer and contractor’s favourite time of year is fast approaching too…..Tax Season!

Whether you’re a seasoned pro, or just starting out, self-assessment can be intimidating, particularly when the press is full of horror stories about fines, recent government policy changes and HMRC taking measures to answer to the recent criticisms they’ve been facing around avoidance. Hopefully we can help with our guide to self-assessment.

1 – First you’ll need to register with HMRC for self-assessment.

You can register online, by post or by phone; find more details here. To register for self-assessment you’ll need your National Insurance Number as well as all the details of your business and your personal details.  Registration (if you haven’t already done it) needs to be submitted by 5th October after the end of the tax year for which you need a return. If you are new to self-assessment you will receive a UTR (Unique Taxpayer Reference) which stays with you to keep you linked to your self-assessment records. If you aren’t new to this then you’ll need you reference number to hand to complete the forms.

2 – You need to keep your records in order.

They key to submitting your assessment on time and correctly is in keeping accurate financial records.  Just some of the financial records you should have to hand when you are completing your self-assessment are:  your self-employment income, any dividends, any income that may have come from partnership and interest paid on things such as loans and credit cards. This only the basics so be prepared to also list any additional income or expenditures.

Don’t forget, you always have the option of speaking to a professional and having them help with your accounts and financial information.

3 – Timing is important

You may have already guessed that leaving your self-assessment to the day before its due is not the best idea.  The earliest you can realistically submit it is the beginning of the new tax year.  You do, however need to make sure you have all of your tax forms from the previous year, P60, P45 and P11D, for example, so whenever you have received those you can get cracking. The advantages to early filing are the fact you’ll know how much tax you owe so you can plan the rest of the year on the back of that, knowing in advance can also prepare you for any shocks and having to pay out of your own pocket!

4 – Completing your self-assessment

So, you’ve organised all your papers, you feel prepared and ready, next comes the task of actually filling out the assessment. You can now register online (if you haven’t done it before) and receive your UTR (which we mentioned earlier).  Next you’ll use that code activate your account online and you’re ready to go. You can check this HMRC guide if you’re stuck at this point. If you’ve filed a return online before you’ll have an Id and password and you can get started straight away.

If you’re already prepped it’s an easier task of simply copying data from your records and documents into HMRC’s system. It’s simply form filling. Keep all of all your forms in front of you and once one form has had its data inputted online put it to one side, once all the forms are aside, you’re done!

The great thing is that the online system saves your progress so you don’t have to complete the assessment in one sitting and if there are things you need to double check you can always go back before you decide to submit it. Once you’ve double-checked everything and are happy that you’ve completed the forms you can submit.

5 – Finally, don’t miss the deadline of January 31st.

If you let the deadline go by you’ll be hit with an on the spot £100 fine and be given an extra three months to work through the online forms. If you miss the second deadline the fine will then go up to an additional £300, or a 5% fine of the tax you owe, whichever is greater. So it pays to be prepared for your self-assessment.