Fracking Opponents – Justified or Misinformed?

David Cameron has recently announced his support of Fracking in the UK, yet there are still many protests taking place at proposed Fracking sites in the UK (the highly publicised protests at Barton Moss being just one example). These protestors have serious concerns about the effects of Fracking on the environment and the the way it could impact the lives of those living near to the proposed sites. So, what are the specific concerns and are they founded in truth, science or experience? Here we take a look at some of the worries and how seriously you should be taking them.

Wear from drilling operations

Currently wear on well casing from the fracking process is a problem that does need solving. Not only does the wear on the casing cause higher costs around the need for replacement or fixing but it can also be a contributory factor in any water and ground contamination that may occur.

There are suggestions and reports that a new way of managing the casing on the wells could prevent such contamination. The new suggestion is using cement to prevent the risk of contamination. Currently in America, cement is used to fill the gap in freshly drilled gas wells between the earth and the casing which is supposed to fill any cracks which would allow contamination to occur. However for it to be effective it must fill the entire space surrounding the well, from top to bottom, it is also important for workers to wait at least 8 hours for the cement to harden.

The issue is that often workers will not wait or will not pump enough cement to coat the well which has been attributed to cost saving measures.  This is possibly due to a lack of experience in the field (which we’ll cover next) and can lead to cracks forming in the cement and therefore contamination.

Lack of experience or expertise

There are other worries that those working, or planning to work on fracking sites in the UK may not be prepared or experienced enough at the scale that the operation requires. When this lack of experience happens the consequences can lead to other issues, such as those mentioned above.

This is obviously a problem with an easy answer, training and strict measures on site will ensure that contamination fears are quashed. That said, regulation and legislation remain a large area of concern among those opposing fracking in the UK.

Water contamination

We mentioned this earlier and how it can occur and there are obvious reasons for those living around potential fracking site to be concerned.  Many iof these concerns can seem justified by the fracking industry in the US where 6% of wells in a Pennsylvania region have sprung, and reported some sort of leak.

Leaks are potentially very hazardous as carcinogenic chemicals are used in the extraction process and allowing them into groundwater can affect wildlife and nearby water supplies.

The contamination to the supply can cause long term health problems for those exposed. Surveys on the chemicals used have shown damage to skin, sensory organs and in more extreme cases, effects on the brain and cardiovascular harm.

More work still needs to be done to see the definitive effects of Fracking on human health as well as environmental health, but with increased regulation and training, again this is something which can be addressed.

Environmental costs – large amounts of water use

There’s no denying that the large amount of water used in the fracking process can have a great environmental impact. For each well millions of gallons of water is used and obviously transporting such a large amount of water to a site will have significant environmental impact, especially from emissions, and will also put a large strain on local resources.  The counter argument is that the natural gas that is extracted has a far lower carbon footprint as an energy source than oil or fossil fuels which far outweighs the environmental impact the extraction process may have.

Tremors

One of the most well documented and publicised worries surrounding fracking is the risk of tremors or earthquakes. Some recent tremors have been attributed to nearby fracking sites, which scientists call ‘induced seismic events’.  Although  an increase in the amount of Fracking could lead to an increase of tremors, most earthquakes do only measure as small magnitudes on the scale.

Regulation

There have been previous worries that regulation of the fracking industry in the UK had been outdated and that new legislation was needed to make sure fracking was safe and that appropriate steps were being taken to minimise any issues such as leaks.

With regulations in place to ensure a safer practice this will not be an issue in the future and will in turn lead to less risk of environmental damage. Parliament are looking into new terms for regulation for the onshore oil and gas industry which should help implement best operational practice.

 

Sources: http://www.wearepowershift.org/blogs/cement-fracking-solution, http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/health/case_studies/hydrofracking_w.html, https://www.google.co.uk/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=8&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0CHIQFjAH&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.parliament.uk%2Fbriefing-papers%2Fsn06073.pdf&ei=eJJWU9-EIfGT0QWniYHYBA&usg=AFQjCNEhFud3UZQwOgaejL-C96qG9g0DSg&sig2=20ZgtBZSRCw7KqHOoLsrRQ&bvm=bv.65177938,d.d2k

False Self-Employment Legislation For Recruiters

We’ve already looked at the new legislation regarding false self-employment and how it could affect contractors but we thought we’d also give an insight into the potential impact on those recruitment agencies that will now have to deal with worker compliance.

As we said previously:

“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.”

How a recruitment firm is affected depends entirely on their interaction with contractors, freelancers and the self-employed.  Effectively, recruitment agencies placing contractors onto assignments will now be responsible for compliance matters relating to the tax and NI contributions made by their freelancers and contractors. Agencies will now have to be more vigilant when putting contractors in for client work and will have to consider various criteria in order to remain compliant.  First, will the worker be under supervision, control or direction as to the way they work? Is the worker providing their services personally? Is the worker remunerated for providing their services? (one man limited companies are exempt) Finally, is the pay already taxed as employment income?

Here’s a more in-depth look at the criteria from Brookson:

Is the worker subject to (or does the client have the right of) control, supervision or direction as to the manner in which duties are carried out (this test is not defined in legislation and has very little case law interpreting it and so is hard to disprove).  HMRC’s opening position is that all workers will be subject to control and it is the responsibility of the recruitment agency to prove otherwise.

Is the worker providing their services personally (this will always be the case).

Is the worker remunerated as a consequence of providing their services (this applies if the individual receives payment directly linked to the work they do).  HMRC have confirmed that one man limited companies (PSCs) are excluded from this legislation providing the worker is a director and or shareholder of the company and remunerates themself by way of salary and/or dividends.

Is the remuneration not already taxed as employment income (this means that if the worker is employed by the agency or an umbrella company and their pay is subject to PAYE then the legislation will not apply).

So, if all of these conditions are met by the recruitment agency then they must take control of deducting tax and paying National Insurance for all of the payments for their worker’s services. Also to be aware of is the proposed statutory returns and record keeping requirement which needed to be in place since April 6th 2014, though the first return is not to be made until November 1st 2014.

HMRC will be challenging agencies which continue to use self-employment providers who claim to have circumvented legislation by using Managed service company legislation.

To sum up, Recruitment agencies will need to be aware how their contract workers are being paid, which will require vigilant monitoring. This will make preferred supplier lists even more important to them; so they understand who they are working with.

Those that remain risk free for the recruitment agency in terms of tax and National Insurance liability are contractors employed directly by the agency and paid by PAYE, those employed by a compliant umbrella company that pays them employment income and also those engaged via their own limited company which pays them a salary.

If the contractor is in contact with anyone in the supply chain on a contract for their services then recruitment agencies really need to consider the action they will take as in this situation they would be liable for PAYE if HMRC’s assumption that the worker is controlled cannot be disproven.

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.

The Best Energy Savings Apps And Gadgets For Contractors

With the ever present fluctuation in pricing between the big six energy companies, we decided to take a look at some of the best energy saving gadgets you can use in your home and office.  We’re also reviewing the most useful smartphone apps that will help save you money and lower your carbon footprint.

Apps

GridCarbon

This App is available on iPhone and Android phones/tablets and is extremely useful in lowering your carbon footprint. The app shows graphs which have regularly updated information on demand for electricity through the day. The app ensures you know when to use your electricity during off peak hours, which are determined by the carbon intensity of the supply. The graphs are simply laid out with traffic light themed colours to make it easier to follow. Using your electricity during off-peak hours will significantly lower your carbon footprint.

chargers

Eco charger

Eco Charger gives you a way of keeping tabs on your phone or tablet’s energy, especially when charging, and allows you to increase the length of your battery life as well as saving energy. The app simply notifies you buy way of an alarm when your battery is fully charged.  the alarm will continue to sound until you unplug your device from the charger.

FuelGood

Fuel Good is available on both Android and Apple phones and tablets, and it can help you to save money when using your car. You begin by selecting the make model and year of your car and, based on averages, it will begin to help you save money on fuel consumption. It keeps track of journeys and gives helpful tips on how to make your trips more fuel-efficient. Some reviews say the app is unreliable but it has since been updated, so hopefully stability issues have been fixed.

Standby Energy Cost Calculator

Not exactly a catchy name, but the app gets past that with its usefulness. It can tell you just how much energy you’re wasting by leaving a particular product on standby.

Apps and Gadgets

 

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Nest

The Nest thermostat and app haven’t officially launched yet in the UK but a launch is apparently imminent. The thermostat has a beautiful design and simple interface and secondly is truely innovative.  Once installed it will begin to pick up the habits of the dwellers and when you are in or out of the house and adjust the heating accordingly. The app connects to the thermostat, allowing you to control it from out of the house.  The only issue with this product (apart from it not being released yet!) is that it is a little pricey, but that is fairly understandable being the first wifi enabled thermostat on the market. Conversely, the energy savings are reported to be about 10-25%, so it could be a worthwhile investment. Watch out for this one.

Gadgets

Battery Wizard

The Battery Wizard is a handy recharging gadget that will recharge normal batteries up to ten times. It also recharges rechargeable batteries.  It works with regular AA, AAA, C, D and 9v batteries, so all of the most common types are covered. The device will help you reduce waste, as well as saving you money from its low running costs.

 

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Energy Monitors

Energy monitors come in all shapes, sizes and prices depending on the features. They’ll help to reduce energy costs and  carbon footprint by monitoring which appliances in your home or office are costing you the most money, so you can do something about them. Once you’ve made changes, a monitor will tell you how much money you’re saving.

So there we have it, some great apps and gadgets to help you save energy and money. If you have any suggestions let us know by leaving a comment below or tweeting us @Kingsbridgeprof

Advice for money management as a freelancer or contractor

Many freelancers and contractors face a certain level of uncertainty surrounding their finances.  Variations in what and when you get paid can make managing finances complicated. We’ve put together some money management tips to help you take control of your money.

Open a business account

If you’re a freelancer or contractor who operates through a limited company where you’re the only employee you can opt to use your personal account for your business in-comings and outgoings.  However, it’s not the best idea for managing your business finances.  Setting up a business banking account makes it far easier to create a viable budget and manage your business accounts.

It will provide you with one place to receive payments and pay out any pension money, tax and business expenses. A business account could simplify how you keep track of your ins and outs as well as being able to see how profitable your business activities are.

Project income and expenses

Freelancing is rarely synonymous with a stable income and changes in your contracts may mean fluctuations in monthly income.  It’s important to have a monthly plan to control your business spending.

A good way to keep your budgeting in control is to project your monthly income and expenses by either taking an average for the year or to looking at spending with a glass half empty attitude (seriously). Look at the worst case scenario by projecting the lowest amount of income you might receive based on an estimate from previous months and years.  Combine this with an expense budget in line with your most spend heavy month to date. You’ll likely always spend less and earn more than your projections which will leave you with a contingency for anything unforeseen at the end of each month.

If you estimate your income and expenses to an average taken from the previous 12 months (if you have worked a previous year) then this should also be an effective way of budgeting for the coming months. If your income is steady this is probably the best way for you to estimate.

Set milestone payments

If you work on lots of larger projects and are worried about when you’ll get paid, because usually you don’t receive your pay off until the end of the project, then setting milestone payments could be a good option to help ease the stress.

Many freelancers set up a contract when accepting work with clients to allow for payments along the timeline of work. So, instead of a large payment at completion, you would receive agreed sums of money throughout a project. These can be set at certain milestones throughout your project and can be based on key phases being completed to give your client peace of mind too.  If your work is for a set number of hours or days then you can charge based on your time. If you have no definite way of splitting up the job then perhaps consider breaking it up into 25% blocks and charging for each of those to help maintain a steady income.

You shouldn’t be anxious about approaching your clients to suggest this option.  Many companies will be used to operating in this way, provided they have an agreed set of deliverables at each phase of the project.

 Contingency plan

Finally, a contingency fund is a must in the event you suffer gaps between contracts. If you can manage to do it, having a fund to cover 6-8 months of bills and expenses could be a real lifeline.  Hopefully you won’t have to resort to using it but just the security of knowing you’re covered for a period of time is a benefit in itself.

Having this emergency back-up will not only make you feel more secure and relaxed about your freelancing career but you’ll find you aren’t as desperate for clients, so if there are any you don’t feel quite right about then you don’t have to jump at the chance to work with them. The same goes for worrying if current clients can pay their invoices on time, you’ll have a fall back if they aren’t being punctual.  Finally, you’ll have more freedom to explore other opportunities such as going to events or taking on some training.

There we have it, some handy tips to make your freelancing financial life more secure. If you have any other tips or ideas we’d love to hear them, comment below or tweet us @Kingsbridgeprof.

Skills shortages around the world

We keep hearing about the worsening crisis of skills shortages in the UK, especially in the Oil and Gas and engineering industries. The fact of the matter is, if the crisis continues it may prevent businesses from taking advantage of economic recovery.  It’s not only the UK that’s suffering, many other territories are affected by a skills shortage in a variety of industries which is affecting their economy also. We’ve decided to take a look at the (potentially global) crisis to see what skills are lacking and where, and what plans are in place to bridge the gaps.

The UK

In a recent survey of over 90,000 employers it was shown that 1 in 5 job vacancies remained unfilled due to a lack of skilled applicants. This statistic accounts for 22% of vacancies overall, which equalled 146,200. That’s risen from 91,400 from two years previously.

The shortages are evident in trades like plumbing, health and social care, those with foreign language skills, manufacture and construction. The main reason for these shortages is a lack of skill in communication, literacy and numeracy. It can also be attributed to the fact that employers are hiring employees with a higher level of skill and knowledge than what’s actually required for the role, which can often lead to bored and unmotivated employees.  Low paid- low skill jobs don’t appear as desirable for British workers; this also adds to skill shortages. However, immigrants from eastern European countries are increasingly happy to take these jobs which helps to fill the job market.

Other issues may be that companies aren’t investing as much as they should in training and development; during the recession cutbacks were likely to have been made to this particular work initiative. A public push of the importance of role training and development within the media would help to ensure that workers are progressing and learning new skills to become proficient in their industry.

Looking at the disciplines that are suffering most from the shortages on the surface it seems we need to encourage more young people to pursue subjects like science, technology, engineering and maths to help fill future roles in the industries that are currently suffering.

Australia

The skills shortages in Australia are mainly linked to the mining industry; in the past few years much of the debate about the shortages has focussed on the need for migrant workers to come to Australia to fill the open jobs.  The current plan is to boost immigration intake by 30,000 a year to meet the skills shortages. Back around the early 2000s there was a mining boom which set of a massive growth in mining employment, but since the middle of 2012 it’s seen a huge downturn in growth suggesting that a lack of skills are beginning to affect the industry.

Similarly the engineering industry in Australia looks set to suffer a skills shortage in 2014. A slowdown in major infrastructure projects has led to companies focussing on smaller projects which have then led to senior workers moving overseas to gain the right job for their skills, or even retiring.

The lack of engineering and other skills in Australia will require targeted policies from Government and industry to support an effective approach to training, attracting and retaining the right sort of talent.

Europe

A recent report has shown that around a third of companies in Europe are struggling to find employees with the correct skills for available jobs. Of those vacancies over a quarter of employers said that they were unable to fill entry level jobs over the last year. For some this caused major business issues which could have been detrimental to their future.

Across the EU of the economically active population, 10.9% were unable to find work and for those under the age of 25 the figure rises to 23.6%. The countries with the highest unemployment rates showed the highest skills shortage, which suggests that there is a problem with educating and getting young workers involved in the industries suffering with shortages.

The report did show that the employers struggling did not engage enough with the education system and that those educating were wholly too optimistic of their students’ chances of finding work. For the shortages to cease there would have to be greater collaboration between educators, businesses and policymakers. A suggestion has been made to offer students’ financial support when studying for courses with a strong employment record and also for more businesses to sponsor students in their studies. As well as offering greater flexibility for those studying whilst working.

So there we have it a look at just some of the skills shortages around the world. With a push for greater links between the education and industry it is likely that the skills gap will begin to close. We’d love to hear your opinion, leave a comment below or tweet us @kingsbridgeprof.

Kingsbridge’s Introductory Guide To Fracking

What is it?

You’ll be familiar with the fact that we can find oil and gas buried deep in the earth, and it’s accessed via drilling.  Fracking, or to give it its full name ‘hydraulic fracturing’, extracts gas from shale (a sedimentary rock) deposits and is a much more complex process when compared to ‘traditional’ gas and oil drilling.

During the extraction process fluid (water) is injected into existing cracks in rocks until they break open and create larger breaks in the rock formations. Oil and Gas from surrounding shale moves into the cracks and is forced down into a bored well, from where it can be extracted. The diagram below shows the basic principals.

fracking diagram

In the modern version of fracking at least a million gallons of high pressure water can be used per ‘frack’. It’s this method of fracking that has been proposed for UK sites.

Who wants to get involved and what are the regulations?

The companies in the UK that are involved with onshore exploration for shale gas deposits are listed below:

The UK law which governs gas and oil licensing dates all the way back to the 1960s and many have concerns about its relevance today.  There are elements of the fracking process which would not be regulated under current law and those opposing Fracking argue that the inadequate regulation means there is no enforcement when measuring flowback and waste water from fracked wells. Even Cuadrilla, one of the most prominent drilling organisations in fracking, has called for better regulation for fracking in the UK.

What impact will it have?

Positive

Fracking helps drilling firms get to difficult-to-reach resources of oil and gas. Looking at previous case-studies, fracking in America has significantly boosted domestic oil production and subsequently given America and Canada gas security for 100 years. It has helped to lower gas prices and has created the opportunity to generate electricity at half the CO2 emissions of coal.

In the UK it is believed that shale gas and fracking could be significant in securing  future energy needs.  A more recent report from the Energy and Climate Change Committee last year has supported the above theory, but suggests that fracking may not affect gas prices in the UK.

Negative

Much of the controversy surrounding fracking comes down to environmental worries. The process of fracking requires millions of gallons of water which usually wouldn’t be available onsite and would need to be transported, which has a high environmental cost. There are also worries of pollution; that carcinogenic chemicals used may contaminate nearby groundwater if they escape the fracking site. Many people from the industry suggest that pollution results only from bad practice rather than from proven fracking techniques. Other worries are that fracking can cause tremors or earthquakes (there have been previous reports of two small tremors in Blackpool at fracking sites) The industry answer is that the quakes will only be noticeable to a few and will not cause damage.

Finally, environmental campaigners say that fracking is distracting the government and energy firms from investing in sustainable renewable energy and is causing further reliance on oil and gas.

Fracking, like many other energy extraction techniques, has its positives and negatives; with advances in its regulation and investment from energy companies it looks set to be a popular choice for the UK government in creating new oil and gas reserves as we go into 2014.

You can follow updates on UK fracking news from our Twitter account @KingsbridgeProf and let us know your opinion on the practice.

Kingsbridge’s Oil And Gas Predictions For 2014

The UK:

2014 could be the year that the UK moves more towards shale gas with the British Government giving out the next round of exploration licenses this year, as well as being granted extra exploration licenses from Norway for oil in the North Sea.

The first nuclear power plant for 20 years is to be built, which also suggests a new period of growth, creating some 25,000 jobs and it should help to tackle the current engineering skills shortage.

More good news for those in the oil and gas sector as it is predicted that the boom in new jobs will also see a wage rise.  68% of oil and gas workers saw a pay rise in 2013, so it’s a positive feeling for the industry in terms of employment. Confidence in the oil and gas industry is strong and likely to increase; the majority of workers are confident that tax breaks will continue to boost investment and interest in the sector.

If Scotland were to claim Independence from the United Kingdom this year it would have a major effect on the North Sea Oil industry. Alex Salmond has increasingly focused his economic case for independence around the North Sea Oil reserves, telling Scots that the remaining reserves could be worth £300,000 per person. However the ‘black gold’ will be fiercely fought over by London and Edinburgh politicians, if it were split via the North Sea border then 90% of the revenues would go straight to Scotland. It is unlikely that England’s politicians would sit back and let this fly as revenues from the North Sea reserves are so high. It will certainly be worth keeping an eye on what the feeling is north of the border.

The US:

It’s likely that the US Shale gas revolution will continue strongly into 2014 and beyond. The US could even become energy self-sufficient by 2015 which could cause huge shifts in the global energy market.

We could also see an increase in development in the production of natural gas and oil. This will again increase chances to work in the sector and open up job opportunities throughout the coming year.

Worldwide:

Advances in technology and improvement in techniques for well-completion could mean steadily increasing recovery rates for shale oil and gas wells across the world in 2014. Those who believe in the Peak Oil theory will continue to ignore this. In the same vein ‘Peak Oil’ will not arrive in 2014.

Overall with an increase in interest and action with fracking it looks set to be a strong year for the oil and gas industries, especially as there will be an abundance of new jobs and investments within the sector. We’ll be keeping up to date with all the relevant oil and gas news throughout the year, so keep an eye on our Twitter account @KingsbridgeProf.

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.

November Contractor News Round Up

Take a look at our latest contractor news round up below:

Oil and gas contractors can expect the current contract boom to continue into 2014

An Oil and Gas industry report reveals strong levels of activity and record employment intentions in the sector. A record 98% of contractors in the sector are looking to recruit in the next 12 months and confidence in the industry is high for 2014. The downside is that the industry’s growth is being constrained by skills shortages and companies are finding themselves frustrated with the lack of information on the impact the vote for Scottish independence will have. Read more…

Contractors more motivated by lifestyle benefits than money

A recent survey has shown that contractors are more motivated by the lifestyle options that freelancing affords them than money. 70% prefer the draw of the flexibility and freedom that often comes with contracting. 38% said they liked the variety of working on different assignments and work-life balance was cited as top reason for 12% of those surveyed. Only 29% said that potential earnings were the main attraction for them in contracting. It was also shown that those in creative jobs were the ones to state that the lifestyle reasons were their main reasons. This is in contrast to those in engineering, technology and manufacturing jobs who leant slightly more to being motivated by money.

Contractors and Freelancers celebrate National Freelancers Day – the “best one so far”

National Freelancers day was last month (21st Nov) and it seems to have been the most successful so far according to Contractor Calculator.  Their CEO said, “This has been an important year in the slow move towards gaining the recognition the sector requires to make it an even more powerful force to help grow and improve the UK economy.” The event caught the eye of the national media, with the Telegraph running a feature on freelancing in celebration and awareness. The event was popular with the debate causing the biggest stir; many didn’t think the government were representing contractors and freelancers well enough. “It was interesting that when Nick Ferrari asked us whether we felt the government has improved the situation for contractors and freelancers, no one raised their hand,” – Contractor Calculator CEO. Alongside the main event, other smaller parties took place in co-working spaces up and down the country.

Contract opportunities outstrip contractor supply in Scotland

Contractor availability has been deteriorating across Scotland faster than any period since December 2004. The sharp fall in Scotland-based contractors looking for contract work suggests that there may be great opportunities for contractors in the UK who are willing to travel. This news comes from the recent Report on Jobs from the Bank of Scotland, which highlights that contractor demand and vacancies across all areas continues to increase. “The recovery in the Scottish economy is showing through in growing employment and rising pay.” said Donald MacRae, Bank of Scotland’s chief economist.  Read more…