July 2015 Budget – what does it mean for contractors?

July 2015 Budget

Yesterday Chancellor George Osborne presented his first Tory Budget to the House of Commons.

 

He optimistically presented it as a “Budget for working people” that creates a “sensible path for the benefit of the whole of the United Kingdom”. He reported that the British economy is fundamentally stronger today than it was five years ago and that it is growing faster than any other major advanced economy. Osborne is confident his plans will boldly back the aspirations of working people and suit a country with big ambitions.

 

We’ve unpicked exactly what this means for contractors – it’s immediately clear how some of the pledges will impact this community. With others, the coming months will reveal more and we’ll be keeping a keen eye on the proposed changes and what they mean for you. We’re involved in the conversations right at the top level and will continue to actively and aggressively champion contractors’ cause. We’re here to speak up on your behalf against the unfair and inappropriate suggestions put forward by government and remain an active part of the consultation discussions.

 

What is clear from yesterday is that changes are afoot for the contracting community and while Umbrella companies and workers will suffer the most (and soon), Limited Company contractors continue to have more opportunities to get the most out of contracting. And those who engage the services of an expert contractor accountant will certainly benefit more than those who rely on accountancy software alone to get them through. After all, keeping tidy records is one thing; having the know-how to make sure you’re getting the most while remaining compliant is quite another.

 

We’ve picked out the Budget announcements that contractors will be most interested in:

The challenges

 

    • In the March Budget no mention was made of IR35. Three months on Osborne clearly stated that consultations will take place soon to deal with the increasing abuse of the rules around disguised employment when working through a personal service company. On the face of it, this shouldn’t affect most contractors operating legitimately as long as you are able to demonstrate you aren’t operating as a disguised employee. But it will be more important than ever that you get every contract you undertake assessed for the level of risk you face under IR35. We’ll be part of the discussions and have already been invited by HMRC to take part in the consultation. We’ll be there to represent the interests of contractors.
    • The lifetime of the Office of Tax Simplification (OTS) has been extended. Earlier in the year it wasn’t clear if it would survive beyond the election but now its role has been extended and it will be looking at small company tax matters. This will include personal service companies.
    • The permanent non-dom tax status will be abolished and by April 2017 those who previously positioned themselves as such will pay the same taxes as everyone else.
    • Dividend tax credits will be replaced by a new £5,000 tax-free dividend allowance for all taxpayers from April 2016. After this amount, tax rates on dividend income will increase incrementally. Put simply, those who have a modest income (i.e £5,000 or less) from dividends will see either a tax cut or no change in the amount they owe; those with significant dividend income will pay more tax. It’s likely many contractors will need to reconsider the split between what they take as salary and what they take as dividends.
    • A consultation document has been issued following the March Budget’s limitations to Umbrella workers’ travel and subsistence (T&S) claims. Following our earlier involvement in the debate, Intouch has been invited to further round table discussions on T&S and we will be making sure that the contractor voice on this subject is heard loud and clear!
    • Employment Allowance has been removed for companies where the director is the sole employee. At this stage it is unclear if this will apply for companies which have a spouse second employee and we await further clarity on this.
    • The National Living Wage will increase to £7.20 an hour for over 25s in April 2016. This will rise to over £9 an hour by 2020. Any change may well affect spouse wages that are paid.
    • Tax relief for buy to let landlords will be restricted to 20% for all individuals by April 2020. In addition ‘wear and tear allowance’ will be replaced by a system that only applies if the landlord actually replaces furnishings.

 

The additional pledge by Osborne to increase HMRC resources to make sure people pay the tax they owe may set alarm bells ringing for some but knowing what you can do and remaining compliant doesn’t need to be a headache for you if you have the services of a reputable contractor accountant at your fingertips.

 The good: 

    • Forecast for jobs growth, created by businesses with the confidence to invest, to grow and to hire. This could be the boost contractors want to hear as businesses launch projects they may have been holding off on while they awaited Budget news.
    • The tax free Personal Allowance will be increased from £10,600 in 2015-16 to £11,000 in April 2016. The longer-term plan is to increase this to £12,500 by 2020 but we hope to see this come into effect sooner.
    • The 40% higher rate income tax threshold will increase from £42,385 in 2015-16 to £43,000 in 2016-17.
    • Corporation Tax will be cut to 19% in 2017 and 18% in 2020.
    • Inheritance tax is set to change and from 2017 the Government will phase in a new £175,000 allowance for your home when you leave it to your children or grandchildren. This is in addition to the existing £325,000 threshold which will be fixed until the end of 2020-21.

 

- Both allowances can be transferred to your spouse or partner.

- Those who choose to downsize will not lose any of the allowance from the property they used to own.

- In some cases you will be able to pass up to £1 million on to your children free of inheritance tax.

- Subject to relief will be tapered away for estates worth more than £2 million.

 

    • Free childcare for working families with three and four year olds will double from September 2017, from 15 to 30 hours. This should have a significant impact for all contractors with children, in particular single parent families and mums planning to return to work. In addition the childcare voucher scheme continues until early 2017 when the new tax free childcare is introduced.

 

Tips to help you manage outcomes from today’s Budget:

  •  The ongoing T&S consultation suggests that all PSC contractors look at their working practices and contracts to determine how HMRC’s proposed plans might affect them. Do this before the final legislation comes into play in April 2016 if you want to protect your expense claims for travel and subsistence.
  • If you are working through an Umbrella company then now is the time to think about the future. With most of your expense claims becoming ignored or taxable and the threat to your mileage claims following the T&S consultation you may find your income dropping off quickly after April 2016.
  • If you’re not already using a specialist contractor accountant, consider engaging one sooner rather than later. They are best placed to understand the implications of the Budget and the options available to you. If they deal with the sector every day they should know the pitfalls and opportunities, so take advantage of their experience and expertise.
  • The Budget has made it clear that scrutiny on IR35 has shot up Government’s agenda so it makes sense to opt for an accountant who can support you with IR35, including assessing the risks.
  • Look at the service you are receiving – if it’s software-heavy but light on personal advice you are likely to be missing out on opportunities. Consider if you are making the most out of contracting and fully mitigating the risks. And most importantly, that you are only paying the right amount of tax!
  • Change accountant – if you’re not happy with the service you are receiving from your current supplier, don’t put up with second best. You need to be able to rely on your accountant and there’s no room for complacency.

 

If you’ve been trying to manage your accounts by yourself or use the services of a software company without the personal service, it’s wise to engage a reputable accountant who can help you navigate through the changes. If you already have an accountant but don’t think you’re getting the service you deserve, talk to us about switching to Intouch. With the right advice you can make the most and mitigate the challenges.

The qualified experts at Intouch work with contractors every day and keep on top of changes that will affect you. We charged a fixed all inclusive fee of £92 + VAT a month and this covers everything you need to run your company smoothly and ensure you remain compliant.

For further information, download our July 2015 Budget summary.

 If you are already an Intouch client and have questions about what the Budget means for you, please contact your personal accountant directly.

 If you are not an Intouch client, contact us today to talk about how we can help you get the most from contracting.

 

This blog has been prepared by Intouch Accounting. While we have made every attempt to ensure that the information contained in this blog has been obtained from reliable sources, Intouch is not responsible for any errors or omissions, or for the results obtained from the use of this information. This blog should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional accounting advisers. If you have any specific queries, please contact Intouch Accounting.

“No giveaways, no gimmicks, a Budget for the long-term” – but will the 2015 Red Box budget for contractors and freelancers?

Will the Red Box budget for contractors and freelancers?

The Budget is this Wednesday and in true pre-Election fashion it is unlikely it will be full of radical announcements.

I predict it will consist of Osborne telling us what he thinks we need to hear and not what he really intends to do, if he still has his job in the second week of May.  Could we be looking at two Budgets in one year?

The Conservatives billed themselves as being ‘the party of small business’ but, in reality, very few independent professionals will have felt any benefits from policy changes. In fact, the Government could be criticised for not delivering enough to empower freelancers and contractors. In the final pre-Election Budget it is uncertain, but also unlikely, that contractors will see significant changes in Osborne’s statement.

A number of tax changes have been announced already and have been under discussion. To the extent that they are not contentious, or at least acceptable to the other major political parties, they will be included in the Finance Bill and will be enacted before the end of this month.

The main, eye catching, announcements are likely to be changes which the Chancellor would like to make in the next Parliament if the Conservatives are in power, or are a member of a Coalition, in that Parliament; as there will then be less than six weeks of campaigning before the Election on Thursday 7 May.

The tone, and content, of the Budget is going to be highly political and will have a strong influence on the campaign not least because the Chancellor is the key strategist of the Conservative party. We know that contractors and freelancers are the lifeblood of the UK economy and they have an important role in rebuilding the economy. Inevitably there won’t be many people whom the Budget doesn’t affect one way or another so we’ve picked out some of our predictions that will be of particular interest to freelancers and contractors.

What is likely to come up in the Budget 2015 specifically affecting contractors and freelancers?

More measures to tackle tax evasion and tax avoidance

We can definitely expect that more tough measures will be announced, for next Parliament, to provide criminal sanctions for tax evaders and their advisors, whatever their role. Initiatives such as a ‘diverted profits tax’ targeting multinational companies who have been judged to have shifted profits overseas to avoid tax are expected to be implemented.

Support for key industries

It is expected that Osborne will unveil measures to support the North Sea oil and gas industry which will be welcome to many contractors who work in this industry, from engineers to IT specialists and finance professionals. It is hoped that a boost to British manufacturing will help rebalance the economy and protect the livelihood of contractors already in the industry while creating demand for their skills.

Tax simplification

The Office of Tax Simplification (OTS) has suggested many changes in a variety of areas that have previously been adopted but it has suffered from a lack of resources and is due to wind up at the end of this Parliament. The Chancellor may decide to put the OTS on a more permanent footing and properly resourced if the Conservatives win the election. If so we can expect more changes to arise in the coming Parliament to simplify taxation especially for small businesses and individuals.

Travel and subsistence claims for Umbrella workers

This is still high on the political agenda but the highly anticipated clampdown on travel and subsistence (T&S) expenses may not happen in this Budget. The concern was originally raised by MPs accusing Umbrellas of exploiting workers but FCSA disagree and have plead to MPs that imposing these proposals would threaten the £2.8bn of income tax and National Insurance Contributions generated by Umbrella service providers  HMRC have already stated that “any proposed measure to address this misuse will not come into effect until 2016 at the earliest”.

We can expect a restriction rather than a removal of tax relief for workers, with a curtailment of T&S expenses more likely from April 2016. The Chancellor’s statement last Wednesday, following the closure of HMRC’s consultation, will “inform the government’s decisions at Budget ‘15 on how best to address this avoidance.”

Personal Allowances and income tax thresholds

The Allowance for the average person went up from £6,475 to £10,000 over this Parliament, and the Autumn Statement announced an increase to £10,600 from 6 April 2015. A further increase is possible, perhaps by an additional £200, but unlikely, although there are hints that the Chancellor may announce future target increases.

It’s possible that the Chancellor may extend the basic rate threshold so that, allowing for allowances that the basic rate band moves closer towards an intended goal, announced in the Autumn Statement, of £50,000.

Inheritance Tax

Inheritance Tax is currently levied at 40% on estates worth £325,000 and above. There are hints of a return to the promise of increasing the Inheritance Tax nil rate band to £1 million and clarifying if the limit is per person or per married couple or civil partnership. It is thought Osborne will announce plans which involves the person inheriting rather than the deceased’s estate, being taxed. This would be popular among high earning professionals including contractors who may currently view Inheritance Tax as an inhibitor to aspiration and ambition.

Entrepreneurs’ Relief

The cost of Entrepreneurs’ Relief (ER) in 2013/14 is £2.9bn: three times higher than HMRC’s estimated cost. Unexpected changes were announced in the Autumn Statement and it is possible that further announcements on ways to limit ER will arise.

Capital allowances

The Annual Investment Allowance is currently £500,000 but is due to fall back to just £25,000 on 1 January 2016. It is possible that the Chancellor may promise to extend the £500,000 limit if the government is re-elected.

Research and development tax credits

Changes to the system for claiming research and development R&D tax credits were announced in the Autumn Statement introducing a new advance assurance service for small companies from the autumn. Further assistance may be announced to help small companies undertaking R&D perhaps in simplifying the definitions of applicable costs.

Pensions and pensioners

The Prime Minister has announced that he wants to protect pensioner benefits. But there may be announcements about tax relief for pension contributions and limiting the contributions possible or the scope to only basic rate tax relief.

Watch this space

It is hoped that the 2015 Budget will finally address the realities faced by the freelancer and contractor community.The Federation for Small Business has been calling for policies to help small businesses grow, through tax reforms and sensitive changes to Minimum Wage rules. Of course Osborne needs to leave some rabbits in the hat for Wednesday and it may be that initiatives such as a further reduction to Corporation Tax (which would be welcomed by Limited Company contractors) are saved for the Conservatives’ Election manifesto.

Whatever happens in the 2015 Budget, we’ll publish our views on what it means for contractors after the announcement. Make sure you follow us on social media for the latest updates:

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What do you hope to see in this year’s Budget?

While we wait for the Budget, are you ready for the 2014/15 tax yearend? Download our new guide and get the most from being a contractor.

 

This blog has been prepared by Intouch Accounting. While we have made every attempt to ensure that the information contained in this blog has been obtained from reliable sources, Intouch is not responsible for any errors or omissions, or for the results obtained from the use of this information. This blog should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional accounting advisers. If you have any specific queries, please contact Intouch Accounting.

Flat Rate Scheme for VAT – matching your VAT rate to your contractor activities

Flat Rate Scheme for VAT

The Flat Rate Scheme (FRS) for VAT can be a very convenient option for smaller businesses, which is why many Limited Company contractors choose this method.  The FRS makes it much easier to work out how much VAT is payable and it simplifies administration.  However, if you’re currently looking at registering for VAT, it’s worth spending some time ensuring that you’re registering under the most appropriate VAT percentage rate for the actual activities you perform for your clients. With rates ranging from 4% – 14.5% depending on the business activity – referred to by HMRC as a ‘trade sector’ – registering under the wrong rate for what you actually do could result in paying either too little or too much VAT.

 

VAT Flat Rate Scheme – trade sectors

HMRC has over 50 trade sector definitions to select from. Although HMRC will give a suggestion for the most appropriate sector to choose based on the information given to them, this does not have to be followed. The contractor, as owner of their company, has the final decision on which sector to register under. This makes sense as you, the contractor, know specifically what you actually do for your clients.

 

Choosing a trade sector

For contractors who have reasonably defined functions, such as accountants and IT consultants, selecting a trade sector that matches their business activities is likely to be easy and clear-cut.  If, however, the business activity is more unusual or specialised it may prove difficult to find a ‘best fit’ from the definitions available. Where this is the case and there is an element of consultancy in the contractor’s role, HMRC advice under VAT Notice 733 is that the Management Consultancy sector should be selected. This would apply even if the contractor’s activities don’t fit ‘the traditional idea of a management consultancy’.  The current rate for this sector is 14%. While many will opt for this as a ‘safe’ choice, in practice this does not fit all contractors’ activities, so there is an alternative. The work some contractors do may legitimately fall into ‘Business services that are not listed elsewhere’. If it does, the current rate for this sector is 12%, which is a 2% difference from the higher Management Consultancy rate.  This demonstrates that it is important to choose exactly the right sector.

This slightly grey area has, unsurprisingly, been the subject of contention and court cases with HMRC. If you’re in doubt about which sector to choose, seek expert advice from your contractor accountant.

 

Only one rate can apply

For contractors who do a range of activities, the sector chosen should match the main functions the contractor gets paid for performing. This means that, even if earnings come from a variety of activities which could be described under different sectors, only one rate can be applied. This must be the rate for the sector which constitutes the majority of business income.

Remember, under the FRS, all income, from whichever source, will have the same VAT rate applied to it. This is another incentive to ensure the rate you’re registered under isn’t higher than it should be.

 

Changing trade sectors

If the sector chosen on initial registration no longer fits, as long as the original choice can be seen as reasonable at the time, HMRC are unlikely to have an issue. They won’t demand back-payments of VAT either, so it’s not disastrous. All they will expect is that the new rate is applied in future.

 

This blog has been prepared by Intouch Accounting. While we have made every attempt to ensure that the information contained in this blog has been obtained from reliable sources, Intouch is not responsible for any errors or omissions, or for the results obtained from the use of this information. This blog should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional accounting advisers. If you have any specific queries, please contact Intouch Accounting.

New contractors’ guide to VAT

New contractors’ guide to VAT

One area that new Limited Company contractors need to think about from the start is the on-going tax liabilities of their company. Getting it wrong can potentially result in hefty financial penalties or worse, so it’s advisable to consult an experienced contractor accountant  to get the best advice for your circumstances. One type of tax which will be relevant to most Limited Company contractors is Value Added Tax (VAT).

 

VAT – what it is and where it applies

VAT is charged on the final consumption of a variety of HMRC specified goods and services and is applied to every stage of production and distribution. Most business-related goods and services fall under VAT so the majority of Limited Company contractors are likely to be subject to VAT charges.

 

How VAT is calculated

At its simplest a contractor VAT bill is the balance of the VAT you have charged to clients, minus the VAT you have claimed back on allowable items you purchased. If you have paid out more in VAT than you have charged, HMRC will refund the difference. The standard UK VAT rate is currently 20%. However, there are other rates which could apply depending on the type of goods or services being sold and where (in the world) they’re consumed.

 

VAT Accounting Schemes

HMRC offers schemes designed to help contractors in terms of how VAT is calculated and administered.

There are two options for accounting for VAT available to companies with a taxable turnover of up to £1.35million these are:

  • Cash Accounting – with this option the company only accounts for VAT when their invoice is actually paid. This can be helpful for the cashflow of the business. (Under this scheme you can also only claim back VAT on purchases once you’ve actually paid the invoice.)
  • Annual Accounting – with this option the company only submits one VAT Return a year. Monthly payments of the VAT bill amount are made to HMRC throughout the year. This too can be helpful for cashflow.

 

The Flat Rate Scheme

HMRC offers the Flat Rate Scheme which is designed to make VAT administration easier for many contractors. Rather than claiming VAT on each invoice you pay a percentage of your company turnover. For example 14.5% for an IT consultancy. There are main advantage to this scheme you can continue to charge clients 20% while you give a smaller percentage to HMRC. One downside is that you cannot claim the VAT back on your own business purchases unless they are capital purchases over £2000, which could be an issue for some business types. Another is that if you make a lot of zero rated or VAT exempt sales you’ll still be charged VAT on those sales, even though you’re not charging the client.

 

When you should register for VAT

VAT registration is mandatory for companies who have made taxable sales in the last 12 months above the current VAT registration threshold amount. For the 2013/14 tax year this is £79,000. HMRC usually increases the threshold by around £1,000 each year so for the 2014/15 tax year the threshold is likely to be higher. Even if your sales are unlikely to reach this level you can still voluntarily register your company for VAT. Many contractors choose to do this as it can offer several advantages as claiming back VAT on invoices they receive. If you decide not to register but you believe you’ll exceed the threshold in the near future (if you win a huge contract for example) you should register as soon as possible to remain within HMRC rules.

 

How to register for VAT

You need to apply directly to HMRC to register your company for VAT. This can be done online using their website or by post. You can do this yourself or your Intouch accountant can do this for you on your behalf.

 

Quarterly VAT returns at Intouch

At Intouch we offer Quarterly VAT return administration as a standard part of our comprehensive monthly service package (£98 + VAT per month). Contact us to find out more about our services and how we can help take the stress out of running your business.

 

This blog has been prepared by Intouch Accounting. While we have made every attempt to ensure that the information contained in this blog has been obtained from reliable sources, Intouch is not responsible for any errors or omissions, or for the results obtained from the use of this information. This blog should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional accounting advisers. If you have any specific queries, please contact Intouch Accounting.