‘Improve employees’ digital skills via apprenticeships’, organisation urges employers

Research carried out by not-for-profit organisation The 5% Club has suggested that apprenticeships or training schemes could help to improve employees’ digital skills.

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The research found that fewer than 2% of employers feel confident that their employees are well-placed to take advantage of new developments in technology.

78% of The 5% Club’s members believe that ‘earn and learn’ training opportunities could help workers to prepare for the future, whilst an additional 67% feel that apprenticeship schemes can help to upskill an ageing workforce.

Meanwhile, 54% said that apprenticeships can assist businesses in embedding new technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI).

The 5% Club is urging its members to encourage at least 5% of their workforce to take part in some sort of training scheme.

‘The increasing use of AI, data insight and other technological advances will become the expected norm for businesses in order to thrive and as such, we need to prepare our workforces accordingly,’ said Lady Cobham CBE, the Director General of The 5% Club.

‘At the same time, we will see a growing, ageing population, working for longer and requiring their skills to be updated more regularly, either in existing jobs or when developing their careers.’

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HMRC writes to taxpayers ahead of introduction of Welsh rates of income tax

HMRC has started to write to taxpayers ahead of the introduction of the Welsh rates of income tax (WRIT) on 6 April 2019.

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From this time, taxpayers will pay the WRIT if their main residence is situated in Wales. The Welsh government will set the rates. It intends to use the money raised by the WRIT to fund public services, such as the NHS and schools.

Workers with a main residence in Wales will pay tax at the Welsh rates via Pay as You Earn (PAYE). HMRC will add a ‘C’ to the start of individuals’ tax codes so that affected taxpayers pay the correct rates.

Those who opt to file their self-assessment tax return online will be required to tick a box in order to tell HMRC that they pay the WRIT.

Commenting on the matter, Angela MacDonald, Director General for HMRC Customer Services, said: ‘We want to help people pay the right tax, so we’re writing to customers to let them know that they’ll now be paying WRIT.

‘Customers don’t need to do anything right now, but should make sure to keep HMRC informed if their details change in the future.’

Additional information on the WRIT can be found here.

Late payments and restricted access to finance ‘impacting firms’ ability to grow’

A survey carried out by data provider Dun & Bradstreet has suggested that small firms’ plans for growth are being adversely affected by late payments and restricted access to finance.

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Overdue payments ‘remain a prevalent challenge’ for many businesses, the survey revealed. The average amount owed to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) currently totals £80,000 – a significant increase from last year’s figure of £64,000.

The survey also outlined other factors that have hindered SMEs’ ability to grow, including restricted access to appropriate finance; managing General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) compliance; adopting new technology; and sourcing the right talent for their business.

The uncertainty surrounding Brexit has also negatively affected firms: 40% reported that Brexit has ‘significantly slowed’ their growth. An additional 64% of survey respondents stated that Brexit will be the deciding factor in determining the success of their business.

Commenting on the findings, Tim Vine, Head of European Trade Credit at Dun & Bradstreet, said: ‘There’s no doubt the months ahead will continue to be challenging as we move towards the Brexit deadline. Small business leaders are having to contend with scenario planning on top of dealing with day-to-day priorities such as cashflow management, late payments and securing finance for future growth.’

Brexit deal ‘will cost UK £100 billion per year’ by 2030, study suggests

A study carried out by economic think tank the National Institute for Economic and Social Research (NIESR) has suggested that the government’s Brexit deal will cost the UK £100 billion per year by 2030.

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The study also indicated that Gross Domestic Product (GDP) will be 3.9% lower by 2030.

The NIESR predicts that, by the end of 2030, total trade between the UK and the EU will fall by 46%; the decline in GDP will cost each UK citizen £1,090; foreign direct investment will fall by 21%; and tax revenue will fall by between 1.5% and 2%.

Commenting on the study, Garry Young, Director of Macromodelling and Forecasting at the NIESR, said: ‘Leaving the EU will make it more costly for the UK to trade with a large market on our doorstep, and inevitably will have economic costs.’

Meanwhile, a separate study carried out by the London School of Economics, King’s College London and the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has suggested that the deal could leave the UK economy ‘as much as 5.5% smaller’ in a decade’s time.

Responding to the studies, a government spokesperson stated: ‘This deal will protect jobs and our economy, while respecting the result of the referendum.

‘It delivers an economic partnership with the EU closer than any other country enjoys, is good for business and is in our national interest.’

OTS calls for overhaul of inheritance tax regime

The Office of Tax Simplification (OTS) has urged HMRC to overhaul the UK’s inheritance tax (IHT) regime.

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In January 2018, Chancellor Philip Hammond commissioned the OTS to carry out a review of the IHT regime, and outline ways in which the tax can be simplified.

In its report, which is the first of two, the OTS stated that many individuals’ concerns relate to administrative issues. The report revealed that 38% of those who chose not to use an adviser spent over 50 hours on estate administration. An additional 65% of individuals stated that, despite there being no IHT to pay, they still had to provide ‘significant amounts’ of information.

The OTS has outlined a range of measures designed to ‘help make IHT simpler and easier to understand’. According to the OTS, HMRC should consider implementing a ‘fully-integrated’ digital system for IHT; changing the current IHT forms to ‘reduce and simplify’ the administration of estates; and reviewing its IHT guidance to ensure it is ‘clear, consistent and easy to navigate’.

Commenting on the report, Paul Morton, Tax Director at the OTS, said: ‘It has been hugely positive to have had the benefit of so many personal insights into the experience of dealing with IHT, alongside deep engagement with many professional advisers.

‘This has been key to informing the overview of the tax that the report provides, and will underpin the OTS’s continuing work on its second report.’

Committee warns small firms ‘could pay heavy price’ for MTD for VAT

The Economic Affairs Committee has warned HMRC that UK small businesses ‘could pay a heavy price’ for Making Tax Digital for VAT (MTD for VAT).

In a new report, the Committee stated that HMRC has ‘failed to adequately support small businesses’ ahead of the introduction of MTD for VAT.

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The initiative is set to come into effect from 1 April 2019 for businesses which have a taxable turnover above the current VAT registration threshold of £85,000. Under MTD for VAT, firms must keep some records digitally, and must submit their VAT returns via an Application Programming Interface (API).

Many businesses ‘will not be ready’ for the introduction of MTD for VAT, according to the Economic Affairs Committee. It also stated that it remains ‘unconvinced’ in regard to HMRC’s claims that the new digital system will ‘narrow the tax gap’.

‘HMRC has neglected its responsibility to support small businesses with MTD for VAT,’ said Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, Chairman of the Economic Affairs Committee.

‘HMRC [is] not listening to small businesses, while offering a six-month deferral to many in the public sector.’

The Committee has urged HMRC and the government to ‘start listening’ to small firms’ MTD for VAT concerns.

First-time homebuyers ‘saved £426 million’ as result of changes to stamp duty

Data published by HMRC has revealed that first-time homebuyers have collectively ‘saved £426 million’ as a result of changes to Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT).

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In the 2017 Autumn Budget, Chancellor Philip Hammond announced a new exemption from SDLT for most first-time homebuyers. From 22 November 2017, first-time buyers in England and Northern Ireland paying £300,000 or less for a residential property pay no SDLT.

First-time homebuyers paying between £300,000 and £500,000 pay SDLT at 5% on the amount of the purchase price in excess of £300,000. The relief only applies to purchases in England and Northern Ireland: SDLT is devolved in Wales and Scotland.

In the 2018 Autumn Budget, the Chancellor announced an extension to first-time buyers’ relief so that all qualifying shared ownership property purchasers can benefit, whether or not the purchaser elects to pay SDLT on the market value of the property.

This extension applies to relevant transactions with an effective date on or after 29 October 2018. It has also been backdated to 22 November 2017 so that those eligible who have not previously claimed first-time buyers’ relief are able to amend their return to claim a refund.

According to HMRC, more than 180,500 first-time homebuyers have so far benefitted from the changes to SDLT.

Mel Stride, Financial Secretary to the Treasury, said: ‘These statistics show that the government was right to offer a helping hand to first-time buyers. Without this investment, more than 180,500 new homeowners may have struggled to get onto the property ladder.’