Data reveals significant number of taxpayers filed tax returns over festive period

Data published by HMRC has revealed that more than 10,000 self assessment tax returns were filed over the festive period.

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According to HMRC, 2,616 individuals filed their return on Christmas Day, with the peak filing hour proving to be between 1pm and 2pm.

Meanwhile, 8,465 taxpayers submitted their tax return on Boxing Day, with the majority of returns being filed between 8am and 4pm.

More than 11 million taxpayers are required to complete and file their self assessment tax return by 31 January 2019. HMRC recently urged the 5.5 million taxpayers who have not yet submitted their tax return to do so before this time.

Angela MacDonald, Director General for Customer Services at HMRC, said: ‘The self assessment deadline on 31 January is fast approaching, but there is still time for customers to file their tax returns online and on time to avoid any unnecessary penalties.’

Those who are late in submitting their return face a penalty of £100, even if there is no tax to pay, or if the tax has been paid on time. Additional penalties are due for continued late payments and late filing.

As your accountants, we can assist you in preparing and filing your self assessment tax returns – please contact us for more information.

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New energy price cap comes into effect

Around 11 million households could benefit from a new cap on energy prices, which came into effect on 1 January.

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The new cap aims to ensure that energy customers on default tariffs – such as standard and variable tariffs – pay a ‘fair price’ for their energy.

According to energy regulator Ofgem, an average dual fuel customer paying by direct debit will pay no more than £1,137 per year. However, the amount consumers pay will depend on their exact energy usage, as the cap applies per unit of energy rather than to the total bill.

The cap will remain in place until at least 2020, with the level of the cap being reviewed every April and October, to take into account changes to the cost of providing gas and electricity.

However, some consumer groups have warned that householders could still save more money by shopping around for the best deal.

Commenting on the new cap, Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said: ‘The introduction of this cap will put an end to suppliers exploiting loyal customers. However, while people on default tariffs should now be paying a fairer price for their energy, they will still be better off if they shop around.

‘People can also make longer-term savings by improving the energy efficiency of their homes. Simple steps, such as better insulation or heating controls, are a good place to start.’

Small business group calls for focus on ‘domestic agenda’ in New Year message

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has urged the government to re-focus on encouraging and supporting UK small businesses, rather than spending time on ‘political infighting’, in its New Year message.

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Mike Cherry, FSB National Chairman, said: ‘Small business owners tend to be an optimistic bunch. They are used to being nimble, adapting to circumstances and making the most of opportunities. They are creative and entrepreneurial.

‘And yet as we head into 2019 small business confidence is on the floor, and desperately needs lifting’.

Highlighting the impact of the recent political turmoil surrounding Brexit, Mr Cherry called on the government to provide clear advice for businesses on how to comply with any new requirements. He stated: ‘Adapting to whatever the new trading circumstances with the EU are will mean changing business procedures, taking valuable time out from running a business, and for many it will involve paying for external expertise’.

The FSB’s New Year message also drew attention to other key issues affecting small businesses, including forthcoming legislative changes such as Making Tax Digital for VAT, the pressure on UK High Streets, and the issue of poor payment practices.

UK ‘not where it should be’ in regard to Brexit, leading business groups warn

Five of the leading business groups in the UK have warned MPs that the UK is ‘not where it should be’ in regard to its Brexit plans.Image result for UK 'not where it should be' in regard to Brexit, leading business groups warnImage result for UK 'not where it should be' in regard to Brexit, leading business groups warn

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The government recently confirmed that it has decided to prioritise preparing for a ‘no deal’ Brexit, and intends to advise UK businesses to begin implementing their contingency plans.

In a joint letter, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), the Institute of Directors (IoD), the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) and manufacturers’ organisation the EEF stated that UK firms have been ‘watching in horror’ as politicians have focused on ‘factional disputes’ rather than the practical steps that need to be taken to secure an advantageous Brexit deal.

The letter also said that firms are ‘pausing or diverting investment’ in order to prepare for a potential no deal Brexit scenario.

The business groups believe that there is ‘not enough time’ to prevent the ‘severe dislocation and disruption’ that will come hand-in-hand with a no deal Brexit scenario. They have called for MPs to ‘talk to their local business communities’ over the festive break in order to help ‘find a way forward’ when they return to Parliament.

LITRG urges HMRC to publish MTD for VAT exemption guidance

The Low Incomes Tax Reform Group (LITRG) has called for HMRC to publish detailed Making Tax Digital for VAT (MTD for VAT) exemption guidance.

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MTD for VAT 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. As part of the initiative, firms must keep some records digitally, and must submit their VAT returns via an Application Programming Interface (API).

The LITRG stated that it is ‘very concerned’ that HMRC has so far failed to publish guidance on how someone might be able to claim exemption from MTD for VAT.

The Group said that without detailed guidance, some taxpayers may ‘worry unnecessarily’ as to how they will cope, and others could be left with ‘very little time to prepare’ if their application for exemption is turned down.

‘We are very concerned that HMRC has not yet published any detailed information as to how exemption from MTD for VAT may be obtained, with the start date so close,’ said Victoria Todd, Head of Team at the LITRG.

‘HMRC has said that people should contact the VAT helpline to speak to an adviser if they think they should be exempt. We would like to see more specific guidance which explains what information and evidence HMRC will require from a caller, and what they can do if their application is turned down.’

Productivity amongst small businesses ‘held back by poor broadband’

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has warned that productivity amongst UK small firms is ‘still being held back’ by poor broadband and mobile coverage.

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The FSB’s warning comes in response to Ofcom’s annual Connected Nations report, which revealed that, while the availability of superfast broadband has increased, only 90% of small businesses are able to access superfast speeds.

Meanwhile, 18% of rural firms ‘still lack a decent broadband connection’, according to the report. It also revealed that rural businesses receive just 41% of 4G coverage.

It is ‘imperative’ that small firms are connected to a basic level of broadband ‘without delay’, the FSB stated.

‘Access to fast and reliable broadband and good mobile signal is vital for small businesses,’ said Mike Cherry, National Chairman of the FSB.

‘There are still so many firms coming up against agonisingly slow speeds – and when your business relies on this connection, it’s not only frustrating, but impacts on your ability to do business.

‘Most businesses want to embrace digital technology to compete and enhance their productivity, but to do this they need a decent connection and good quality service.’