Monday, 14 May 2012

Apps aid record-keeping on the go

HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) has highlighted the availability of mobile apps that can help small businesses with record keeping on the go.

Commercial software businesses, following consultation with HMRC, have developed the apps for businesses below the VAT threshold.

HMRC said: “These applications may help with maintaining good records and include links to HMRC guidance related to record keeping. The majority of these applications are free.”

It has now published a list of companies providing apps for record keeping that meet HMRC specifications, although it stressed it had not tested any of the apps or carried out any security testing on these.

HMRC added: “This list is not exhaustive and it is probable that other software houses associated with mobile application development will also be developing applications.

The list, published on 16 April, will be updated as necessary on a regular basis.

If you want more information then please contact accountants in Lichfield.

Link: HMRC  companies providing record-keeping apps

Businesses urged to step up IT security

A new survey says that IT security breaches are costing the UK economy billions of pounds a year.

A total of 447 businesses were quizzed for the 2012 Information Security Breaches Survey (ISBS), carried out by PwC in conjunction with Infosecurity Europe and supported by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. Key findings of the survey, released on 24 April, included:
  • 93 per centof large organisations and 76 per centof small businesses had suffered a security breach in the last year
  • one in seven large organisations had been hacked in the last year, the highest level recorded since the survey began in the early 1990s
  • on average, each large organisation suffered 54 significant attacks over the year. Small businesses experienced an average of one attack a month
  • the average cost of a large organisation’s worst security breach of the year was £110,000-£250,000 and £15,000-£30,0000 for a small business.
  • on average, organisations spend eight per cent of their IT budget on information security but 20 per cent spend less than one per cent.
Chris Potter, PwC information security partner, said: “The cost to UK plc of security breaches is running into billions every year. Large organisations are more visible to attackers, which increases the likelihood of an attack. However, it is also true that small businesses tend to have less mature controls, and so may not detect the more sophisticated attacks.”

Universities and Science Minister David Willetts, whose responsibilities include cyber security issues, said the government was investing £650 million to improve cyber security. He added: "The UK is a world leader in doing business online. This survey is a timely reminder for UK businesses to make sure their information systems are protected.”

Meanwhile, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has published new guidance on securely deleting information from old computer storage devices. 

At the ICO’s request, computer forensics company NCC Group sourced around 200 hard drives, 20 memory sticks and 10 mobile phones, buying them mainly online from internet auction sites and some from computer trade fairs. 

When searched, a total of 34,000 files containing personal or corporate information were recovered. At least two hard drives contained enough information to enable someone to steal the former owner’s identity and four others contained information about the employees and clients of four organisations, including health and financial details. 

Information Commissioner Christopher Graham said: “People are in danger of becoming a soft touch for online fraudsters simply because organisations and individuals are failing to ensure the secure deletion of the data held on their old storage devices.”

The ICO guidance, published on 25 April, is designed to help individuals securely delete information. It will publish more detailed guidance for organisations shortly. 

If you want more information then please contact accountants in Lichfield.

Mental ill health ‘costs 91m lost work days’

Employment relations specialist Acas has launched a new guide to tackle what it describes as the last taboo in business - mental illness at work.

According to the Centre for Mental Health charity, a total of 91 million work days are lost to mental ill health every year although the lost days account for only half the £30 billion annual cost of reduced productivity. The remainder are due to employees coming to work when unwell and not performing at their best.

Acas chief executive John Taylor said: “Many employers and managers shy away from dealing with mental illness at work because it can be hard to pin down and it is a very sensitive matter to deal with.

"But we all need to develop a new way of looking at mental health and break down the taboo. There needs to be a willingness to discuss mental health and a culture where employers understand it and try to help their employees recover from mental illness.

"Our mental well-being is as much a part of health as our physical health. And we need to take into consideration that one in four of us will suffer a mental health problem at some point in our lives."
Advice for employers in managers in the Acas guide includes how to:
  • spot early the signs of mental ill health
  • raise awareness of mental health issues among managers and staff
  • approach an employee who may have a mental health condition
  • try to help them cope with it or overcome it so they can work effectively again.
Mr Taylor said employers and managers could help by identifying aspects of working life they can assist with, such as workloads, communication, bullying and strategies for the employee to cope at work.

He added: "There can be circumstances outside an employer's control, such as childhood experiences, family relationships, addiction problems and bereavement. However, an employer, by creating a supportive environment at work where people feel able to disclose their problems, can help them address their issues and remain productive at work.

"Also, there may be times when an employer will need to refer an employee to outside, specialist sources for help and advice."
Acas has compiled the guide with NHS agency Workways, which specialises in advising on dealing with mental ill-health at work.

If you want more information then please contact accountants in Lichfield.

£40m boost for hi-tech businesses

UK hi-tech small and medium-sized enterprises with high growth potential are set to benefit from at least £40 million of investment from a new Enterprise Capital Fund. 

Notion Capital, which is backed by private investors, the government and the European Investment Fund, will target businesses delivering internet-based services, including  cloud computing and software as a service (SaaS) companies. 

Launching the fund on 17 April, Business and Enterprise Minister Mark Prisk said: “It is absolutely vital that ambitious small firms can access the finance they need to expand and grow, and this new Enterprise Capital Fund will provide at least £40 million of funding to viable UK high-tech businesses.”

Enterprise Capital Funds use government funding alongside private sector investment to address the equity gap that arises where businesses with viable investment propositions cannot attract investment from informal investors or venture capitalists. 

Notion Capital, which has a pan-European focus, will invest at least £40 million in the UK. The government has committed a total of £200 million to the Enterprise Capital Fund programme in the four years up until 2014/15.

If you want more information then please contact accountants in Lichfield.

E-traders urged to set tax records straight

People trading on the internet who haven’t paid all the tax they owe are being invited to come forward and pay up under a new HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) campaign.

The e-Markets Disclosure Facility will allow online marketplace traders to pay the tax they owe and benefit from lower penalties, rather than waiting for HMRC to catch up with them. 

Online marketplace traders have until 14 June to tell HMRC that they want to make a voluntary tax disclosure. They then have until 14 September to tell HMRC about tax due and make arrangements to pay any tax interest and penalties they owe.

If they make a full disclosure of what they owe before 14 September, some e-traders will receive no penalty at all. Most will receive a penalty of no more than ten per cent of the tax owed.

After that date, using information collated from different data sources, HMRC will investigate those who have failed to respond. Those who are found to have unpaid tax liabilities will face higher penalties of up to 100 per cent of the tax unpaid or, potentially, criminal prosecution.

Marian Wilson, head of HMRC Campaigns, said the initiative people using online marketplaces to buy and sell goods as a trade or business and who fail to pay the tax owed.

She added: “Those who only sell a few items and who are not traders are unlikely to be liable to pay tax on what they sell and will not be targeted by this campaign.

“Our aim is to make it easy for online traders to contact us and make a full disclosure of income, thereby putting their affairs in order.”
More than £500 million has been raised by HMRC from voluntary disclosures, and a further £105 million from follow-up activity. Previous campaigns have targeted offshore investments, medical professionals, plumbers and VAT defaulters.

A YouTube video is available giving guidance to people wondering whether their buying and selling on an e-marketplace website can be seen as trading can be viewed at:

If you want more information then please contact accountants in Lichfield.

Panel targets ‘daft’ health and safety decisions

Office workers being banned from putting up Christmas decorations and trapeze artists being told to wear hard hats are among a top ten of myths published as part of the launch of a new service to help curb the worst examples of health and safety misuse. 

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) will run the Myth Busters Challenge Panel, which will provide quick advice to businesses and individuals querying the validity of health and safety decisions. 

The panel, which was launched on 11 April, will separate decisions that genuinely protect people from real risks from those not required in health and safety law. The panel will be supported by a pool of independent members representing a wide range of interests, including those of small businesses. 

Minister for Employment Chris Grayling said: “All too often, jobsworths are the real reason for daft health and safety decisions. 
“Common sense is the key to successful health and safety. The Myth Busters Challenge Panel will advise people where they think local authorities, insurance companies or schools have got it wrong.

Judith Hackitt, chair of the HSE and the new panel, said: “Over the years we’ve seen health and safety invoked – wrongly – in defence of some pretty absurd decisions.”

She said that such decisions undermined confidence in the real task of health and safety, which is to manage serious risks to life and limb in Britain’s workplaces. 

The HSE’s top ten health and safety myths are listed below.
  1. Children cannot play conkers unless they wear goggles.
  2. Office workers banned from putting up Christmas decorations.
  3. Trapeze artists told to wear hard hats.
  4. Pin the tail on the donkey games deemed a health and safety risk.
  5. Candy floss on a stick banned in case people trip and impale themselves.
  6. Hanging baskets banned in case people bump their heads on them.
  7. Schoolchildren ordered to wear clip on ties in case they are choked by traditional neckwear.
  8. Park benches must be replaced because they are three inches too low.
  9. Flip flops banned from the workplace.
  10. Graduates ordered not to throw their mortar boards in the air.
If you want more information then please contact accountants in Lichfield.

First-time employers get online help

A new online toolkit has been launched to give first-time employers a step-by-step guide to their obligations when taking on a member of staff. 

Taking on an Employee, which is available on the Business Link website, takes employers through the process of hiring their first member of staff and explains their legal responsibilities on issues including pay, tax and checking a new employee’s right to work in the UK in doing so.

Launching the toolkit on 25 April, Employment Relations Minister Norman Lamb said:  “For many one-person businesses there is a belief that the process for taking on their first member of staff can be a daunting and overly complicated process.  The Taking on an Employee toolkit aims to tackle this problem and will help empower our sole traders, our one-person businesses, to take that next step.

“If we can provide the advice and information in a simple format, showing first-time employers that taking on staff can be a simple process, this will ultimately help in our efforts in creating jobs and encouraging growth.”

John Walker, chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), said:  “Taking on an employee can be a daunting, expensive and risky process and 13 per cent of FSB members have said one-to-one support would help them take on staff. Having a one-stop-shop to get quick access to all the information needed to recruit will help firms that want to grow.”

A myth busters document has been published alongside the online toolkit that aims to address some common misconceptions about hiring a member of staff. It includes helpful advice on registering with HM Revenue & Customs, anti-discrimination laws, dismissal rules, setting up payrolls and probation periods. 

Also available from the site will be information about Government support, financial and otherwise, to encourage employers to take on their first employee.

If you want more information then please contact accountants in Lichfield.

Forced retirement appeal fails

A Supreme Court ruling in a key direct age discrimination case is a reminder to employers that a worker’s age should not be “shorthand” on which to base their ability to do their job, says the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).

In the ruling, delivered on 25 April, the court dismissed an appeal by solicitor Leslie Seldon, a partner in the Kent law firm of Clarkson, Wright and Jakes, who was forced to retire when he reached the age of 65 in 2006. 

At the time, the default retirement age (DRA) of 65 still existed – it was scrapped in October 2011 – but as a partner rather than an employee, this did not apply to Mr Seldon. However, 65 had been agreed in the firm’s partnership agreement as the mandatory retirement age. 

Mr Seldon – now 71 and still working as a notary – took his case to an Employment Tribunal, the Employment Appeal Tribunal and the Court of Appeal and, after losing in all three, to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court ruled that the retiring of partners enabled the firm to retain younger solicitors who might otherwise go elsewhere by opening up partnership opportunities and was a “legitimate” aim of the partnership.

However, the court sent the case back to the Employment Tribunal “to consider whether the choice of a mandatory age of 65 was a proportionate means of achieving the legitimate aims of the partnership”. 

John Wadham from the EHRC, which is funding and running Mr Seldon’s case, said it was a reminder to employers “that a worker’s age is not shorthand for their competence and should never be used in that way”.

He added: “Every employer must think carefully about whether it really needs to have a policy that directly or indirectly discriminates against people based on their age. The court has made it clear that such policies must be justified on a case by case basis.”

Barrister Caspar Glyn QC commented: “Any employer which still has a policy of compulsory retirement would be well advised to review this in the light of the court’s remarks.”

Employers may still be able to retire employees lawfully at a set age provided that the retirement age can be objectively justified “as a proportionate response to a legitimate aim”.

According to guidance from employment relations specialist Acas, employers would need to justify such a policy by ensuring that the retirement age meets the legitimate aim test, for instance in workforce planning (the need for business to recruit, retain and provide promotion opportunities and effectively manage succession) or the health and safety of individual employees, their colleagues and the general public.

If you want more information then please contact accountants in Lichfield.