DMS Posts

Ready for a SEISS challenge: Penalties and claims

The Treasury has provided HMRC with substantial resources to recover wrongly claimed coronavirus support payments, expecting to recoup over a third of grants made.

HMRC has confirmed that it will involve agents when looking into clients’ SEISS claims, despite side-lining them when clients needed to claim SEISS.

Proving SEISS was validly claimed

Entitlement conditions have evolved with SEISS varying the evidential boxes to be ticked.

Conditions which must be metSEISS 1SEISS 2SEISS 3SEISS 4
The qualifying periodUp to 13 July 2020From 14 July to 19 Oct 20201 Nov 2020 to 29 Jan 20211 Feb to 30 April 2021
Intention to continue to trade in the tax year 2021/2022 (SEISS 4) and 2020/2021 (SEISS 1-3)YESYESYESYES
Business has been adversely affected by coronavirusYESYESYESYES
Reduced activity, capacity or demand or temporarily unable to trade in qualifying period, compared with what could reasonably have been expected but for the adverse effect of coronavirusn/an/aSales reduced in qualifying periodSales reduced in qualifying period
Reasonable belief that the business will suffer a significant reduction in trading profits in a basis period in which the qualifying period falls because of reduced activity, capacity or demand due to coronavirus.n/an/a Significant reduction in trading profits over at least one whole basis periodSignificant reduction in trading profits over at least one whole basis period

What is meant by… ?

Business adversely affected

This includes being unable to work because shielding, self-isolating, on sick leave or having care responsibilities because of coronavirus.

It also includes scaling down or temporarily stopping trading due to interrupted supply chains, fewer or no customers, staff unable to work or one or more contracts have been cancelled and the business tried to replace the lost work.

Isolation or caring responsibilities due to arrival in the UK are not valid adverse circumstances for SEISS, increasing the jeopardy of overseas travel this year.

Basis period in which the qualifying period falls

The qualifying period for SEISS 4 is 1 February to 30 April 2021 (and for SEISS 3 it was 1 November 2020 to 29 January 2021), but the basis period which must have a ‘significant reduction’ in trading profits depends what date accounts are made up to.

For many, the qualifying period may fall into two separate accounting years and, at the time of claiming, there must be a reasonable, honest belief that profits for at least one of those will suffer a significant reduction because of coronavirus. The significant reduction in profits must be for the basis period as a whole, not just the qualifying period, and it must be due to reduced sales – increased costs are not relevant for SEISS 3 and 4 claims.

Significant reduction

The Treasury and HMRC have declined to give any definition of “significant”, except to comment that it must be an honest assessment. It seems that a 30% reduction is definitely significant (based on the future SEISS 5 structure), but it may be argued that a smaller reduction is significant too, particularly if the claimant has no other source of income.

The percentage reduction is by comparison with what ‘would otherwise have reasonably been expected’, ie what profits were or could have been forecast to be if it were not for the pandemic.

Penalties and repayment of SEISS

HMRC has powers to assess overpaid SEISS even before 2020/21 tax returns are submitted, but otherwise SEISS wrongly claimed must be included on tax returns.

If a claimant didn’t know they were not entitled when the grant was received there will be no penalty, provided the grant has been repaid by 31 January 2022. At the other end of the scale, failure of a claimant to notify HMRC of a grant they knew they were not entitled to when received will be treated as deliberate and concealed for penalty purposes.

HMRC has a web page for anyone needing or choosing voluntarily to repay some or all of a SEISS claim.

DMS Posts, Tax

SEISS 4

Almost five months after the last round of the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS), HMRC is now sending emails, letters or messages within its online service advising those whose tax returns show they may be entitled to claim the fourth SEISS grant when their April when their personal claims window opens.

The window will open in “late April” according to HMRC and will close for all SEISS 4 claims on 1 June 2021.

SEISS has evolved

Coronavirus isn’t alone in having spawned variants. The newest SEISS variant, SEISS 4, covers the period from 1 February 2021 to 30 April 2021 and brings 2019/20 tax returns into account, both for eligibility and in calculation of the amount of the grant. This will open the scheme to some new applicants who started up in 2019/20; it excludes not only those who are no longer trading but also some who had little or no profit relative to other income in 2019/20.

Eligibility is determined by HMRC and only applies to those whose 2019/20 tax returns were submitted before 3 March 2021.

HMRC will test eligibility for 2019/20 in isolation to see if profits are under £50,000 and at least half the relevant income. For those who don’t qualify based on 2019/20 alone, HMRC will then evaluate the four tax years 2016/17, 2017/18, 2018/19 and 2019/20 combined to test if average profits across the four years are under £50,000 and at least half of relevant income.

If trading hasn’t continued through all four tax years, only the most recent continuous two or three tax years with trading income are used in determining both eligibility and amount.

Amount is also determined by HMRC, and SEISS 4 will again be 80% of three months’ average profits, but it is likely to be different to SEISS 3. The amount of SEISS 4 could be higher or lower than SEISS 3 because 2019/20 profits will be included for the first time in working out average profits.

There is no mechanism to claim a smaller amount – the only option would be to make the claim and voluntarily repay part of it.

Entitlement

Just because HMRC’s historical records may show eligibility does not mean that someone is necessarily entitled to claim. There are two important declarations required:

  1. Traded as self-employed in 2020/2021 and intending to continue to trade in 2021/2022
  2. Must have reasonable belief there will be a significant reduction in trading profits due to reduced self-employed income (not just increased costs) because of reduced business activity, capacity, demand or inability to trade due to coronavirus. There are several key terms in this declaration which will be discussed in more detail in a follow-on article next week.

Having a new child affected the 2019/20 tax year?

It may be possible in some limited circumstances for someone to make a claim even if having a new child means they do not meet the eligibility tests based on their 2019/20 tax return. They must have submitted a 2018/19 tax return and meet all other eligibility and entitlement criteria. HMRC advises: “Before making a claim, you must contact us to verify that having a new child has affected your eligibility.”

For these purposes “having a new child” includes being pregnant, giving birth (including a stillbirth after more than 24 weeks of pregnancy) and relates to the six months after giving birth, and caring for a child within 12 months of birth or adoption placement for a claimant who has parental responsibility.

Tax on SEISS payments

All SEISS variants are taxable and class 4 NICable and for SEISS 4 this will be in 2021/22, the year in which the grant is made, even though most of the qualifying three months are not in 2021/22.

SEISS grants received must be declared on self-assessment returns separately from normal business turnover.

Be prepared for HMRC checks

HMRC has repeatedly said all SEISS claims will be checked. The focus of checks will principally be the entitlement declarations claimants make, since HMRC itself is determining eligibility and amount. HMRC can be expected to automate checks to some extent by comparing SEISS claims with turnover and profits on self-assessment tax returns for 2020/21 and eventually with 2021/22 tax returns.

Budget, DMS Posts, Tax

What’s changing for small businesses in the 2020/2021 tax year?

A new tax year is starting on April 6th, which will mean many of the changes announced in recent Budgets will come into effect. Before the 2020/2021 tax year kicks off, here’s a roundup of some of the key changes small business.

Changes to some tax and National Insurance rates and bands

Some of the rates and bands have been frozen, while others have increased. Here are the rates and bands that will come into effect on 6th April:

England, Northern Ireland and Wales

2020/212019/20
Personal allowance£12,500£12,500
Employee’s NI becomes due at£9,500£8,632
Employer’s NI becomes due at£8,788£8,632
Higher rate tax becomes due at£50,000£50,000
Class 2 NI becomes due when profits exceed£6,475£6,365
Class 2 NI per week£3.05£3.00
Class 4 NI becomes due when profits exceed£9,500£8,632

Scottish Tax Rates and Bands

The Scottish rates of income tax will change to the below on 11th May 2020.

2020/212019/20
Personal allowance£0 – £12,500£0 – £12,500
Starter rate 19%£12,501 – £14,585£12,501 – £14,549
Basic rate 20%£14,586 – £25,158£14,550 – £24,944
Intermediate rate 21%£25,159 – £43,430£24,945 – £43,430
Higher rate 41%£43,431 – £150,000£43,431 – £150,000
Top rate 46%Over £150,000Over £150,000

Employment Allowance Increased

The Employment Allowance will increase from £3,000 to £4,000 on 6th April but from this date, only businesses with an employer’s NI liability of under £100,000 a year will be eligible to claim the allowance.

National Minimum Wage / National Living Wage rates per hour increased

The following rates will all increase on 6th April:

2020/212019/20
Employees aged 25 and over: NLW£8.72£8.21
Employees aged under 18: NMW£4.55£4.35
Employees aged 18-20: NMW£6.45£6.15
Employees aged 21-24: NMW£8.20£7.70

Student Loan Income thresholds

The levels of income above which student loan repayments are due will change on 6th April as follows:

2020/212019/20
Undergraduate loan: plan 1£19,390£18,935
Undergraduate loan: plan 2£26,575£25,725
Postgraduate loan£21,000£21,000

Working from home rate for employees increased

If any of your clients operate their own limited company and claim costs for working from home, HMRC will ask them for proof of any working from home costs of over £6 (rather than £4) from 6th April 2020.

Delays and cancellations to planned changes

Corporation Tax rate holds steady

The rate at which limited companies pay Corporation Tax was originally planned to decrease from 19% to 17% on 1st April but these plans have now been cancelled. The rate of Corporation Tax will now remain at 19%.

IR35 changes delayed

Changes to the operation of IR35 legislation in the private sector that were due to take effect on 6th April 2020 have now been delayed until April 2021.

Budget, DMS Posts, Tax

Summary of Budget 2020: Key points at-a-glance

Here is a summary of the main points.

Coronavirus and public services

  • £5bn emergency response fund to support the NHS and other public services in England
  • All those advised to self-isolate will be entitled to statutory sick pay, even if they have not presented with symptoms
  • Self-employed workers who are not eligible will be able to claim contributory Employment Support Allowance
  • The ESA benefit will be available from day one, not after a week as now
  • £500m hardship fund for councils in England to help the most vulnerable in their areas
  • Firms with fewer than 250 staff will be refunded for sick pay payments for two weeks
  • Small firms will be able to access “business interruption” loans of up to £1.2m
  • Business rates in England will be abolished for firms in the retail, leisure and hospitality sectors with a rateable value below £51,000
  • £6bn in extra NHS funding over five years to pay for staff recruitment and start of hospital upgrades

Personal taxation, wages and pensions

Pay slip
  • The tax threshold for National Insurance Contributions will rise from £8,632 to £9,500
  • The move, first announced in November, will take 500,000 employees out of the tax altogether
  • Those earning more than £9,500 will be, on average, £85 a year better off
  • 5% VAT on women’s sanitary products, known as the tampon tax, to be scrapped
  • No other new announcements on income tax, national insurance or VAT
  • Tax paid on the pensions of high earners, including NHS consultants, to be recalculated to address staffing issues

Alcohol, tobacco and fuel

Man paying for a pin of beer
  • Fuel duty to be frozen for the 10th consecutive year
  • Duties on spirits, beer, cider and wine to be frozen
  • Tobacco taxes will continue to rise by 2% above the rate of retail price inflation
  • This will add 27 pence to a pack of 20 cigarettes and 14 pence to a packet of cigars
  • Business rate discounts for pubs to rise from £1,000 to £5,000 this year
Men and a woman with laptops
  • System of High Street business rates to be reviewed later this year
  • Firms eligible for small business rates relief will get £3,000 cash grant
  • Entrepreneurs’ Relief will be retained, but lifetime allowance will be reduced from £10m to £1m
  • £5bn to be spent on getting gigabit-capable broadband into the hardest-to-reach places
  • Science Institute in Weybridge, Surrey to get a £1.4bn funding boost
  • An extra £900m for research into nuclear fusion, space and electric vehicles
  • VAT on digital publications, including newspapers, e-books and academic journals to be scrapped from December

Environment and energy

Plastic bottles
  • Plastic packaging tax to come into force from April 2022
  • Manufacturers and importers whose products have less than 30% recyclable material will be charged £200 per tonne
  • Subsidies for fuel used in off-road vehicles – known as red diesel – will be scrapped “for most sectors” in two years’ time
  • Red diesel subsidies will remain for farmers and rail operators
  • £120m in emergency relief for English communities affected by this winter’s flooding and £200m for flood resilience
  • Total investment in flood defences in England to be doubled to £5.2bn over next five years
  • £640m “nature for climate fund” to protect natural habitats in England, including 30,000 hectares of new trees

Transport, infrastructure and housing

Traffic on the A303 near Stonehenge
  • More than £600bn is set to be spent on roads, rail, broadband and housing by the middle of 2025
  • There will be £27bn for motorways and other arterial roads, including new tunnel for the A303 near Stonehenge
  • £2.5bn will be available to fix potholes and resurface roads in England over five years
  • Further education colleges will get £1.5bn to upgrade their buildings
  • £650m package to tackle homelessness, providing an extra 6,000 places for rough sleepers
  • Stamp duty surcharge for foreign buyers of properties in England and Northern Ireland to be levied at 2% from April 2021
  • New £1bn fund to remove all unsafe combustible cladding from all public and private housing higher than 18 metres

DMS Posts, Tax

An essential IR35 briefing for contractors

IR35 legislation allows HMRC to collect additional payment from contractors in certain circumstances. The way in which IR35 operates in the private sector is set to change and this could have a significant impact on many contractors across the UK. This guide provides an overview of IR35 legislation and what it means for all contractors, along with an explanation of the anticipated changes in the private sector.

What is IR35?

IR35 is a piece of legislation designed to seek additional payment from contractors who HMRC believes are working in “disguised employment”. This is when a contractor’s working arrangements and contract are similar to those of an employee but, unlike an employee, the contractor enjoys the tax benefits of working through an intermediary, such as a company or partnership. When a contractor meets the criteria of disguised employment, they are deemed to be “inside IR35” and are required to make additional payments to HMRC.

When is a contractor deemed to be “inside IR35”?

The question of whether a contractor is deemed to be inside IR35 depends on a variety of factors relating to both the contract itself and the contractor’s working practices. There are three employment tests designed to help contractors and engaging organisations make this assessment, along with a number of additional factors that HMRC takes into consideration.

The employment tests

The “direction, supervision and control” test

This test focuses on the level of autonomy given to the worker. HMRC considers contractors to have more autonomy when it comes to choosing what work they do, while employees are more likely to be assigned tasks by their employer. This does depend on the individual’s skill and expertise, however, as a highly skilled employee is likely to enjoy a greater degree of autonomy than a less experienced contractor. The “direction, supervision and control” test asks the following questions of a contractor’s working practices and the wording of the contract itself:

Direction: is the worker told how to do the job at hand?

Supervision: is the worker supervised while they carry out their work?

Control: does the engaging organisation have control over aspects of the worker’s working practices, such as their work schedule?

If the answer to any of these questions is “yes”, then there’s a chance that the contractor might be inside IR35.

The “substitution” test

The test of substitution considers whether the engaging organisation would be prepared to accept someone else to do the contractor’s work in the event of them being unavailable. If the engaging organisation would not be prepared to do this and would only accept the personal service of that particular contractor, it would suggest that a traditional employment relationship exists and that the contract could therefore be inside IR35.

The “mutuality of obligation” test

Mutuality of obligation (MOO) means that one party – the employer – is obliged to provide work and the other party – the employee – is obliged to accept it. Unlike employees, contractors have no obligation to accept work and unlike employers, the companies that contract them have no obligation to provide it. As MOO is a feature of an employment relationship, if it is present in a contract it suggests that the contract might be inside IR35. When assessing a contractor’s working practices and contract, there are certain factors that would indicate that MOO isn’t present and that an employment relationship, therefore, doesn’t exist. These include:

• the use of specific projects with set end dates

• the ability for either party to stop the work with very little notice

The ‘CEST’ checking tool

HMRC developed the Check Employment Status for Tax (CEST) tool to help contractors and the companies who engage them to check whether a contract and the contractor’s working practices fall inside or outside IR35. However, some questions were raised relating to the initial version of this tool and its exclusion of the mutuality of obligation test. An updated version of the CEST tool was released in November 2019.

Additional factors that might affect a contractor’s IR35 status

HMRC doesn’t just consider the outcome of the three employment tests when assessing a contractor’s IR35 status. It looks at a wide range of factors that might indicate that the contractor is “part and parcel of the organisation” and that a traditional employment relationship might, therefore, be in place. These factors include:

• the contractor having an email address at the engaging organisation

• the contractor having permission to use company equipment

• the contractor receiving the same company ‘perks’ as their employed colleagues

• the contractor being line managed in the same way as their employed colleagues

What are the consequences of being inside IR35?

Contractors who are inside IR35 and work through an intermediary in the private sector are currently required to declare this to HMRC. If the intermediary is a limited company, the company would add a deemed payment in the contractor’s salary and deduct tax and National Insurance accordingly. If the intermediary is a partnership, the partnership would work out the deemed payment and deduct tax and National Insurance in the same way. The partner would then report this amount on their individual Self Assessment tax return as if it were income from employment.

If a contractor fails to declare their IR35 status and HMRC challenges this in an investigation, the contractor may face a penalty. Penalties are levied as a percentage of the additional tax that the contractor is liable to pay and are determined by HMRC’s perception of the contractor’s intent and the degree to which they “failed to take reasonable care” to declare their IR35 status. If a contractor knows that they are inside IR35 but chooses not to take action, they are likely to be fined more than if they had simply made a mistake in failing to declare their IR35 status. In the public sector, the onus is on the engaging organisation to assess the IR35 status of its contractors. Anyone who the engaging organisation deems to be inside IR35 is usually brought on to the organisation’s payroll as an employee and is then taxed accordingly.

Whose responsibility is it to determine if a contractor is inside IR35?

IR35 was first introduced to all contractors in 2000. At first, it was the contractor’s responsibility to determine whether they were inside IR35 but in 2017, the government rolled out changes to IR35 rules in the public sector which put the onus on public authorities to decide whether their contractors are inside or outside IR35. In the private sector, it’s currently the contractor’s responsibility to determine if they are inside IR35. However, anticipated reforms to IR35 in the private sector mean that for large or medium-sized companies, the onus will soon be on the engaging organisation to make this assessment. It’s expected that the new rules – currently sitting in draft form in the Finance Bill 2019/2020 – will be introduced in April 2020.

Who will the new rules affect?

The new IR35 rules affect contractors who provide services to large or medium-sized companies in the private sector (defined in the draft legislation as having a turnover of more than £10.2 million and more than 50 staff) and who operate through an intermediary, such as a company or partnership.

What impact will the new rules have?

Once the new rules are introduced, if a large or medium-sized private sector company deems a contractor who is working through an intermediary to be inside IR35, the company will have a decision to make. It could either change the contractor’s working arrangements in such a way that the contractor is no longer inside IR35 or it could terminate the contract. If the company wants to continue engaging the services of the contractor, it could pay them through its payroll instead. In this scenario, the contractor would become an employee of the engaging company and would have to make the same tax and National Insurance contributions as other employees. When similar reforms were introduced to the public sector in 2017 The Register reported a “mass exodus” of IT contractors from the public sector, while other news sites claimed that IR35 had made it extremely hard for the public sector to hire for contract roles. However, a report commissioned by HMRC contradicts the news reports, claiming that the change was not substantial and that IR35 had not affected the public sector’s ability to fill contract vacancies.