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AuthorElla Bramall

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Do any of the following statistics apply to you?

It is that time of year again where it gives me great pleasure to announce the success we had from our November Will Aid Campaign.

Yet again in the month of November alone we have helped raise over a thousand pound for charity; contributing to help those less fortunate than ourselves, which is something the team here at Loftus Stowe are extremely proud of.

Which also means we have assisted eight individuals in ensuring that their assets are distributed how they wish but also guaranteeing that loved ones are looked after on their passing.

However, even with the success we have had, the statistics for individuals who actually have a will are worrying; and as a business who see the effects and upset caused by individuals not having one in place every day, we can’t stress enough how important they actually are.

For those of you reading this; whether be an existing client or not, do any of the following statistics apply to you?

Are you one of the 27 million (53%) out of the 51 million people living within the UK who do not currently have a will in place? That’s right over half of the UK’s current population have not secured their future.

Do you and your cohabitee make up part of the 70% of couples which have no will? Did you know that on death, the surviving partner would have no automatic right to inherit?

Are you one of the parents who haven’t protected their children(s) future? 57% percent of the parents out there have no will in place at all, whilst 31% of you have not named guardians for your children.

Even if you make up the 47% of the UKs population with a Will, you’ll be surprised to know that a quarter of you have had a change in circumstances (e.g. marriage, divorce, children) which has more than likely invalidated you most recent Will or means it will no longer reflect your wishes.

If so it may be crucial for you to take advantage of our discounted services in January to ensure that your families future is secured.

The discounted prices are also available on other legal services which we offer here at Loftus Stowe, from Lasting Power of Attorney’s, Discretionary Will Trusts and Court Registrations to Corporate Law and Shareholders Agreements.

For an extensive list of all the Legal Services we offer please visit the website here at http://loftusstowe.co.uk/legal-services/ or contact Ella on 01909 512 120 or ella@loftusstowe.com

Warning: Scam Letters

We have recently been made aware that a company called e-public, have been sending correspondence through to Directors, stating that they need to pay £190.00 or their company will be struck off. 

These letters look similar to the picture above.

We have spoken to Companies House who confirmed that these letters are a scam and no payments should be made to this company. They have received several enquiries regarding these letters and are in the process of letting companies know. 

If you have received one of these letters and would like to speak to someone, please do not hesitate to contact us. 

Childcare Vouchers and Maternity Leave

Did you know that The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) has really messed things up from employees who receive childcare vouchers while on maternity leave?

Why?

Well, EAT has decided that childcare vouchers provided to employees through a salary sacrifice agreement should be classed as remuneration.

This means that employers do not have to continue to provide them for employees on maternity leave.

For employers who wish to rely on the above to change their current policies, we should warn you to proceed with caution.

As you are well aware, employees on maternity leave are entitled to retain all the usual terms of their contract of employment.

This then means that all benefits which are not remuneration must be continued during the employee’s maternity leave.

Up until now these childcare voucher, which are provided through a salary sacrifice, have been treated as a non-cash benefit to employees.

Even through a tax perspective, these childcare vouchers are seen as benefits rather than actual earnings.

Therefore HMRC is advising that employers should continue to provide the said vouchers to employees who are on maternity leave as a benefit,

Where childcare vouchers are provided as part of such said schemes, it provides tax and national insurance contributions savings as compared to employees simply paying for childcare from their normal salary.

The savings in employers’ NICs made through employers operating these schemes are efficient enough to fund the childcare vouchers of an employee who is in receipt of SMP only.

These changes have caused confusion when it comes to childcare vouches and maternity leave.

Within one recent case (where an employee stopped these vouchers while an employee was on maternity leave) the judge ruled that the HMRC guidance was not determinative, the EAT ruled that childcare vouchers should be classed as remuneration.

What did this mean?

This meant that in fact the employer was well within their right not to continue to provide the benefit of the vouchers to the employee on maternity leave.

Why?

EATs reason for this was that the salary sacrifice arrangement was simply a diversion of an employee’s   salary to purchase childcare vouchers in a tax efficient way.

Please note, acknowledgements have been made that EAT might not have considered all of the relevant law, when reaching their conclusions, and should be treated with caution.

The judgement ignore the fact that salary sacrifice involves a contractual reduction to employee’s salary in return for the benefit.

It is important to remember that these vouchers are a non-cash benefit that cannot be regarded as a remuneration, and therefore should continue to be provided during maternity leave.

Where an employee has sacrificed salary in return for childcare vouchers, the SMP and contractual maternity pay will be calculated on the reduced salary, and the judgement simply does not consider this.

This means that such employees will still have maternity pay calculated on the basis of their reduced salary but will no longer be entitled to the childcare vouchers during maternity leave, the very reason they reduced their salary in the first place.

Therefore it would be risky for employers to rely on this authority as the basis to stop providing these childcare vouchers for employees on maternity leave.

Finally, it is worth noting that the government plans to implement tax-free childcare system from 2017, which may well change things yet again.

 

Protecting Clients data should now be your number one priority!

So, this month the 11 million documents stolen from Mossack Fonseca has hit the headlines as being one of the largest known leaks of data.

While this cyber-attack is really one of a kind, it really is not the first time these sort of things have happened within organisations recently, and it certainly will not be the last.

This case really does need to be a wakeup call for all business owners who withhold personal client data, and entice them to review their firm’s cybersecurity systems.

For those in industries where the amount of personal date held on behalf of their clients is high, then it’s time to make good use of the recent case and tighten the security systems.

It has been highlighted that a lot of organisations’ cybersecurity processes are based largely on trust with their staff.

But unfortunately when dealing with human elements; as we all know, trust is very often abused.

According to recent research it is suggested that 55% of all cybercrime is committed by insiders of the business.

It has been suggested that these few staff, former staff and contractors are likely to take advantage of relaxed security procedures.

According to another source a study last year showed that over 50% of the respondents who took part in a survey, felt that it would be very difficult to identify if their ex-employees still had access via their accounts to resources on their networks.

Even more worrying 55% of these thought the same about ex-contractors still having access to their networks.

These are significantly high figures, considering that the individuals in question have the three things needed to commit cybercrime; Means, Motive and Opportunity.

Therefore maintaining cyber defences based around trust will no longer be sufficient, it is time for you to up your game or risk losing your clients data.

Don’t risk being subject to breaching your clients confidentiality or data protection.

If you suspect any breach of data protection, especially a cyber-attack, by staff or former employees please don’t hesitate to contact us on 01909 512 120 or email ella@loftusstowe.com for advice.

Update on Persons with significant control register (PSR)

In May 2015 it was announced that all companies would be required to maintain a register of persons with significant control (PSC) as from January 2016.

As part of company law under the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act 2015, there is a requirement for the majority of UK companies, directors, secretaries and administrators to;

  1. Identify persons with significant control over the company; both directly and indirectly
  2. Contact anyone with such relevant information on your company’s ownership and control
  3. Consider who is registrable
  4. Maintain a written register of those persons, known as a PSC register

Even if a company is dormant, the PSC register cannot be left blank, and where there is non-compliance with the above, criminal sanctions will be actioned.

The above information is then required to be filed with Companies House, where it will be added to a public register.

You are probably aware that the above change has not being implemented yet.

However, these requirements have not been dropped, and it has now been confirmed that the legal requirement to maintain a PSC register will start 6 APRIL 2016 and the requirement to fill the information with Companies House is set to commence on 30 JUNE 2016.

Remember, this is not going to disappear, so do not avoid this change and start thinking now.

 

Would you hire your employees again?

Generally when an employee hands you their notice, they will normal fall into one of two categories, the first one being the ‘we will be said to see you leave ‘ or  ‘thank goodness for that’. Whichever category it may be, let’s suppose that one day you receive a call from a fellow business owner considering taking on your former employee?

If this individual managed to fall into your first category, great, you are so pleased that they have found themselves a new position. But wait, what about if the individual in question fell straight into the second category the moment they resigned? Yikes, what do you tell their new employer?

What if that new employer asked, if you was given the opportunity would you hire the individual under interrogation again?

If we are being brutal, you probably shudder at the mention of their name and under no circumstances would you hire them again. You was not happy with their work, and certainly wouldn’t wish this on another employer.

So surely, this the part where you speak your mind, and explain what you experienced; after all you would want somebody in a similar situation to look out for you, wouldn’t you? Wrong. 

The law states that no former employees have the right to any reference from you. With the exception of an agreed reference included in a settlement agreement, then you can’t refuse to give a reference in future.

Where you are to give a reference, it is important that reasonable preparation is given, to ensure that it’s fair, accurate and not misleading. This same rule applies for references given verbally, so be especially careful when giving references over the telephone.

While you feel that it is fair and reasonable from your perspective to say that you wouldn’t employ this individual again, it’s far safer to keep it quiet and not mention this to their new employer.

There are three main points to remember when giving references:

  1. References must only ever be based on fact;
  2. You must be able to back up with clear evidence; and
  3. You should never provide any negative opinions about an individual.

Why? Well, if  your former employee found out then you could potentially have a case against you.

Here are our tips to ensure you don’t find yourself in the same situation as above:

  • Always ask for the reference request to be in writing, this way you can consider what you wish to say carefully;
  • It is easy to slip up when giving verbal references, and what you say could also be misinterpreted;
  • Remember that if you really don’t have anything good to say, you can refuse to give references – but it’s always best to make this a standard practice to avoid any allegations of discrimination;
  • Be sure to provide basic references only e.g. the employee’s employment, length of service, job title and duties;
  • Watch out for former employees that threatened you with a claim or brought one. It is important not to refuse a reference as this could be deemed victimisation.

So, remember while there is nothing wrong with you giving a verbal reference or giving your honest opinion, but  it’s always safer to keep it to yourself.  If you need any guidance with references, contact us on 01909 512 120 or email info@loftusstowe.com

Subsidised commuting – what are the tax advantages?

For some of your employees a large dent on their earnings will be a result of getting to and from work by transport.

Did you know there’s several ways you can help them and your business by offering a tax efficient perk, as part of their pay package?

1st way, a simple loan – your employees can reduce their public transport costs by purchasing a season ticket.

But, the trouble is these can be expensive and it means them finding money to pay the ticket as a lump sum, resulting in most employees lending money.

As you are probably well aware, any credit card or overdraft will add interest, which in turn will then reduce the season ticket saving.

Our tip, is to avoid interest charges, by lending an employee up to £10,000 interest free.

Now I can see you thinking, why on earth would you possibly do this? Well, to you this is a tax and NI-free perk, but why? You can recoup the loan from their salary.

2nd way, subsidised bus routes.

What if some of your employees face a long walk from the nearest bus stop into the office or factory?

You might be able to make use of a quirky but useful tax break, all you have to do is pay a bus operator to increase the frequency of the service, or add a stop closer to you.

The tax and NI-free benefit to you is that in return for the subsidy, the bus company can offer free, or reduced rate tickets for your staff.

Then, you can recoup some if not all of the cost of subsidising a bus route by having employees give up some of their salary in exchange for the bus season ticket.

Or if the bus subsidy looks too costly, how about joining forces with other business owners near by?

Where none of the above work, how about an alternative tax break.

You could, again with other business owners if necessary, hire/buy a minibus to pick up employees from various points en route to or from work.

To recover some of the costs you could hire out the minibus when it is not being used, such as at the weekends and evenings.

As you would normally expect, your company’s costs associated with any of the above are tax deductible from its business profits.

How much can you borrow from your company?

As a Director you hold the purse strings to the company’s finances, you can borrow cash from it, and it’s easy to think of the company as your business.

The trouble is, within the eyes of the law, companies are seen as their own entirety, a separate person if you like.

When you look at it that way, you can understand why you can’t just take money out of the company’s bank.

After all, you wouldn’t just take money out of a friend’s bank, would you?

However, the rules do allow you to borrow from your company, subject to the following conditions.

General rule, loans to directors are allowed as long as the shareholders approve, with the exception of the following:

  • Loans totalling no more than £10,000.
  • Loans up to £50,000 to cover company expenditure
  • A loan to cover Directors legal costs in connection to a claim against them

Where none of the exceptions apply, you must get majority vote, which is 51% or over before you can take out the loan.

Remember, where an Ordinary Resolution has not been passed, your fellow directors (if you have any) could ask you to repay the loan without prior warning. This would also apply if the company ran into difficulty and the liquidator seeks to recover funds for the creditors.

And NO, the companies’ limited liability status will NOT protect you when this happens.

Finally, and this is very important, did you know that you are liable if a co-director takes money out of the business without following the rules set out in Companies Act 2006. If you allow a fellow Director to borrow money unapproved you could be held liable to pay it back, if they can’t.

PROTECT YOURSELF.

Following procedure can seem like an overreaction, but we’ve all been in one of those situations where everything is OK until they go wrong.

Equality Act 2010 – Warning!

Did you know that non–verbal communication, could be deemed discriminatory and actionable under the Equality Act 2010?

Meaning that customers or clients can take your Company to court for the actions of an employee?

Southend County Court heard how a customer took a small family run business to court in October this year, after business between them went sour due to an unresolved refund of £40.

The customer claimed that while on the premises, the son of the business owner, had made numerous homophobic gestures towards him ranging from winking and blowing kisses towards him to the more vulgar sort.

Some of these instances were while the son was standing outside the premises, at a time he wasn’t physically working within the shop.

The customer claimed to be seriously upset by these homophobic behaviours towards his sexual orientation and subsequently issued a discrimination and harassment claims under the Equality Act 2010. That’s right, this legislation prevents any business that supplies goods and/or services from discriminating against customers due to protected characteristics such as sexual orientation.

The judge ruled that the distress the gestures caused the customer was not minor and awarded the customer £7,500.

It is believed that this is the first time a business has been ordered to pay damages for discriminatory behaviour that was entirely non-verbal – but be warned it does happen. The court ruling indicates that the Act certainly covers discriminatory gestures in addition to words.

So, what’s my point?

1)      You can be held legally responsible for an employee’s discriminatory behaviour towards a customer/client;

2)      Even if employees are outside the premises, they are still considered to be acting in the course of their employment, then yes again you are responsible for their actions.

Therefore, as an employer you should make all offensive, abusive and aggressive behaviour a gross misconduct offence, and you can take disciplinary action over unacceptable behaviour that occurs away from your premises if employees are working or doing something which is connected to work.

Protect yourself and your business.

For any help regarding disciplinary procedures please do not hesitate to contact Ella on 01909 512 120 or ella@loftusstowe.com

Buy-to-let, are you doing it right?

Do, how many business owners are actually in the buy-to-let property market also? A few right?

Now, I know you’re busy, BUT are you aware that as of October 1 2015, new rules came into force which you MUST comply with as a landlord. These rules apply to all new tenancies set up on or after October 1 2015. A statutory periodic tenancy arising after the 1st October 2015 is not deemed to be a new tenancy in this regard; but a replacement tenancy (where a new AST is signed) is a new tenancy.

As a residential landlord, you will already be used to complying with legislative requirements as part and parcel of your responsibilities, yes there are now more to come!

 It will probably come as no surprise to you that the first change is provided for in the new Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm (England) Regulations 2015.

Sounds complicated, right? WRONG.

All it requires you to do is follow three simple rules

  1. Ensure that the property has a working smoke alarm on each storey of the premises where it is used as living accommodation (including bathrooms and toilets)
  2. Ensure there is a carbon monoxide alarm in any room (used as living accommodation) which has a solid burning combustion appliance, such as a burning boiler.
  3. Ensure that these are both checked and working on the first day that the tenancy begins.

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/smoke-and-carbon-monoxide-alarms-explanatory-booklet-for-landlords

The landlord or letting agent would need written evidence that this has been carried out

WARNING – failure to comply with the changes could attract you a civil penalty of up to £5,000 from your local authority.

TIP – to keep yourself covered, simply download the explanatory booklet the government has issued on YOUR new obligations.

But wait before you rush off to do so, there are a few more changes you must follow for assured shorthold tenancies after the October 1 2015, in the way of ensuring your tenants have these three documents.

  1. A Energy Performance Certificate;
  2. A Gas Safety Certificate; and
  3. A copy of the governments “How to Rent Guide” – this is useful for both yourself and the tenants in case anything goes wrong.

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/how-to-rent

Additionally, ALWAYS keep written evidence that these documents have been given to the tenants and ensure you obtain as signed acknowledgement.

It should also be noted that a copy of energy performance certificate should be given to the applicant when they first view the property or before if they have asked for information about the property to be sent out to them. Again, you need written evidence that this has happened.

Finally, ensure that any deposit handed over by the tenant is correctly protected.

Femi Ogunshakin Managing Director
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