Chancellor George Osborne’s tax yield targets have given HMRC quite a challenge. The revenue department seems to have responded by increasing its focus on investigating the tax affairs of small businesses. In 2011-12 it increased its collection of extra taxes and fines from SMEs by 39% on the previous year. In all likelihood the figures will continue to rise.
Checking on Different Areas
They are no longer just looking at PAYE and VAT, although of course it’s essential you get these correct. Employee benefits are facing greater scrutiny now. Woe betide an employer who slips up on the deductions that should be made. Even sole traders must take care about how much of their fuel costs they can claim as expenses.
Corporate entertainment is another area to be wary of. You can’t just push the boat out for clients and expect to claim all the costs as expenses; only if the tax man agrees it’s appropriate can you claim. Even entertaining staff as a reward for achievements or giving them a Christmas party has limits, and exceeding them can have tax consequences for the staff as well as the business.
Why SMEs are Hit
These are complicated and tricky areas to get right, so larger corporations who can afford to employ an army of accountants and advisers have the advantage. This is probably why it appears that HRMC are targeting smaller businesses and were able to collect £434 million extra from them in the last financial year. Smaller businesses don’t have the wherewithal to challenge their findings and usually succumb straight away to threats and pay up, which is not so often the case with major groups and companies.
HMRC, of course, deny that they have stepped up their focus for business compliance on smaller organisations. A spokesperson recently pointed out that they carry out investigations across the board wherever they suspect a serious risk of tax loss. Since 2006-07 they have also collected an additional £29bn in large business compliance revenue.
Help to Stay Compliant
Still the word is that SMEs are being hardest hit at the moment. Your outsourced bookkeepers can be a great help in making sure you stay compliant. To maintain a good reputation any such supplier will keep its staff up to date on tax regulations and they can also draw on what they learn from their experience with other firms. Only where it’s really necessary to pay the higher fees of involving an accountant will a bookkeeper advise you to do so.