National Minimum and Living Wage increases 1 April 2021

The new National Minimum Wage (NMW) and National Living Wage (NLW) rates came into effect on 1 April 2021. The new rate for the NLW is £8.91 which is a 19p increase over last year. The NLW is the minimum hourly rate that must be paid to those aged 23 or over. The NLW used to apply only to those aged 25 and over but from 1 April 2021 has been extended to 23 and 24 year olds for the first time. The threshold is expected to further reduce to 21 by 2024. The increase represents an additional £345 per year for someone working full-time and earning the NLW.

The hourly rate of the NMW (for 21-22 year olds) increased to £8.36 (a rise of 16p). The rates for 18-20 year olds increased to £6.56 (a rise of 11p) and the rate for workers above the school leaving age but under 18 increased to £4.62 (a rise of 7p). The NMW rate for apprentices increased by 15p to £4.30.

It is important that you ensure that you have adopted the new rates as there are significant penalties for employers who are found to have paid workers less that they are entitled to by law. 

If you have underpaid an employee, you must pay any arrears immediately. There are penalties for non-payment of up to 200% of the amount owed unless the arrears are paid within 14 days. The maximum fine for non-payment can be up to £20,000 per employee and employers who fail to pay face up to a 15-year ban from being a company director as well as being publicly named and shamed.

Archiving international trade documents

There are important rules that all businesses must follow to keep business and accounting records accessible if requested by HMRC. The exact documentation that must be held and the time limits for doing so can vary significantly. For example, most company records must be held for at least 6 years from the end of the last company financial year they relate to and even longer in some circumstances. Significant penalties can be imposed for failing to keep records or if records are inadequate.

These record keeping requirement include international trade documents.

HMRC publishes specific guidance concerning archiving international trade documents. This includes ensuring that your records are up to date and accurate, are legible, readily accessible and available for inspection at all reasonable times.

HRMC’s guidance states that the archiving period for your records will vary according to the individual procedure. However, in the event of a criminal investigation, traders’ records dating back ten years may be used as evidence. Accordingly, you may decide to retain documents for that length of time. After the date of entry, you can keep your records on a computer.

If these record keeping requirements cause storage issues or undue expense, then HMRC may allow you to reduce the length of time for storing documents.

Companies can claim super-deduction from 1 April

The new super-deduction tax break, that will allow companies to deduct 130% of the cost of any qualifying investment from their taxable profits, is available on most new plant and machinery investments that ordinarily qualify for 18% main rate writing down allowances. This means that for every £1 a company invests they can reduce their Corporation Tax bill by up to 24.7p. The new temporary tax relief applies on qualifying capital asset investments from 1 April 2021 until 31 March 2023. 

The super-deduction is designed to help companies finance expansion in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and help to drive growth. This change makes the Capital Allowance regime more internationally competitive, lifting the net present value of the UK’s plant and machinery allowances from 30th in the OECD to 1st.

Commenting on the introduction of the super-deduction, the Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak said:

'The super-deduction is the biggest two-year business tax cut in modern British history – driving our economy by helping businesses to invest, grow and support our Plan for Jobs. I urge firms across the UK to invest in our recovery by taking advantage of this great opportunity.'

An enhanced first year allowance of 50% on qualifying special rate assets has also been introduced for expenditure within the same period. This includes most new plant and machinery investments that ordinarily qualify for 6% special rate writing down allowances. 

The measures have effect in relation to qualifying expenditure from 1 April 2021 and excludes expenditure incurred on contracts entered into prior to Budget day on 3 March 2021. 

Annual party benefits

The cost of a staff party or other annual entertainment is generally allowed as a deduction for tax purposes. If you meet the various criteria outlined below then there is no requirement to report anything to HMRC or pay tax and National Insurance. There will also be no taxable benefit charged to employees.

  1. An annual function offered to staff generally is not taxable on those attending provided that the average cost per head of the function does not exceed £150.
  2. The event must be open to all employees. If a business has multiple locations, then a party open to all staff at one of the locations is allowable. You can also have separate parties for separate departments, but employees must be able to attend one of the events.
  3. There can be more than one annual event. If the total cost of these parties is under £150 per head, then there is no chargeable benefit. However, if the total cost per head goes over £150 then whichever functions best utilise the £150 are exempt and the others taxable.
  4. It is not necessary to keep a running total by employee but a cost per head per function. All costs including VAT must be considered. This includes the costs of transport to and from the event, food and drink and any accommodation provided.

Note, the £150 is an exemption and not an allowance. This means that any costs over £150 per head are taxable on the full cost per head.

It is highly recommended when planning a staff party or other annual event to aim to stay within the parameters outlined above to ensure there is no additional tax cost to the party.

Claims to reduce payments on account

Self-Assessment taxpayers are usually required to pay their Income Tax liabilities in three instalments each year. The first two payments are due on 31 January during the tax year and 31 July following the tax year.

These payments on account are based on 50% each of the previous year’s net Income Tax liability. In addition, the third (or only) payment of tax will be due on 31 January following the end of the tax year. If you think that your income for the next tax year will be lower than the previous tax year, you can apply to have your payment on account reduced. This can be done using HMRC’s online service or by completing form SA303.

It is important to note that you do not need to make any payments on account where the net Income Tax liability for the previous tax year is less than £1,000 or if more than 80% of that year’s tax liability has been collected at source.

There are no restrictions on the number of claims to adjust payments on account a taxpayer or agent can make. The payments are based on 50% of your previous year’s net Income Tax liability. If your liability for 2020-21 is lower than 2019-20 you can ask HMRC to reduce your payment on account. The deadline for making a claim to reduce your payments on account for 2020-21 is 31 January 2022.

If taxable profits have increased there is no requirement to notify HMRC although the final balancing payment will be higher.

Exempt beneficial loans

An employee can obtain a benefit when provided with an employment-related cheap or interest-free loan. The benefit is the difference between the interest the employee pays, if any, and the commercial rate the employee would have to pay on a loan obtained elsewhere. These types of loans are referred to as beneficial loans.

There are a number of scenarios where beneficial loans are exempt and employers might not have to report anything to HMRC or pay tax and National Insurance. The most common exemption relates to small loans with a combined outstanding value to an employee of less than £10,000 throughout the whole tax year. 

The list also includes loans provided:

  • in the normal course of a domestic or family relationship as an individual (not as a company you control, even if you are the sole owner and employee)
  • to an employee for a fixed and invariable period, and at a fixed and invariable rate that was equal to or higher than HMRC’s official interest rate when the loan was taken out
  • under identical terms and conditions to the general public as well (this mostly applies to commercial lenders)
  • that are ‘qualifying loans’, meaning all of the interest qualifies for tax relief 
  • using a director’s loan account as long as it’s not overdrawn at any time during the tax year.

OTS recommended changes to IHT

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury has written to the Office of Tax Simplification (OTS) to confirm that HM Treasury strongly supports some key recommendations on changes to Inheritance Tax.

The government announced on 23 March 2021 that it will:

  • change reporting regulations so that from 1 January 2022 over 90 per cent of non-taxpaying estates each year will no longer have to complete Inheritance Tax forms for deaths when probate or confirmation is required; and 
  • make permanent the ability for those dealing with a trust or estate to provide an Inheritance Tax return without requiring physical signatures from all others involved, easing the administration burden in cases where an Inheritance Tax return is still required. 

These new rules will result in dramatic changes in reporting regulations from 1 January 2022 for more than 200,000 estates every year.

It was also announced that the government will continue to work on the remaining recommendations made by the OTS: for digitisation, improving processes for lifetime and trust charges, guidance, and working with court services. Some of these are longer term in nature and will be taken forward as part of the wider Tax Administration strategy.

5% late penalties apply from 1 April 2021

Self-Assessment taxpayers that failed to pay their outstanding tax liabilities or set up a payment plan by midnight on 1 April 2021 will be charged a 5% late payment penalty charge.

Under the normal rules a 5% late payment penalty would have been charged if tax remained outstanding or a payment plan has not been set up before 3 March 2021. This extension was put in place due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and gave taxpayers an extra 4 weeks to sort out their affairs before the 5% late payment penalty was levied.

Interest will also have been applied to any balance that was outstanding from 1 February 2021. The only way to stop further interest amassing is to pay any tax due in full. The current rate of late payment interest is 2.6%

If you are unable to pay your tax bill, then there are a number of options for you to defer the payment that was due on 31 January 2021. This includes an option to set up an online time to pay payment plan to spread the cost of tax due in monthly instalments until January 2022. This option is available for debts up to £30,000. If you owe Self-Assessment tax payments of over £30,000 or need longer than 12 months to pay in full, you can still apply to set up a time to pay arrangement with HMRC, but this cannot be done using the online service.

Further late payment penalties will apply if tax remains outstanding (and no payment plan has been set up) for more than 6 months after the 31 January filing deadline. From 1 August 2021 you will be charged a penalty of the greater of £300 or 5% of the tax due. If your return remains outstanding one year after the filing deadline, then further penalties will be charged from 1 February 2022.

You can appeal against any penalties that have been issued. However, you need to act fast, and the excuse must be genuine and HMRC can of course ask for evidence to support any claim. An appeal must usually be made within 30 days of receipt of the penalty.

£1.5bn boost for rates relief

A new Business Rates relief fund will provide a £1.5 billion tranche of support to businesses outside the retail, hospitality, and leisure sectors affected by COVID-19.

Retail, hospitality and leisure businesses have not been paying rates during the pandemic as part of a 15 month-long relief which runs to the end of June this year. Many businesses that were banned from applying these reliefs have been appealing for discounts on their rates bills, arguing the pandemic represented a ‘material change of circumstance’ (MCC).

The government has rejected these claims for relief on the basis that market-wide economic changes to property values, such as from COVID-19, can only be properly considered at general rates revaluations, and will therefore be legislating to rule out COVID-19-related MCC appeals.

The government will instead provide a £1.5 billion pot that will be distributed to businesses in England affected by the pandemic and not on estimates of the impact on a property’s value. This method is designed to ensure the support is provided in the fastest and fairest way possible.

The funding will be allocated to local authorities based on the stock of properties in the area whose sectors have been affected by COVID-19. Local Authorities will use their knowledge of local businesses and the local economy to make awards.

New support for High Streets and sea-side towns

As lockdown measures begin to be eased, a new package of support measures to help high streets and coastal areas across England has been announced by the Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick. The support will be delivered via a new £56 million Welcome Back Fund.

The new funding will help councils boost tourism, improve green spaces and provide more outdoor seating areas, markets and food stall pop-ups – giving people more safer options to reunite with friends and relatives.

The funding can also be used by councils to:

  • Boost the look and feel of their high streets by investing in street planting, parks, green spaces and seating areas to make high streets as beautiful and welcoming as possible
  • Run publicity campaigns and prepare to hold events like street markets and festivals to support local businesses
  • Install signage and floor markings to encourage social distancing and safety
  • Improve high streets and town centres by planting flowers or removing graffiti

The Communities Secretary also announced that the government would allow pubs and restaurants to erect marquees and provide more outdoor space throughout the summer rather than for the 28 days currently permitted. 

The government also published its response to the Parking Code Framework which will curb unfair tickets and tackle cowboy parking firms through a new, simplified appeals process. This is expected to herald the return of more motorists to high streets and town centres.