Tuesday, November 26, 2013
Once winter has set in the seemingly unstoppable rise of our heating bill becomes a harsh reality. Of course we do what we can, we put on another jumper and wear thermal underwear, but British winters can bite hard, and often such small measures are mere drops in an icy ocean. But we mustn't allow heating bills to get us down, let's do what we can to drive down costs whilst keeping nice and warm.
Cheap, easy fixes
There are plenty of simple, easy measures we can take that will make a positive difference to our bills. Start off by turning down the heating thermostat at home. It is estimated that savings of up to three per cent can be achieved with each degree it is lowered. Small adjustments to the ambient temperature will be unnoticeable, so this is a great way to start off the savings. If the house is empty during the day whilst residents are at work, turn down the heating, and by doing the same at night when everyone is asleep, cost savings can really build.
Other easy, cost free tips to try include minimising the use of kitchen and bathroom extractor fans. Not only do they eat power, they rapidly push warm air out of the house. If there are rooms that don't get used, switch off the heating in there to save money. Old, unused fireplaces can look attractive but they are terrible for sucking out warm air and sending it up the chimney. Install a chimney balloon to insulate the chimney and keep precious heat in the room.
Doors and windows
These are one of the problem areas for heat loss and the more that can be done to insulate and minimise draughts, the lower the heating bill will be. Of course, doors and windows need to be opened, but when they are closed, they should be airtight. Invest in insulating solutions like expanding foam and draught excluder strips to keep out the cold air. Older houses can be hard to insulate and really benefit from shutters to give an extra thick layer of protection. Not only do wooden shutters help keep the temperature up, they give extra privacy and security whilst looking stylish. Fitting made to measure solid shutters on awkward shaped, draughty windows can really change cold spots in the house to places of warmth and comfort.
Other bill bashing tips
Be proactive about finding the best energy supplier. There are better deals out there but it is not in the energy company's interests for them to be easy to find or understand. Gone are the days when we used to stick with one energy supplier forever, now we can shop around, negotiate and play suppliers off against each other. Sometimes it's possible to find deals which lock in to a competitive tariff for a couple of years – this type of offer can be very attractive as it gives protection from imminent price hikes.
Saturday, November 23, 2013
Small businesses are likely targets of the HMRCs push, at the behest of the government, to bump up tax revenues by an extra £7 billion annually. Since SMEs are accountable for about half of the tax gap, HMRC taskforces have been appointed to scrutinize SME business records.
A visit from the “tax man” doesn’t require an invitation. New legislation authorizes HMRC inspectors to arrive at any time unannounced and obliges small business owners to facilitate the investigation. Businesses that cannot justify their tax position with up-to-date, accurate records are subject to penalties under the new regime. To avoid facing potential unpleasantness, such as penalties and interest, securing reliable advice to ensure all records are tidy is a wise investment.
These legislative changes have altered the way in which SMEs have to meet their tax obligations. Though the HMRC has framed these changes as improvements through simplification for the SME taxpayer, systemic changes have a tendency to cause confusion. SMEs with employees are charged with adjusting to a radically different system initiated in 2013, in which payment data for staff are submitted each pay period online rather than annually. The costs and logistics for SMEs of implementing this real-time information (RTI) system into their operations is uncertain, creating anxiety about its potential impact on SMEs. Small businesses that do not comply with RTI in a timely manner will face penalties.
Many of the UKs roughly 4.6 million SMEs struggle with their taxes. Specialist lenders to SMEs are noting sharp leaps in applications for credit to cover their tax bills. The HMRC may not show leniency in allowing extra time to pay, and appeals are not available. As SMEs navigate their way through the new regime implemented by the HMRC, they may find the route to tax simplification rocky. Some businesses may consider restructuring their businesses to maximize the potential and minimize the potential for loss resulting from these changes.
Help is available for owners of SMEs who dread not only the 31st of January but the ever-present, looming threat of an impromptu visit from the HMRC investigator. Seeking the wise counsel of a tax planning advice specialist is a step that can save SME owners money in penalties and interests. An initial consultation with an experienced tax professional may be absolutely free, a reasonable fee for peace of mind. Services tax consultants provide include HMRC defence, as well as complex planning, international tax, and disclosure issues.
Tax planners help SME owners determine whether they should organize their businesses as limited liability companies by clearly explaining the pros and cons and helping owners evaluate commercial risk. They can also help SME owners evaluate insurance issues. Additionally, consulting with a tax advisor may reveal several expenses that can be claimed.
SME owners under HMRC investigation may wish to seek out a specialist in this area, perhaps an expert with previous experience as an HMRC investigator. This specialist can assist with penalties, discovery/jeopardy assessments, and appeals, among other components of mounting a successful defence.
Tuesday, November 19, 2013
Shopping online has become second nature to many of us. It’s so easy to purchase things at the click of a mouse these days – music, clothes, holidays…the possibilities are endless online. Some websites will require you to input your card details every time, whereas others will save your payment information for future use. Amazon in particular has a ‘one-click’ payment system, where you can save your details and buy things quickly and efficiently. As useful as this may be, it can be much harder to keep track of your spending this way. Ease of payment aside, it’s the security of your payment details that you should be considering when purchasing things online.
Of course, it goes without saying to use secure passwords. Something that you may think is the most un-guessable word in the world could be obvious to those who know you well enough, so always try to add in numbers, capital letters and symbols to make it harder to guess. Never choose things which are easy to find out, like your mother’s maiden name, the name of your pet or your favourite band. These details can be found out by people who don’t even know you with very little investigation indeed.
The more up to date the programs your computer uses are, the safer you’ll be online. This is because new technologies are harder for hackers to get around. The older the anti-virus software you have, and the older your browser version, the more likely it is that hackers have found their way around the security features. New technology is there to protect us and to ensure that we’re working safely and as efficiently as possible.
To ensure you’re even more secure, you should always buy things online when you’ve got a secure internet connection. This means that, if you’re using Wi-Fi in a coffee shop or are on a connection where other people can connect, you may not be as safe as when you’re connected to a locked and password protected internet source. If you’re entering details into a shared computer, then always check that your entries are not saved, as the next person could, in theory, use your details to buy things from your account.
Never shop online on sites which you don’t feel comfortable. If there is no padlock symbol on your browser telling you that it’s secure, and if the web address doesn’t start with https:// on the payment page at least, then your details may not be used securely. Always double check that you’re on the website you want to be on too. Many scams involve creating sites which look exactly the same as mainstream, well-known shopping sites, and taking your money once you’ve entered your card details.
If you shop online regularly, then it may be worth using a credit card, and paying off the balance from your current account. This would ensure that, should your details be stolen, you’d be protected under Section 75 and none of your linked accounts could be compromised.