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Are you a creature of habit?

22nd March 2019
22nd March 2019

One third of Brits eat the same lunch every day.  17% of us have had the same lunch for 2 years.  Whilst there’s obviously nothing wrong with liking cheese and onion sandwiches ever day, being a creature of habit in business can be a good thing.  It’s reminded me of the 7 Habits of Business Success:

1: Cultivate inner networks, by identifying and building relationships with key peers, mentors and advisors.

2: Become customer centric, focusing away from business and profit towards what you can do to improve the lives of your customers.  To do this you’ll need to fully understand the range of your customers’ wants and needs.

3: Act with humble honesty by acknowledging your own strengths and weaknesses, and then focusing on your strengths.

4: Foster adaptability because nothing ever goes according to plan.  Like life, business is full of surprises and unforeseen events so the ability to respond to changes without being paralysed is essential.

5:  Focus on opportunities, not the threats, as problems are a regular part of business life.

6:  Find a better way to make your business more productive – possibly through technology, automation, outsourcing or improving business processes.  Increased productivity enables you to focus on the critical issues that drive sales and profit.

7:  Balance lifestyle management so that the business does not take control of your life.  All work and no play will not end well.

Alternatively, here are another 7 habits which give you a rather different set of issues to handle:

  • Get up early
  • Focus on the important first
  • Obsess over value – not obsess over the customer
  • Take care of the human, with exercise, healthy eating and rest
  • Fill the gaps by understanding your customers and keep asking what is missing from your own offering
  • Get out of the office
  • Love to learn, and love to teach

Which set of 7 habits makes most sense to you?

Happy Birthday, Internet!

13th March 2019
13th March 2019

The internet is 30 years old – and it’s probably never been more dangerous, with almost daily warnings of various scams, hacks and hoaxes.  Ensuring you are safe online has never been more difficult – so as we bite into a slice of birthday cake, here are our top tips to help you stay safe online, without the need for specialist technical knowledge:

To Click – or not to Click

That, to paraphrase Shakespeare, is the question!  It is likely that any site asking for personal information via a link will be dodgy.  Phishing is where you are promised something in return for giving them your personal data.  What are are most likely to receive in return are lots of irritating emails and possibly even an infected computer.

If it looks too good to be true…

You know how this ends.  If you are being offered something for free, you need to ask yourself how they are able to afford to give it away.  You will pay for the freebie somehow, somewhere.

‘Your computer is infected’…

Actually, of course, it probably isn’t, and how would they know anyway?  These tech support scams may involve very expensive phone calls to their ‘help’ desk, or downloading potentially dangerous software which can infect or control your computer.  Rather, use antivirus or anti-malware software which you control.

‘System optimizers’

These rarely actually optimize anything, but are more likely to try and control your options so you end up with unnecessary toolbars, annoying pop-up ads, or be diverted to landing pages you don’t want to go to.

Use a trusted browser

You’ll be safer with a well known browser such as Chrome, Safari or Firefox rather than a less well known one.  Stay with browsers which are regularly updated rather than older ones which don’t cope well with new versions of malware.


Websites with a green padlock and an HTTPS address are safer because this means the information is encrypted.  Of course nothing is 100% guaranteed safe…

Password Manager

Who still uses ‘password’ as their password?  Asking for suggestions for passwords online often generates a complex string of characters, numbers and symbols, which can be very difficult to write down by hand accurately.  What is the difference between l and I (the first is lower case L, the second is upper case i).  Password manager software from a reputable source may be the answer.

Of course there are many other more complex solutions, but for the non-technical person, starting here may be the best bet.

The Future of Work

22nd February 2019
22nd February 2019

A recent study from the NFU on the Future of Food predicts a large increase in the use of robotics in agriculture, which got us thinking about how that will change the pattern of work in our part of the country which is so dependent on the farming sector for employment.

Whilst the use of robots in farming is still relatively small scale, it is useful to look at other sectors where automation is more widely used as an indicator for future trends.  In the retail and warehousing sector, robots have been introduced in both shops and back office functions.  There have been 3 main impacts:

  • Robots have tended to assist humans, not replace them
  • Humans are able to focus more time and energy on the tasks robots cannot tackle
  • Humans are able to spend more time on customer-focused work.

Increasingly, humans find themselves working alongside robots, rather than being replaced by them. 

There has also been an expansion in the types of jobs humans undertake to support the robot workforce.  Entirely new categories of work are being created.  Think back to the start of the internet – how many software engineers and web design staff were there in 1984?

The challenge for agriculture seems to be the development of widespread robotic solutions, as most innovations at present seem to be relatively small scale.  In many ways, the UK is lagging behind our competitors in the use of robots in the workplace.  For every 10,000 workers, the US has 93 robot units, and Japan has 213.  In the UK, there are just 33. 

What is certain is that there will be more widespread use of robot technology in the workplace, and this will inevitably have an impact on the pattern of work for humans.  For the time being, we are told that robots will not replace humans but will work alongside us.  What impact has automation had in your own business?  Are your work processes suited to automation?  Has robot technology changed your pattern of work?

Rest assured, though – for the time being at least, it’s still going to be humans doing your accounts here at Barwells…

Making Tax Digital and the Self Employed

15th February 2019
15th February 2019

The HMRC introduction of Making Tax Digital (MTD) will impact on all tax payers, with a phased introduction from April 1st this year.  Here, we look at how MTD will affect the self-employed.

What It Means

If you are an unincorporated business, which is what most self-employed people count as, you will need to maintain your accounting records in a digital format, either through software or other digital apps.  These records will need to be submitted to the HMRC each quarter through your digital tax account, together with an end of year declaration of your total yearly income. 

Digital Tax Records

Each transaction will need to be recorded, with the following proposed fields:

  • Date of transaction
  • Value of transaction
  • Category of income or expense
  • Deducted amount (or percentage) for expenses

If you are a retailer with a high volume of low value cash transactions, such as a newsagent for example, you’ll just need to record the date, gross takings and income category.

Who Does This Apply To

If your business has an income above £85,000, then you should be registered for VAT and different rules will apply to you – see our previous article here.

If the income for your business is less than £10,000, you will be exempt from these new MTD rules.

For all other unincorporated businesses with incomes between £10k and £85k, MTD will directly impact on your business accounting processes.

When Does This Apply?

You may not be surprised to hear that the deadlines for introducing MTD have been pushed back from the initial timescale.  As it stands now, payment of Income Tax and National Insurance for sole traders through MTD has been pushed back to April 2020. 

Self Assessment

A sole trader, who derives their only income from the business, won’t be required to submit a self assessment tax return.

If You Need Help

Because the deadline for introduction of MTD for the self-employed is over a year away, there is no need to panic now, but it is sensible for you to think ahead and be prepared for the changes which will impact on you.  If you do need any help, please don’t hesitate to contact us.   

Making Tax Digital and Individuals

29th January 2019
29th January 2019

Making Tax Digital (MTD) is a major new initiative from the HMRC which will fundamentally change how tax is paid.  In the third of our series of articles, here we look at what MTD means for individuals…

Personal Tax Accounts (PTA)

The PTA enables individuals to communicate with the HMRC, to update any financial details, and check their tax affairs in real time.  Actions that can be undertaken include making tax payments, providing bank details, plus any taxable benefit details.  If you haven’t yet got yourself a PTA, then you can go here for more details and to go through the registration process.  The benefit to you is that it is hoped that the requirement to complete and file self-assessment tax returns will lessen for those with straightforward tax affairs.

Simple Assessment

This is where the HMRC has the power to assess your tax liability for income or capital gains tax, without the tax payer needing to complete and submit a tax return.  Currently, only certain taxpayers with a state pension are included in this but there are plans to roll it out to other groups of taxpayers in future years.

Under this scheme, individuals don’t submit a tax return, but rather HMRC send out a calculation of tax owed, which can be viewed in their PTA.  If you disagree, you then have a period to appeal against that calculation.

All of MTD is moving towards a fully digital tax system.  As with all of these big technological changes, we don’t expect it all to go smoothly.  And of course, we are more than happy to help you with any questions you have about how MTD will affect your own circumstances.  Don’t hesitate to contact us for help. 

In the next of this series of articles, we’ll  be looking at what MTD means for the self-employed.   

Blue Monday

21st January 2019
21st January 2019

Today is Blue Monday – apparently, the most depressing day of the whole year.  Here, we look deeper into why today is so significant, and what it means for businesses…

Blue Monday was defined in 2004 by a psychologist who was asked by a travel firm to come up with a scheme for promoting their winter deals.

A number of factors were identified which were seen as contributing to low mood:

  • The weather – today is definitely chilly but at least the sun is shining!
  • Debt – particularly that racked up over Christmas with the monthly statement about to drop through the letterbox
  • Monthly salary – with wage increases around the 3% mark, and inflation over 2%, pressure remains on wages
  • Time since Christmas – the decorations are packed away, it’s back to the daily grind…
  • New Year’s Resolutions – how many are you still maintaining?  Thought so…
  • Motivation – for many, this is the time when motivation levels are lowest
  • Need to take action – we know we have to, but…

Like many theories, this one turns out to be nothing more than pseudo science – they have even come up with a formula for calculating just how depressing today is meant to be.

What it does mean is that some marketing stunts can piggy-back onto the whole Blue Monday bandwagon.  McDonalds, for example, are giving away free cheeseburgers if you use their app.  There’s other deals on sushi, aromatherapy and diet plans.

Perhaps more importantly, it does help to raise the issue of well-being at work.   One in six will experience depression at some stage of their lives.  To claim that depression can happen on one day in January clearly trivialises the experiences of people who have a serious illness.  It’s an issue which businesses and staff need to be aware of all year round.

For more information from mental health charity Mind, and the NHS, click the links.

Making Tax Digital and VAT

11th January 2019
11th January 2019

If your business is registered for VAT, there are some far reaching changes happening which will be implemented for most businesses this April.

Making Tax Digital (MTD) will be implemented for any VAT returns which need submitting after 1st April 2019.  All VAT records will need to be kept digitally, using software which is MTD compatible.

There are a small number of businesses who are being allowed to defer the start of digital reporting for 6 months, but the vast majority of businesses will have to comply.

There are 3 key challenges for businesses, and it is important that businesses are prepared ahead of the April deadline.

Record Keeping

Manual records are no longer good enough.  Digital records must be kept using ‘functional compatible software’, which means software which can connect to the HMRC using an Application Programming Interface (API).  There is a requirement to collect more information after April than is currently the case.

VAT Returns

Returns can only be submitted using the HMRC API platform.  Manually entering figures will not be possible. 


MTD for VAT will be implemented on April 1st 2019.  You may have noticed that this is a couple of days after the UK formally leaves the EU.  There is some uncertainty around how VAT transactions between the UK and the EU will be treated, and you can virtually guarantee everything won’t go as smoothly as promised!  No large scale computer system is ever launched without there being some glitches…


It clearly won’t be good enough for your business to wait until April to ensure your VAT systems are ready.  If you’ve not implemented a MTD VAT compatible software system already, you need to start soon.  And of course if you need any help in preparing your business, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.  Its only a matter of weeks away…

What is Making Tax Digital

14th December 2018
14th December 2018

Making Tax Digital (MTD) is a major initiative the Government are introducing which will change the way individuals and businesses pay their tax.  It will impact on every tax payer and business in the country.  We’ll be writing a number of blogs posts on MTD so you know exactly what it means to you.  First of all, we’ll tell you what is planned to happen…

Why bother with MTD?

The Government want to introduce MTD so that the tax system is:

  • More effective
  • More efficient and
  • Easier for tax payers to get their tax right.

The context for this is clear – HMRC reckon they lose about £9 billion every year down to ‘avoidable mistakes’.

Will it affect VAT?

Oh yes!  If your turnover is over the VAT threshold (currently £85,000) then your business will have to use the MTD service to keep records and submit your VAT returns from April 1st, 2019.  That’s just over 3 months away.

And Income Tax?

The deadline for implementing MTD for income tax is a bit further away – this will be April 2020 at the very earliest, and will probably be impacted by how the VAT implementation goes.  If you’re a self-employed business of landlord, you can choose to voluntarily keep business records digitally and send Income Tax updates to the HMRC now, instead of doing a Self Assessment tax return.

Personal Tax Accounts

The introduction of Personal Tax Accounts is all part of this move towards a more digital tax system.  The aim is for you to be able to manage your tax affairs through the account, rather than phoning or writing to the HMRC.  There’s over 30 services currently available through the new system, with more planned.  Registering is easy, but if you do need any help, don’t hesitate to contact us here.


So that is what Making Tax Digital is – next time, we’ll look in more detail at how it will impact on your VAT payments and reporting.

Are you claiming Employment Allowance?

30th November 2018
30th November 2018

If you are an employer and paying National Insurance for an employee, you could get up to £3,000 off your National Insurance bill by claiming Employment Allowance.

The allowance effectively reduces your employers Class 1 National Insurance (NI) each time you run your payroll, either until the £3k has been used up or it’s the end of the tax year.

Who Can Claim

If you are a business or charity (which includes community amateur sports clubs), and paying Class 1 NI, then you are eligible to claim.  Also, if you employ a carer or support worker, it’s likely you’ll also be able to claim this allowance.

Who Can’t Claim

There are 4 main categories of businesses that can’t claim the allowance:

  • If you are the director of the company and the only employee paid above the secondary threshold (just over £8k per year)
  • You employ someone for personal, household or domestic work – such as a nanny or a gardener, unless they are a care or support worker
  • You’re a public body doing more than half your work in the public sector
  • You’re a service company working under the IR35 rules

How to Claim

Claiming is easy through your payroll software, or you can access the claim process through the Basic PAYE tools from the HMRC.

For more information

Our Payroll Section is able to help with all of your questions regarding any of the complexities involved in paying staff.  If you need any help at all, please contact us here.

Mental Health & Well-being at work

27th November 2018
27th November 2018

The impact of poor physical health in the workplace is plain for all to see – but the effect of poor mental health can be just as, if not more damaging.  A recent letter signed by industry leaders from across business and education highlighted that one in every six workers will experience mental ill health – which includes depression, anxiety, or stress-related issues.

This represents about 5 million people in the UK, so the costs are significant.  Mental health issues are estimated to cost the UK economy nearly £35 billion each year, with 15.4 million working days lost to mental ill health.

What can be done?

There is still a lot of stigma around the issue of mental health, which often makes it difficult for someone experiencing problems to come forward and ask for help.  One of the challenges, then is to make the issue of poor mental health as important as poor physical health.

Mental Health First Aid

Awareness is so important here, and a training programme called Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) aims to tackle these issues.  The aim of MHFA is to try and change attitudes in society around mental health, by developing skills to look after our own and others’ wellbeing.  The outcomes of the training are an increased knowledge of the range of mental health problems, including substance misuse, and an increase in the supportive behaviours towards individuals with mental health problems.

The courses teach people to spot the symptoms of poor mental health, and then offer initial help and guide a person towards appropriate support.  What it is not about is training people to be therapists themselves – but rather, to help people develop listening and responding skills.

To find out more about MHFA, the skills involved and courses available, go to their website here.  There are a range of courses available, including some which focus specifically on young people, and people who are or have been in the armed forces.


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