Do you avoid these five common mistakes when you’re computing your business profits?

Avoiding common errors when computing business profits

HMRC produce a range of Toolkits for agents, which highlight errors commonly made in returns so that agents can take steps to avoid them. The business profits toolkit provides guidance on errors that are found in relation to business profits for small and medium-sized businesses. They are helpful to anyone computing taxable business profits.

Risk area 1 – Record keeping

Good record-keeping is essential for business profits to be calculated correctly. Poor records may result in sales or allowable expenditure being omitted from the accounts, with the result that the level of profit or loss is incorrect.

Risk area 2 – Business income

The profit or loss will only be correct if all income is included in the accounts. Unless the business is an unincorporated business that has opted to use the cash basis, business income should be included on an accruals basis, matching the income to the period in which it was earned.

Not all sources of business income will be immediately obvious – the income of the business may, for example, include scrap sales, contra sales or barter arrangements. Cash sales may also be overlooked.

Risk area 3 – Expenditure

To ensure that the profit is not overstated, all allowable expenditure should be taken into account. However, a deduction is only permitted for expenses which are wholly and exclusively incurred for the purposes of the business. Attention should also be paid to specific prohibitions, such as for business entertaining.

Purchases and expenses should be reviewed to ensure that they have been included.

Sole traders and partnerships comprising individuals can use simplified expenses rather than claiming actual expenses.

Risk area 4 – Stock and work in progress

Where the business is one that holds stock, care must be taken to include it at the correct value – this is the lower of cost and net realisable value. Errors will arise if stock is overlooked or valued incorrectly.

Work-in-progress can be a complex area and advice should be taken to ensure that the treatment is correct.

Risk area 5 – Miscellaneous items

Miscellaneous areas should also be considered. These may include a review of post-balance sheet events and consideration as to whether any adjustment to the accounts is required. Staff costs should also be reviewed and amounts unpaid nine months after the end of the period should be added back. As far as directors are concerned, consideration should be given to the date on which amounts are credited to the director’s loan account.

Partner note: HMRC’s Business Profits Toolkit – see www.gov.uk/government/publications/hmrc-business-profits-toolkit.

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Are you paying the minimum wage?

The National Living Wage (NLW) and National Minimum Wage (NMW) increased from 1 April 2019. From that date, the NLW, payable to workers aged 25 and over, is set at £8.21 per hour. Workers under the age of 25 and over school leaving age must be paid the NMW appropriate for their age. From 1 April 2019, this is £7.70 per hour for workers aged 21 to 24, £6.15 per hour for workers aged 18 to 20 and £4.35 for workers above school leaving age and under 18. A separate rate of £3.90 per hour applies to apprentices under 19 and to apprentices over 19 and in the first year of their apprenticeship.

Who is entitled to the minimum wage?

Workers over the school leaving age are entitled to the minimum wage. This is the last Friday in June of the school year in which they turn 16. Once a worker reaches the age of 25, they are entitled to the NLW.

Payment of the minimum wage is not limited to full-time employees. Workers for NLW and NMW purposes also include:

  • part-time workers
  • casual labourers
  • agency workers
  • workers and homeworkers paid by the number of items that they make
  • apprentices
  • trainees
  • workers on probation
  • disabled workers
  • agricultural workers
  • foreign workers
  • seafarers
  • offshore workers

However, company directors without a contract of service fall outside the minimum wage legislation, as do the self-employed, volunteers and voluntary workers, workers on a government employment programme or pre-apprenticeship scheme or certain EU programmes, members of the armed services, family members living in the employer’s home, non-family members living in the employer’s home who are not charged for meals or accommodation and treated as a family member (for example, an au pair), higher and further education students on placements of up to one year, people on a Jobcentre Plus Work trial for six weeks, share fishermen and those working and living in a religious community.

It is important to identify which workers fall within the scope of the minimum wage legislation and pay them accordingly.

What is included in the minimum wage?

Certain items are not taken into account in determining whether a worker has been paid at or above the relevant minimum wage for his or her age. These include payments for the employer’s own use or benefit, items that the worker has bought for the job and which have not been reimbursed, such as tools, a uniform and suchlike, tips and service charges and any extra pay for working unsocial hours on a shift.

However, income tax and National Insurance are taken into account in the minimum wage calculation as are advances of wages or loans, repayment of overpaid wages, items provided for the employee which are not needed for the job, such as meal and penalty charges for a worker’s misconduct.

Accommodation

Accommodation provided by the employer is taken into account when calculating the minimum wage. The legislation provides for an accommodation offset, set at £52.85 per week/£7.55 per day from 1 April 2019.

If the employer charges more than this for accommodation, the excess is taken off the worker’s pay which counts for minimum wage purposes. Where there is no charge for the accommodation, the offset rate is added to the worker’s pay.

Failure to pay minimum wage

It is a criminal offence not to pay the National Minimum Wage or National Living Wage to which a worker is entitled. Employers who pay below the minimum wage should pay arrears immediately. Penalties may also be charged.

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The importance of keeping good business records

To ensure that you pay the correct amount of tax and file correct tax returns with HMRC, it is vital that you keep complete and accurate records. This applies regardless of whether you are running a business as a sole trader or in partnership or operating a limited company.

Business records for the self-employed

The self-employed need to complete records of their business income and expenses. Where the business is operated in partnership, the responsibility of keeping records falls on the nominated partner.

It is important to keep records of:

  • all sales and income
  • all business expenses
  • VAT records if the business is VAT registered
  • PAYE if the business has employees

Records are essential to enable the business to work out its profit or less. They may also be needed to support the figures included on the tax return should HMRC ask questions.

Keeping records of expenses ensures that nothing is overlooked and tax relief can be claimed as appropriate. It is, however, important to retain proof of expenses, for example:

  • receipts
  • bank statements
  • sales invoices
  • purchase invoices
  • till rolls
  • paying-in slips

Limited companies

Where the business is operated as a limited company, records of income and expenses must be kept as for a sole trader. It is important to record income, expenses, debts owed by and to the company, details of goods brought and sold, details of stock and records of stock takes, etc.

Records must also be kept about the company itself, including details:

  • directors and shareholders
  • minutes of votes and resolutions
  • details of any charges on the company’s assets, debentures, indemnities

The company must also keep a register of persons with significant control. Broadly, anyone who has more than 25% of the voting rights, can appoint or remove a majority of directors or can influence or control the company.

How to keep records

While records can be kept manually, for many businesses it will soon become mandatory to keep digital records. Most businesses who are VAT registered and whose turnover is above the VAT registration threshold of £85,000 will need comply with the requirements of Making Tax Digital for VAT from the first VAT accounting period beginning on or after 1 April 2019. This will necessitate keeping certain VAT records digitally. Once MTD is introduced for income tax and corporation tax, it will be mandatory to keep digital business records for these purposes too.

Where there is no mandatory digital record keeping requirement to meet, records can be kept on paper, using software packages or on spreadsheets.

How long to keep records

Where a self-assessment tax return is filed before the deadline of 31 January after the end of the tax year to which it relates, records should be kept for at least 22 months of the end of the tax year (12 months from the filing deadline). Where the return is sent late, records should be retained for at least 15 months from the date the return was submitted.

Beware penalties

HMRC can charge penalties for the failure to keep accurate records. A company director can be fined £3,000 or disqualified for the failure to keep proper accounting records.