Tag Archives: HMRC

Flying solo: Unlocking HMRC

In this post for her Flying Solo column, Sue Littleford highlights useful resources to help UK-based editors understand the country’s tax system.

This post is for people in the UK tax system, where Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (henceforth HMRC) is the government department that deals with collecting taxes and National Insurance. Self-employed editors must evaluate their own tax and National Insurance liabilities (‘self-assessment’) and will find plenty of help and resources on the HMRC website. This article looks at how to access the most relevant information.

Sorry, everyone else, but do explore your own tax authorities’ websites – you may be pleasantly surprised by what you find.

When you fill out your tax return, you’ll find context-sensitive help all over the form but, usually, the help means even less than you’d already intuited, if you’re anything at all like me. Please don’t be put off and think you can’t possibly deal with your tax return yourself. With all due respect to accountants, who are invaluable if your tax affairs are complicated, we have a self-assessment system that’s (meant to be) designed so that taxpayers can file their tax returns all by themselves.

And so HMRC, despite the terminology you see on the tax return, does a great deal to help you understand what you need to do, what you can and can’t do, when you need to do it by and so on. And as we start the increasingly rapid slide into Making Tax Digital (MTD; live April 2023 for the self-employed with a turnover (takings) of £10,000 pa or more), it’s best to get familiar now with the sources of information, so you can also start readying yourself for the demands of MTD.

I’ll now go through some of the sources of explainer videos and webinars, and guidance notes.

Personal tax account

A good place to start your journey of understanding is with your personal tax account, or PTA. To access this you’ll need to log in to HMRC (via Government Gateway or GOV.UK Verify, or create an account).

Here, you’ll find collected together PAYE and self-assessment tax, National Insurance, pensions, benefits such as tax credits, child benefit and marriage allowance, and your annual tax summary. The information on self-assessment is presented in a slightly more usable way than through your self-assessment account which, when I looked at it when I did my own tax return a few weeks ago, was – and I stress this is my personal opinion – still atrocious.

If HMRC emails you and says there’s a message for you, you can pick it up in the messages tab of your PTA.

Incidentally, these PTAs were introduced in April 2016 as long-lead preparation for MTD. No one can say we weren’t warned!

HMRC customer forum

HMRC has a customer forum or, rather, a list of forums where taxpayers can join the appropriate board to ask questions and read the advice already given or to give advice. Some answers will be given by other forum members, but HMRC Admin pops up from time to time, and will also post links to relevant new information on the main HMRC website.

Each top-level forum subdivides into topics, so it’s worth visiting and scrolling through just to see whether the coverage coincides with what you want to ask about.

HMRC help sheets

There is a whole slew of help sheets for self-assessment for the self-employed, and for all other categories of taxable situations.

HMRC webinars and other help

HMRC runs webinars throughout the year on a variety of topics, usually of an hour or less, and at different times of day to help people to attend. If you can’t attend a live delivery, then recordings are available.

If you’re new to self-assessment and filling out a tax return, start with the introductory webinar and the one on record-keeping, and with the guidance. If you’ve not completed your tax return for 2020/21 yet, then keep on scrolling down the same page for explainer videos on how to do it, and how to pay your tax and National Insurance. You’ll also find videos on allowable business expenses, the simplified expenses system and a host of other topics that may or may not apply to you. It’s a very long page, so do ensure you scroll right to the bottom to be sure of discovering all the help.

I strongly recommend you sign up for the email alerts. That will ensure you’re told about upcoming webinars, as you need to register to attend them, and things like due dates for your tax return and tax payments.

There are frequent live webinars on business expenses (ie which expenditure you can offset against your income to reduce your profits and thus reduce your income tax and National Insurance, and which you can’t). There are occasional webinars on MTD (and I expect they’ll get more frequent as we get closer to April 2023, to make sure people are making the necessary preparations). Live webinars come with downloadable documents with links to the help for that topic.

Although the recordings are great at demystifying the tax system, do attend the live webinars if you can, as via the chat function you can ask questions and get direct answers. They won’t deal with your individual tax record, but they’ll answer questions about the specifics of your situation and either answer directly or link to a place where you can read up on that topic. Some of the more common questions are answered by the presenters during the webinar, but all the time the backroom staff are busy typing away. And you can save the whole chat history, to see other people’s questions, and the answers they got, which can be great if there was something you meant to ask but didn’t. Maybe someone else asked it for you.

After attending a live webinar, you’re emailed a link to the replay and a list of links for the various help sheets.

YouTube channel

HMRC also runs a YouTube channel, with videos organised into playlists, such as self-assessment help and deadlines.

Making Tax Digital

MTD is already live for VAT (since April 2019), so much of the information available is around the VAT element. But there are listings there too for self-assessment folks, with videos and written guidance.

The HMRC business manual

You can also access the HMRC’s internal business manual on taxing income. This will tell you, in quite a formal way, everything you could possibly want to know, and you can’t get more from the horse’s mouth than this.


I’ve kept the resources here limited to self-assessment for the self-employed. For a much wider range of resources, browse ‘Money and Tax’, to find ‘Dealing with HMRC’, ‘Income Tax’, ‘National Insurance’, ‘Self-Assessment’, or ‘VAT’ among other topics, on GOV.UK.

One thing I’ve not been able to find, to my satisfaction, is a reasonable glossary of terms. The ones I’ve turned up are too narrow, too high-level, too old … If you know of one, please pop it in the comments! Thank you!

About Sue Littleford

Sue Littleford is the author of the CIEP guide Going Solo, now in its second edition. She went solo with her own freelance copyediting business, Apt Words, in March 2007 and specialises in scholarly humanities and social sciences.

 

 

About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

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Photo credits: padlock and keyboard by FLY:D 🔶Art Photographer; Pay Your Tax Now Here! by The New York Public Library, both on Unsplash.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

Wise owls: managing money

It’s coming up to the end of the UK tax year (5 April) – the CIEP’s wise owls have turned their thoughts to keeping track of income and outgoings.

Liz Jones

Here are some things I’ve learned about managing money in 12 years of freelancing:

  • Tax is a potential killer. I’m happy and proud to pay tax, but it’s one of the things I’ve found most challenging to manage in terms of cash flow, especially in years when I’ve taken a few weeks’ ‘maternity leave’. It’s really important to set aside more than you think you’ll need: if your earnings fluctuate, so will your tax bills. I’ve found paying an accountant to be a worthwhile cost to help me get my tax calculations right and understand how I can make the most of allowances.
  • It’s essential to get into a position where you’re not depending on a particular payment being made on time in order to pay vital bills such as the rent or mortgage. Even with the best clients, timely payment is not 100% reliable.
  • I never justify charging clients a high rate by citing my circumstances. As it happens, mine is the main income for my family, but that’s irrelevant to them. They’re paying for my work, not to support my lifestyle.
  • I use FreeAgent to manage my invoicing, and my accountant takes the information directly from this to complete my tax return. It’s not free but it’s saved me a lot of time over the past few years.
  • I chase invoices as soon as they go overdue. After once losing nearly £2,000 on an unpaid invoice when a client went into administration, I also invoice regularly in smaller stage payments for large jobs, to mitigate the risk of a client going bust.

Louise BolotinLouise Bolotin

My nickname is The Spreadsheet Queen! I use spreadsheets for everything, although I’m barely proficient in Excel. No matter, as you don’t need to be. I created a spreadsheet to track my invoicing just by setting up a few columns with headings such as date, client, what the job was, PO number (if applicable), how much I billed, when I invoiced, when the money is due, etc. I have extra columns for notes and to tick off when my client has paid. I also have a spreadsheet for tracking client hours, with my per hour rate in a column. I bill some of my clients monthly, so I can tot up jobs on the tracking spreadsheet and transfer the billable sum to my invoicing one.

My outgoings are minimal – I’m mindful that expenses are tax-deductible (mostly). My biggest expenses are my CIEP fees (and conference, if I decide to go) and my trade union subs. Then there are costs for software, and, occasionally, stationery, plus fees for my accountant and PC fixer (an essential expense!). Again, I track all these on a spreadsheet – it’s useful to see how much I’m spending per year, including versus how much I’m making. I aim to limit expenses to 5% maximum of my turnover, but it’s usually below that.

I check my business bank account on my phone daily to see what’s gone in (or out). Yes, I have a separate business account – I find it easier to track income and expenses without having to trail through my supermarket shopping, Spotify subs and utility bills. It’s not possible to separate business and personal completely, but it’s about 99% foolproof. I set aside 20% of every invoice as it’s paid – it goes into a dedicated savings account for my tax bill after my accountant has filed my tax return. Setting that aside also stops me from thinking I have more disposable income than I actually have.

Hazel Bird

Managing money is about finding a system that suits your business model. For example, if you’re raising lots of low-value invoices, it might be worth paying for a system that raises, sends and tracks invoices for you, and integrates this data into an accounting package. I’ve seen CIEP members recommend the likes of Crunch, FreshBooks and QuickBooks for this purpose. I tend to raise fewer high-value invoices, so I use an Excel template (which I complete and convert to PDF) and do my tracking in Google Sheets. This lets me geek out with functions to create my own personalised reports. It also means I have no money-management-related expenses beyond the time I take.

It’s definitely not essential to have an accountant, especially if your finances are simple. But naturally this means keeping on top of current tax and accounting requirements, particularly if you’re registered for VAT or invoicing clients in jurisdictions outside the UK. Members often raise very helpful threads on these topics on the CIEP forums.

Finally, there’s a stereotype that freelancers never complete their tax returns until the week they’re due – and then discover we owe the government far more than we expected. I’ve always consciously avoided that approach, because it’s important to me to know my exact tax liability and ensure my cash flow will cover it. To make this as painless as possible, I tend to be one of those insufferable people whose accounts are always up to date. This is inevitably a bit tedious, but it shouldn’t be too tedious. Your system should slot into your work as seamlessly as possible. Money management should serve our businesses, not the other way around.

Nik ProwseNik Prowse

A wise man – a mentor from my early days as a freelancer – once said to me: ‘Put aside your tax money before you spend it.’ He also advised separate bank accounts. So I have a bank account into which all of my business income goes, and as soon as I have a receipt I put a percentage of it into a savings account to cover tax and National Insurance. I set the percentage slightly over what my tax will be, so that I save something each year just by hiving off my tax money.

I don’t use anything other than Microsoft Excel to manage my business income. I have a spreadsheet with columns for date, project name, invoice number, ingoings and outgoings, with a reminders column for payments due for bills and the mortgage. I have separate sheets for the money put aside for tax, business expenses and income from clients. That way, when my tax return is due my business income and outgoings are all present in one handy file.

These two systems have always allowed me to know how much I have, and to be certain that I can’t dip into crucial money that will need to be paid to HMRC.

Sue BrowningSue Browning

My key advice is to do things as you go rather than leaving them to pile up and need sorting out later. Sent an invoice? File it and record it on your income sheet. Renewed your CIEP subscription? File the invoice/receipt and record it on your expenses sheet. I give each invoice and expense a unique reference. Then each month, I download my business bank statement and reconcile it with the invoices issued, marking up each item on the statement with its reference number in my accounts. This reconciliation takes me less than half an hour each month. I do everything electronically, scanning paper receipts on the rare occasions I receive them. I also use a program called Cushion for scheduling, time-tracking and invoicing so my information is all in one place, but do what works for you.

I also put about 20% of my month’s income into a savings account earmarked for tax. This means I don’t dread the total when I submit my return. My accounts spreadsheet has a totals worksheet that collects the monthly figures and gives me an annual total. Come tax return time, I have only to refer to that sheet, knowing that all my invoices and receipts are in order, so my tax return takes me about half an hour. That’s when I am grateful to past me for taking a few minutes regularly to keep on top of things.

Sue LittlefordSue Littleford

Knowledge is a wonderful thing. First, know your money style. Are you disciplined? Does it trickle through your fingers? Track your invoices, and pounce on any that become overdue the first day they’re overdue. Don’t be shy. You’re in business, not pursuing a hobby. Be polite but firm, and repetitive – it works in most cases. Don’t be afraid you’re ‘nagging’ – you’ve done the work, so your client should pay up! Budget for your business and household expenses: work out what you want to spend on training, marketing, CIEP membership and conference attendance, materials, resources and overheads – and know when those become due.

Work out what you need to live on, likewise. Use that knowledge to help you set the hourly rate you want to earn. A simple spreadsheet of your invoices with a running total can be used to forecast your tax and National Insurance bill. According to your money style, either save enough from each paid invoice to pay the tax on that invoice or do your tax return as early as you can and set up a direct debit with HMRC to pay in monthly instalments (more like a PAYE scheme, and there’s no temptation to dip into your tax pot before you pay it to HMRC). With interest rates so low, the satisfaction of knowing you’re paying down that tax bill rather than saving the money and earning on it may balance out easily. Attend HMRC webinars on business expenses and filling in your tax return.


If you’re starting out on your freelance journey, the CIEP’s guide Going Solo covers the finance basics, including tax and record-keeping obligations.


Photo credit: owl – Dominik VO on Unsplash

Proofread by Victoria Hunt, Intermediate Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.