Tag Archives: tax

What happens when the tax office wants to inspect your editorial business?

Do you really get through that number of red pens per year? And where were you going on the morning of 29 February? Melanie Thompson describes her experience of being inspected by the UK’s tax authority, HMRC.

This post covers:

  • Receiving notification of an inspection
  • What was requested and by when
  • Collecting and sending all the evidence
  • HMRC’s response

Many people dream of becoming an editor, proofreader or some other flavour of editorial service provider. They often declare their love of words or desire to help others communicate. I don’t recall ever seeing someone say they were going freelance or setting themselves up as an editorial business because they longed to number all their shopping receipts or to fill out the self-employment section of their annual income tax return.

But unless your editorial empire comprises a staff of more than one person plus office assistant (aka pet dog or cat), you will have to find a way – and the time – to manage the business end of your business.

In the freelance world, even getting paid can be a time-consuming process. So, developing some sort of system that suits your needs is unavoidable.

Questions about bookkeeping and accounting apps often crop up in the CIEP forums, especially from people who are new to freelancing. Certain topics recur, ranging from the benefits (or otherwise) of business bank accounts to whether editors can claim for new spectacles.*

One question that hasn’t cropped up, as far as I recall, is ‘What happens if there’s a tax inspection?’ Perhaps people are too terrified to ask!

If that’s you, hide behind the sofa right now. I’m about to reveal all …

The dreaded brown envelope: receiving notification of an inspection

Among all the many side effects of the Covid-19 pandemic was one very small useful thing: Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) gave us all a little breather with paying the summer instalment of tax ‘on account’ in July 2020 by six months, as well as some leeway with the date for submitting that year’s tax return. So, when I received a brown envelope from HMRC back in August 2021, I put it in my in-tray and carried on with my work, thinking it was just the usual reminder about filling in the tax return by 31 January.

A few days later when I’d met my work deadline and fancied a change from on-screen work, I started sifting through the heap of incoming post (mainly junk mail offers from competing credit card companies), opened the pending brown envelope and skimmed my eye down the left-hand side of the letter.

Check of your Self Assessment tax return for year ended …

A compliance check is …

We will be checking to see …

What we will be checking …

You now need to check your records …

OK, I got the picture (8/10 for plain English … on the first few paragraphs). But …

… please give us the information asked for in the enclosed schedule.

A big aggressive? Well, at least they said please. But the truly frightening bit was:

Please send us the information by ** September.

Less than four weeks away, and at the height of the summer vacation.

What HMRC wanted from me

I pinged an email to my fabulous accountant, Patsy, who had just received a copy of the letter direct from HMRC.

The three-page letter came with three attachments: the general information about compliance checks, the extra Covid-related general information, and a one-page ‘schedule’ explaining what I needed to send.

The general information included this warning:

You cannot choose to ignore an information or inspection notice if we give you one …

So far, so terrifying. The schedule did little to calm my nerves, as it requested the whole year’s worth of bank statements, credit card statements, invoices and receipts, and my financial statement drawn up by my accountant – all to be scanned in and sent on a memory stick.

That might not sound so bad, and it’s true I had collated a lot of that information when preparing my 2019–20 tax return. But there’s quite a difference (for me) between putting things on a spreadsheet with a column for notes to explain bits and pieces to my accountant, and compiling a huge bunch of scanned documents or PDFs from numerous sources to send off to someone who could send me a big fat fine if I made a mistake.

Pile of receipts next to a laptop

Collecting ALL the receipts

If you use an accounting app such as FreeAgent or QuickBooks, you may not appreciate the effort and stress I endured over the next few days. When I started as a freelancer in 2000, I created a spreadsheet for my accountant, and I’ve used the same system ever since. With only three or four invoices per month, and not many irregular expenses back then, there hadn’t been the need to do anything differently.

Now I was faced with corralling random bits of paper, emails linking to downloadable receipts, paper credit card bills, online banking documents and foreign exchange expenses. I shut myself in my office and switched my scanner to warp factor 5.

The trickiest task was reconciling the various online bills that are paid monthly by credit card (such as pay-as-you-go top-ups for my mobile phone, and the monthly £0.79 for cloud storage). When preparing my accounts I just noted the dates and amounts from my credit card statements. So I had to log in to each of these random small expenses accounts and download the actual bills – complete with remembering usernames and updating passwords. Once I had all the expenses scanned in, I numbered them all so that they were easier to cross-reference, while slapping my own wrist for not having done all this in the first place. (But seriously, is that really a good use of my time?)

HMRC’s interrogation

I did get everything together in time, and sent it all plus an explanatory covering letter by registered post. Our village postmaster, noting the address, wished me luck!

Then it all went quiet … for two months.

When I finally received a letter (including an apology for the delay) there were four questions arising from my documents. Only the first one was a mystery! That asked whether I was using ‘cash basis’ or ‘general accounting/accruals basis’.

At that point, I was so relieved to have an accountant. I had no idea what the question meant, never mind what system I was using. (Apparently, I use the latter.)

Questions 2 and 3 were clarifying exchange rates and bank commission fees for a few invoices in US dollars and were very easy to answer.

But the fourth question was my favourite. It was about two receipts for train travel to the CIEP (then SfEP) annual conference in Birmingham, where I had been a speaker. What the inspector hadn’t noticed – and I did enjoy pointing out – was that one of them was for my trip to the Society of Indexers conference in London the week before, where I was also a speaker. And yes, it was all listed properly in that list of numbered receipts I’d taken so much time over.

App-ily ever after?

By the end of November, it was all over. I had the all-clear, and there was nothing to pay. What a relief.

And within a few weeks, it was time to submit my tax return for the 2020–21 period. So no time to swap to a sparkly new app. I’ll be sticking with my spreadsheet for now.


Resources to help with tax

For everything to do with income tax in the UK, visit the gov.uk website.

Sue Littleford’s Going Solo: Creating your freelance editorial business  can help with record-keeping so the next tax return (or inspection!) doesn’t seem as daunting.


* As with most editing-related questions, the answer is ‘it depends’.

** Many thanks to my accountant Patricia Brady ACMA.


About Melanie Thompson

Melanie Thompson reading the SfEP guide 'Pricing your project'Melanie Thompson (APM) specialises in writing and editing materials relating to climate change, environmental topics and energy efficiency in buildings. She is a member of the CIEP’s Environmental Policy Working Group, and also a CIEP tutor for the copyediting, proofreading and web editing courses.

 

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.

Find out more about:

 

Photo credits: wallet by Steve Buissinne on Pixabay, receipts by picjumbo.com on Pexels.

Posted by Harriet Power, CIEP information commissioning editor.

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

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.

Find out more about:

 

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.

What’s e-new? Free and easy accounting

By Andy Coulson

Accounts are a fundamental part of your business, but like many people, I loathe doing them. For a long time, I’ve used Excel and an accountant to deal with mine, but have been exploring accounting packages for some time. I experimented with FreeAgent, which offers a discount to CIEP members, and found it clear and easy to use, but eventually gave up on it because I found it really fiddly to pay myself. My accountant sorts my payroll, but FreeAgent seems to insist I run payroll, or else have to go through a real rubbing my tummy while patting my head process to record it. I suspect that if you are a sole trader or happy to run the integrated payroll this would be easy (ie you are not trying to bend things to your will!).

This led to me discovering QuickFile, a largely free, UK-based accounting package. QuickFile doesn’t include payroll, so I can simply add the salary and categorise it as a PAYE salary payment, which I find simpler. I can leave payroll to the accountant. I say largely free because you won’t pay anything if you have fewer than 1,000 ledger transactions per accounting year. There are also some optional chargeable items, like open banking links that enable you to auto-update your accounts from your bank. This costs a very reasonable £15 per year.

The initial setup of QuickFile is very straightforward. You add details of yourself (and your company if you need to), set up your bank accounts and the opening balance for when you want to start using QuickFile, and you can get started. You can then manually import bank transactions and set up open banking feeds if you wish.

Like most other accounting packages, QuickFile is built around a dashboard. This gives you a quick, clear overview of what is coming into and out of your business and quick access to your bank accounts.

Invoicing and purchasing

Invoicing within the system is straightforward. You can customise your invoices around a number of templates, allowing you to add your own branding to invoices. The system allows you to create your invoices or estimates and have a nice clear ‘Draft’ stamp on them until they are ready to send. The system also includes client management, so you can build a database of the people and organisations you invoice, making repeat invoicing simple. There is an option to import clients from a spreadsheet, and the program has guidance on how to do this, but you will need to have a bit of skill with .csv files in spreadsheets to use it. Once your invoice is ready, you can send it from within the system using a customisable email. Your invoice list then gives you access to all your invoices with clear amber (sent), green (paid) and red (late) status flags. An outstanding invoices report allows you to keep track of these, and you can also set up automatic reminders for when an invoice goes over its due date.

Purchases are similarly easy to manage. You can enter these as one-offs or as recurring – for example, my hosting costs are paid monthly, so I set up a recurring payment each month for these. You can also enter them retrospectively (I’m sure I heard my accountant tut there) via the bank account screen, so that you enter the details when the purchase is paid for. While this is perhaps not good practice, it is simpler when you have a small number of outgoings. Like many other packages, it allows you to scan receipts straight into the system or import them, and the freely available app enables you to scan these on the go. As with invoices, you can build a list of suppliers.

Reports and support

Reconciling everything with your bank account is a chore that I don’t think anyone likes, but QuickFile keeps the pain to a minimum. Clicking through to your bank account gives you a list of transactions with money in, money out, a running balance, status, space to add notes, and a search tool to find similar transactions. The status shows in red until a transaction is tagged. Clicking on this gives you a short menu with the main types of transaction. Clicking through on, say, ‘Payment to a supplier’ or ‘Payment to a customer’ will attempt to find a matching purchase order or invoice, allowing you to reconcile quickly and flag these as paid.

QuickFile also has a comprehensive set of reports, allowing you to produce everything you need for year end, tax and VAT (should you need it).

The system has comprehensive community-based support that provides quick, helpful answers to most problems. This works something like the CIEP forums, with users and support staff from the company involved. There is also a good online knowledge base that covers a lot of common items and has some ‘get you started’ guides. These are really well-written and have been helpful to get me into using the system.

QuickFile provides a professional, easy-to-use accounting system for small businesses. The fact that it is largely free is astounding. Looking into the pricing structure for more than 1,000 transactions annually, the £45 + VAT per year cost looks remarkably good value. If the system isn’t right for you, you can export your data to import into another system, so I would recommend you look at QuickFile as an alternative to other online accounting systems.

Andy Coulson is a reformed engineer and primary teacher, and a Professional Member of CIEP. He is a copyeditor and proofreader specialising In STEM subjects and odd formats like LaTeX.

 

 


‘What’s e-new?’ was a regular column in the SfEP’s magazine for members, Editing Matters. The column has moved onto the blog until its new home on the CIEP website is ready.

Members can browse the Editing Matters back catalogue through the Members’ Area.


Photo credits: Accounting calculator by StellrWeb; paying online by rupixen.com, 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.