Online HMRC forum launched to give small business owners direct tax advice

A new online HMRC forum has been officially made live, offering company owners a place to ask questions relating to every stage of starting and growing a company.

The forum, launched 2 August, acts as a live message board and displays comments and discussions between self-employed business owners and HMRC’s tax experts.

While no personal or case-specific information can be posted on the forum, a dedicated webchat service is also on offer, where a case can be privately handled by an advisor.

Categories currently include starting (legal structures and record keeping), managing (tax returns and exports) and growing (industry support and employment law) a business, with a separate area for tax credits.

Open public posts already cover areas such as Making Tax Digital updates, first year tax returns and Class 2 National Insurance contributions.

In an official statement, Mel Stride, financial secretary to the Treasury, said the online HMRC forum would act as a valuable resource for founders and freelancers.

“The UK’s 5.4m small businesses play a vital role in our economy. We want to help businesses get off the ground and support them as they grow,” Stride said.

“That is why we are launching a new forum and webchat service which will give these companies useful hints and tips – including how to complete tax returns, grow a business and trade outside the UK – so that they can continue to flourish.”

The official launch of the online HMRC forum follows a pilot in March 2017, with over 1,000 registered users already posting questions.

An HMRC spokesperson got in touch with Business Advice to clarfiy the tax office’s commitment to supporting the self-employed.

“Several new projects and initiatives have been introduced for small businesses, but we are not complacent and continue to make further improvements in the design and delivery of a professional, efficient and engaged organisation,” the spokesperson said.

Commenting on the forum, Claire Walsh, of chartered financial planning firm Aspect 8, said: “People can often be scared of tax and end up burying their heads in the sand when they have a question so this sort of service will be really useful.

“I’m a big fan of anything where you can get a question answered easily and quickly and think this is a really good thing for [HMRC] to offer.”

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RBS Payout to small businesses

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Challenger banks set for £835m RBS payout to tempt new business banking customers

The Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) is to set aside £350m to facilitate the switching of customer accounts to eligible challenger banks, after the government confirmed funded measures to boost competition in Britain’s business banking marketplace.

The Incentivised Switching Scheme will see £275m of funding handed to market challengers to promote their offering to small business customers, with a further £75m from RBS made available directly to customers to cover switching costs.

Some 15 challenger banks will be financed by the scheme to encourage small business customers to move their accounts from RBS.

Money will be distributed to bolster the capabilities of such lenders, and the government has targeted 120,000 small business owners for the scheme – some three per cent of all SME banking customers.

In a statement, Stephen Barclay MP, the Treasury’s economic secretary, said: “The announcement will help boost competition in the business banking market and marks another significant milestone in resolving a major legacy issue at RBS.”

An agreed directive between the UK government and European Commission, the Incentivised Switching Scheme forms part of a wider package designed to improve conditions and competitiveness in the UK business banking market.

As part of the bundle, a £425m Capability & Innovation Fund will be administered by an independent body to finance wider investment and development in the business banking marketplace, with 15 grants available to challenger banks and other financial services.

The deal was drawn up following the failure of the standalone Williams and Glyn bank, meant to lift 250,000 SME customers out of RBS accounts. An original scheme was drafted in February 2017, and the official announcement has seen an extra £75m to finance to business banking propositions of rival banks.

If uptake on the Incentivised Switching Scheme doesn’t meet the expected level, RBS has agreed to pay a further public contribution, capped at £50m.

Commenting on the announcement, RBS CEO Ross McEwan said the lender welcomed the decision made by the Treasury and European Commission to make the business banking marketplace more competitive.

“We await a formal decision on this proposal which would allow us to resolve our final State Aid divestment obligation,” he added.

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Top tips for starting a business

For those starting or growing a business, it’s important to navigate the available support with confidence. So, here are some sources of government assistance that could help in 2017.

The government is also worked hard at consolidating its support and making it more navigable. The Business is Great site aggregates support, advice and inspiration for growing businesses, and collects together the available finance and support schemes on a finder page with filtering capabilities. So here are our top 6 tips:

  1. Grants
    Today, most national and local grants focus on particular business activities or purposes. There are some grants for investment, some addressing energy use and the environment, some geared towards training and some in the form of tax reliefs like R&D tax credits. It’s not quite the landscape it was for grants, with programmes like Growth Vouchers having been wound up in 2015, not to mention the closure of the Business Growth Service in early 2016, but there is still plenty of support available.

    1. Investment  
      There are regional grants (partly through the Regional Growth Fund programmes) that support growth through capital investment and job creation. The location of your business may increase your chances of successfully applying for a grant. You may be eligible for support if you’re starting a business in an economically disadvantaged area.
      Local support (eg. subsidised rent and rates) is also often available to encourage small businesses to start up in particular areas.
    2. Innovation  
      There are many grant schemes that encourage research and development (R&D) activities in the UK’s high-tech industries. Support is available for investigating an idea right through to proof of concept and development. R&D grants that focus on specific industries are launched from time to time, and there are well-established tax reliefs that support a wide range of R&D activities.
    3. Energy and the environment  
      These schemes recognise the additional cost for businesses that adopt or engage in investments that improve energy efficiency and reduce environmental impact.
      R&D programmes are available to companies working on developing energy and environmental products.Grant schemes may be available for new buildings or for refurbishing existing buildings that aim to improve energy use. Capital allowances are also available to businesses that install energy-saving equipment and processes.
    4. Training
      Assistance to develop the skills and capability of staff is provided through apprenticeships. The National Apprenticeship Service gives advice to employers on how to start an apprenticeship scheme in their business, and currently the offer is being promoted through the government’s Get in, go far site on apprenticeships.
    5. Tax reliefs
      If nothing in the government offer quite fits with your business, don’t despair. The government, as mentioned briefly already, offers support through tax schemes such as R&D Tax Credits and other capital allowances to reduce tax liabilities.
  2. National Business Support Helpline
    The second broad area to focus on is the Business Support Helpline, which remains a notable element of the government’s business support provision.
    It provides signposting, diagnostic support and business improvement advice to pre-starts, startups, and existing businesses to help them start and grow. The service provides national information, which all businesses require, plus advice and signposting to local sources of support (this is something that has grown in importance with the establishment in 2011 of Local Enterprise Partnerships and the LEP Network).
    The helpline is also useful for signposting and explanation on how to use the finder page with filtering mentioned already.
  3. GOV.UK website
    The next resource to flag is the GOV.UK website. This is a single point of access to all government services and information, and national and local publicly funded business support services. It provides advice and information on what businesses could and should do to start well and thrive.
    Apart from the finance and support database, the website also has information on:

    1. Employing people
    2. Money and tax
    3. Business and self-employment
  4. Government national business support programmes
    In recent years a lot of government support programmes have closed. The likes of GrowthAccelerator and the Business Growth Service are no more, and with the closure of the Growth Service we’ve also lost subsidised resources like the Manufacturing Advisory Service, though some that worked in that space have continued offering their services on commercial terms.
    What does that leave?

    1. Mentors ME is one resource that is going strong. It provides access to 15,000 trained volunteer business mentors, from the SME community to boost local mentor networks.
    2. The Department for International Trade has recently taken over as the government’s overseas trade support service. For many years this was familiar to people as UK Trade & Investment. It provides advice on export capability and opportunities, contacts in overseas markets, arranging overseas visits, ecommerce, export training and market research. All in all, it’s still a strong resource for any would-be exporter or international trader.
    3. Innovate UK is the latest name for what was the Technology Strategy Board. It provides grant funding (not advice) to support R&D and innovation activity to companies across the UK mainly through web-based competitions, some of which are targeted at SMEs (eg. the Smart Programme and Innovation Vouchers). It also supports networks to connect partners to promote knowledge sharing.
    4. The Design Council’s Designing Demand Programme is a small national programme that helps SMEs use design to improve performance through bespoke packages of design support and coaching delivering through design associates.
    5. The Intellectual Property Office provides resources and support to protect intellectual property. It provides services such as workshops for SMEs, IP awareness-raising and online assessment tools. It also trains independent business advisers as IP auditors so that they can advise SMEs on IP issues.
  5. British Business Bank
    1. The fifth resource-set to flag is the British Business Bank. This is a relatively new government initiative. Its website has easy-to-understand information on all types of finance and their relative advantages and disadvantages.
    2. The aim is to make finance markets work better for small businesses in the UK at all stages of their development: starting up, scaling up and staying ahead.
    3. The British Business Bank is government owned but independently managed. It brings expertise and government money to the smaller business finance markets. It doesn’t lend or invest directly. Instead it works with over 80 partners such as banks, leasing companies, venture capital funds and web-based platforms.
    4. Businesses apply for finance through partner businesses, and because the businesses work with the initiative they can lend and invest more, especially to younger and faster-growing companies.
  6. Local help for business
    Last but not least we come to Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), which have grown in importance with the government’s evolving localism agenda.
    LEPs have been running since 2011. These are a voluntary partnership between local authorities and businesses in England to help local economic development. As a result of recent government initiatives, LEPs are being now supplemented by Growth Hubs affiliated to all the LEPs. These provide a single local access point for all public and private sector business support – effectively a ‘front end’ for LEPs and other national local economic support.
    Growth Hub partners include chambers of commerce, the Federation of Small Businesses and other business bodies, universities and university business schools, other private sector bodies (including local partners delivering national programmes) and national government.

Is there something we should add to the list? Let us know …

Loosely taken from and thanks to:

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Mobile Friendly Websites?

Guest post from one of our associates – Nigel Stevenson

I’m going to concentrate on the present big issue with website design …

“Mobile friendliness will affect how prominently websites appear in Google search results pages from 21 April”

True? In this blog I look at…

• Local v National search results
• Why go mobile friendly?
• The stats
• Can mobile users still see my old pages?
• What’s the cost of converting my old website to ‘Google Mobile Friendly’
• How do I know my new (or old) website is ‘Google Mobile Friendly’?

My colleagues and I have been monitoring this massive shift in Google’s search technology and I must admit to a minor fit when first announced not only because of the impact it would have on you as a client but the possible workload ‘spike!

Initial thoughts
In slowing down to a panic and monitoring a benchmark set of client’s positions on Google we came to the following conclusions…

Local v National searches

National searches (from mobile devices using the Google App), will be influenced by this new algorithm, in fact if you use the Google App on your mobile phone to search for services you will see a grey text legend next to some listings saying ‘Mobile-Friendly’.
With a higher percentage of websites now conforming to Google’s new requirements, the UK’s top search engine can be more picky giving preference to ‘Mobile-Friendly’ web pages.

Local searches appear to be delivering different results, probably because Google can see by adding ‘Kent’ or a ‘town name’ (to the search string) the result totals are less so delivering a ‘Mobile-Friendly’ website could deplete depth of results.

Try this test – search on Google using your desktop device (not logged into Google) – Search – “builders in East Kent”

Builders in East Kent

First 3 pages profile the following !! OHM designs (none are Google Mobile Friendly)

Page 1 (ex-client but still using our SEO)

Page 2

Page 3 (cleaning service for builders)

The same search on a mobile phone…
(using HTC M8, Google App, WiFi connected, GPRS on)…

Page 1

Page 2

Page 3

In conclusion Google’s new mobile friendly algorithm doesn’t appear to be influencing traditionally built older websites on local searches (yet).
So why go mobile friendly?
It’s a great call and one we’ve been bouncing around for a few months.

Graph 1
The graph showing the increase in mobile phone use …

Image from Morgan Stanley Research




The stats
94% of people with smartphones search for local information on their phones (source Google, USA).
77% of mobile searches occur at home or at work (source Google, USA).
Offcom stats – – massive increase in 4G use.
Mobile use on the increase .

It’s obvious from these stats that mobile devices are being used more and more for everyday tasks which includes web searches so it makes sense to make your web platform more mobile friendly.

Can mobile users still see my old pages?

Yes, and (as above) the local search results do not appear to be affected.

What do you suggest Nigel?

First of all, don’t panic! The vast majority of our clients use local search terms with their trade keywords therefore you are unlikely to be affected by this change (at the moment). Try the same test I did for “builders in East Kent” using your trade and geographical search terms and see the results – send me the results

What’s the cost of converting my old website to ‘Google Mobile Friendly’


About 50% compared with a new design as we are using existing content already on our systems.

In addition you also get a great package…

• Update all pages yourself – text content, images etc
• Post news and special offers yourself
• Change SEO content on every page yourself (NEW)
• Add slide shows (FOC as part of a re-design)
• Add contact forms (FOC as part of a re-design)
• Integrate with Social Media pages (FOC as part of a re-design)
• Google Mobile Verified pages
• Future proof

Sample conversion
Esther (Elite Beauty) called last month asking for some changes to her web pages, I explained the Google Mobile issue so she agreed to convert.

Old site:
New Mobile Friendly site:

Esther’s feedback “Yay it looks sooooo good!!! And on a phone as well x thank u so so much for changing all the little bits and getting it to where it’s perfect x x I love it”

Mobile test

How do I know my new (or old) website is ‘Google Mobile Friendly’?

Click on this links and add your web address:

Remember this, Google is being nice to old pages at the moment but do not be surprised if they axe none mobile friendly pages from their listings as the global giant strives to deliver a better product.

Nigel Stevenson is Director of Oast House Media (01304 369 440 :: 07931 376 255)
He is also an Associate of The Centre for Micro Business.
Oast House Media Specialise in: Website Design :: Search Engine Optimisation :: Logo Design :: Print Design


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Crowdfunding – how to sidestep the banks – help from the FSB

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) and the UK Crowdfunding Association (UKCFA) have come together to give small firms and start-ups advice on how to access finance through crowdfunding.

Recent FSB research showed that only 37 per cent of its members are aware of alternative finance providers, such as peer-to-peer lenders and crowdfunders. The FSB believes this type of finance can help firms access funds needed to grow, especially as many smaller and start-up businesses find it difficult to access through the high street banks.

Crowdfunding is a method of raising funds from investments from many people online, through a dedicated platform. According to NESTA, in 2011, crowdfunders raised $1.5 billion, mostly in the US, to finance over a million projects. The organisation says the UK crowdfunding market is growing.

Roger House, FSB Chairman for Kent and Medway, said:
“Most people’s first thought about crowdfunding, is pitching on a well known TV show. If they like your idea, they’ll give you some money in return for some equity in your business. While those people get to pitch in person and answer any questions, crowdfunding means pitching online, so getting it right is more important than ever if you’re going to succeed in getting finance.”

“The FSB has been an advocate of alternative sources of finance for some time. We believe more people will look at crowdfunding as an investment opportunity as investors can take advantage of tax reliefs if they invest in start-up and early stage businesses.”

The top tips for getting your business crowdfunded are:

  1. Proper preparation prevents poor performance: Just with trying to get a bank loan, having a clear business plan will demonstrate the business’s potential to the crowd. It will help give persuasive answers to the crowd and show them you’ve done your homework and researched the market and competitors.
  2. Make your pitch compelling: Keep the pitch simple and avoid using jargon. This will help potential investors understand who and what they are backing. Consider using video rather than just a written pitch.
  3. Market potential, the entrepreneurs and the idea: Investors will want to see you have a good idea that will give them a good return, but also that you have a team that will deliver the end product.
  4. Promote you and your venture today: Begin warming up the crowd with the idea so they are eager to invest when the pitch goes live.
  5. Be realistic: Don’t be overly ambitious with the funding target and don’t over value the business as this can put the crowd off. Set realistic targets which you can back up when the crowd ask questions.

Julia Groves, Chair of UK Crowdfunding Association, said:
“Crowdfunding in its many guises is already filling the gap left by the retail banks, and has to date channelled more than £1 billion of money from the UK public into the real economy.”

“Whether you are a very new business raising seed equity to get started, or a more established businesses seeking a loan to grow or diversify, there are opportunities to bypass the banks and raise this money directly from your customers, neighbours and the general public. So you get not just financial backing but the backing of the crowd.”

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Writing a Business Plan

Writing a business plan is a vital first step when starting a business, in order to set out your proposition, your market, customers and competitors.  The business planning process will give you a feel for the various elements that will determine your success, from cash flow, to sales forecasting to your personnel structure. A good business plan will let you structure your finances efficiently, show potential investors the strength of your business, and focus your efforts on developing your business. A business plan isn’t written once; it’s a living document that you return to periodically to help you spot potential pitfalls before they happen.  Find out more by getting in contact.

You can get plenty of free advice and guidance on how to write a business plan on line:

Sample business plans and guides from Barclays, Lloyds, HSBC, RBS and NatWest banks.

Business plan advice and guides can be found from ICAEW, CIMA, and The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants.

You can get help with a business plan if you’re out of work from the New Enterprise Allowance, which offers support with developing your business plan, as well as financial and mentoring help.

Taken from:

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New Access to The Centre for Micro Business

At The Centre for Micro Business we are always looking for better ways to service our customers.  To this end we have partnered with East Kent College and opened a new office at their premises in Broadstairs.  As part of this relationship we are able to access students studying business with the Peter Jones Academy – also based within the college, and we hope to use these talented young people to help those new start businesses we support.   East Kent College also have  bases in Dover and Folkestone which we can also now use to meet clients to discuss their needs.

dpstartupzonelogoWe at The Centre for Micro Business have also partnered with Discovery Park, near Sandwich.  Discovery Park have just opened a new start up zone, which offers hot desking, as well as small and medium sized offices.  As a tenant of Discovery Park within the startup zone you would have full access to all the other facilities on site which include a bookable Board Room for meetings, cafe and gym and much more.

If you like to meetup to discuss your Micro Business Startup or Home Based Business development working in East Kent please contact us on 0300 030 9660 to arrange a FREE appointment.

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So where do you get start up advice?

So you’re ready to start a business. The UK has a very supportive environment for startups, with a flourishing wealth of networks, groups and organisations for all types and style of new business, where you can get practical advice, ideas and make many valuable contacts.  Take good advice at this planning stage, and you may well avoid costly mistakes later on. A business mentor can give you honest and constructive feedback, as well as provide useful contacts and pass on valuable experience. There are mentorship programmes to suit all kinds of businesses, including startups.

All CMB mentors are fully trained – get in touch to see where we can help.

There is a wide array of services across England, offered by National Enterprise Network, New Entrepreneurs Foundation, School for Startups, Women in enterprise, and Enterprise Nation to name a few.

You can get help with advice and support if you’re out of work from the New Enterprise Allowance, which can provide advice, mentoring support and financial help.

There are several membership organisations which represents and helps owners and directors of small and growing businesses, like Federation of Small Business, British Chambers of Commerce, Institute of Directors and the ICAEW Business Advice Service.

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The New Bank Referral Scheme

News from the KPMG business advice website:

A new government initiative will join up small business owners who have struggled to access finance from traditional banks with alternative funding providers.

Here’s how the new bank referral scheme actually works:
The bank referral scheme is “an important milestone” in the government’s approach to small business finance.  Small business owners who are finding it difficult to obtain finance from major high street banks will from today be paired up with alternative funding options, under a new government initiative.

From 1 November 2016, the Treasury’s bank referral scheme commits nine of the UK’s largest lenders to passing on the details of small firms that have been rejected for finance to three platforms – Funding Xchange, Business Finance Compared and Funding Options.
These platforms will then share details with other alternative finance providers, facilitating a conversation between the small business and any provider expressing an interest in supplying it with finance.

The nine banks involved are RBS, Lloyds, HSBC, Barclays, Santander, Clydesdale and Yorkshire Bank, Bank of Ireland, Danske Bank and First Trust. Small business owners will need to give their permission before their bank can share their details.

Speaking exclusively to Business Advice, Alice Hu Wagner, strategic director at the British Business Bank (BBB), which supported the Treasury in establishing the referral scheme, said the initiative represented an important milestone in the government’s approach to small business finance.

“The bank referral scheme acknowledges that the problem in Britain isn’t with supply [of access to finance] it’s with transparency,” added Hu Wagner. “What’s holding back growth is that small business owners don’t know where to access finance if bank’s turn them down.”

Research from the Treasury has shown that 71 per cent of businesses seeking finance only ask one lender, with many choosing to give up on their planned investment once rejected.
Of the 324,000 UK SME owners that sought a loan or overdraft in 2015, 26 per cent were rejected outright by their bank, with only three per cent of these referred to alternative funding sources.

“This will make shopping around for funding a lot easier,” explained Hu Wagner. “At the moment, you have to apply to every lender individually, with the hope that one will be accepted.  “The new rules will see small businesses only having to hand over information once, to receive a quote via any platform once referred by its bank.”

Hu Wagner confirmed that the scheme would see banks enter into a legally binding commitment to best serve the interests of SMEs that apply for finance.  The bank referral scheme will be free for any UK-based business with less than £25m turnover, applying for funding from one of the nine participating banks.  The initiative has been hailed by small business bodies as one that can transform the UK economy long-term, with the idea being that more and more alternative finance platforms will join the referral scheme as it gathers pace.

Chairman of the Alternative Business Funding Portal (ABF), Adam Tavener, said: “Post-Brexit the importance of SME health to the UK economy has never been greater.
“A lot of work has been put into this new initiative to open up a range of alternative funding providers to SMEs looking beyond their existing bank for financial support”.
The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), another organisation that worked closely with the government while developing the bank referral scheme, has welcomed the added choice of finance options and greater competition the scheme is likely to bring to the banking market.

FSB national chairman Mike Cherry said in a statement: “Small firms struggling to access finance will now automatically have a new way to get the support they need to invest and grow.  Hu Wagner continued by telling Business Advice that another important part of the government initiative was to offer further education to small businesses about the growing range of alternative funding options available.

The BBB’s business finance guide, published to coincide with the launch of the referral scheme, aims to increase awareness of alternative finance amongst small companies across the UK.
Acknowledgement to KPMG for content.

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Starting a business from home

13-newsIt’s simple to start a business from home and growing numbers of people are doing it. There are 2.9m home-based businesses in the UK and they contribute £300 billion to the economy.  As part of its long-term economic plan to back businesses, the government has made it even easier to start a business from home.

Here are some ideas you need think about when starting a home based business.

The Home Business Guide explains the process of setting up a business from home and dispels common myths. It covers business essentials like rates, insurance and health and safety considerations. You will also need to consider wether planning permission is required to run a business from home. The local planning authority will determine this on the individual merits of a case.  Check if your home business will be subject to business rates. Generally, you shouldn’t have to pay business rates for minor business use of the home.

The Health and Safety Executive’s homeworking guide will help you to check that your home business meets health and safety requirements.  Home business must still decide on the legal structure of your business. Sole traders, business partnerships and individual partners must register for self-assessment with HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).  Private limited companies and Limited Liability Partnership (LLPs) must register with Companies House.

You should let your landlord know that you are planning to run a business from home and get their consent before doing so. The government has confirmed that social tenants are able to start and run a business from home. If you own a leasehold property you should check your lease for any restrictions.

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