Last chance to top up your pension

From October 2015 the government is offering some people a limited opportunity to top up their state pension. Who does the offer apply to and is it worth going for?

State pension and NI contributions

As you know, the amount of basic state pension depends on how many full years of NI contributions you have paid by the time you reach state pension age (SPA). From 6 April 2016 the number of years needed to qualify for the full pension jumps from 30 to 35.

Trap. Anyone who reaches SPA before 6 April 2015 and doesn’t have 35 years’ NI contributions won’t receive the full pension and can’t add to their NI record through the usual method, i.e. by paying contributions from earnings. This is where voluntary contributions can come into play.

Class 3A contributions

The government realised that some people would lose out unfairly because of the new 35 year rule and so is offering them a one-off chance to pay to top up their state pension. If you reach state pension age before 6 April 2016 (even if that’s not you keep reading for other options) you can add to your qualifying NI years, and so improve your state pension, by paying Class 3A contributions.

The main terms and conditions are:

  • contributions are payable as a single lump sum that must be paid by 5 April 2017
  • the cost varies depending on your age, gender and the number of extra NI contribution years you want to buy (see below)
  • the extra state pension will be payable for life
  • if you die having paid Class 3A NI and your spouse survives, they will be entitled to receive at least 50% of the extra pension for the remainder of their life.

How much?

The maximum extra pension you can buy is £1,300 per year, but you can choose to buy as little as £52 per year. Naturally the cost is different, but to give you some idea, a woman reaching SPA on 1 April 2016 who wants to buy £520 per year of extra pension would have to pay £9,000 Class 3A NI by 5 April 2017.

Tip 1. GOV.UK has a handy calculator for checking the cost of extra state pension (see The next step ).

Tip 2. Before paying Class 3A contributions check if you’re allowed to pay Class 3 contributions instead (see The next step ). These can be cheaper than Class 3A, but you receive the same amount of extra state pension.

Class 3 contributions

Class 3 contributions can be paid by anyone with gaps in their NI record in the last six years even if you’ve already reached your SPA. The cost varies, but you can expect to pay around £700 for each top-up year, which at current pension rates buys you about £200 per year if your SPA is before 6 April 2016 and £230 if it’s later.

Tip. Gaps in your NI record can occur for many reasons, e.g. you were working abroad or unemployed and not claiming benefits. Whatever the reason you can find out by asking HMRC (see The next step ).

The offer applies if you will reach state pension age before 6 April 2016 and have gaps in your NI contributions record meaning that you don’t qualify for the full state pension. You can check with HMRC for gaps in your record and if so buy Class 3A contributions which can give you extra pension of up to £1,300 per year.

Auto enrolment ‘engagement’

TPR has also issued the third edition of ‘Automatic enrolment: Commentary and analysis’, which reports on the impact of automatic enrolment and the increasing participation in workplace pension schemes. The commentary states:

  • By March 2015, over 5.2 million workers had been successfully automatically enrolled since the reforms began in 2012, an increase of more than 2.2 million workers from 2014, and 4.2 million from 2013.
  • Automatic enrolment is helping to turn around the decade-long decline in pension provision, with 59% of all employees now active members of a pension scheme, compared with just 47% in 2012. This increase suggests that pension saving is now becoming the norm.
  • The pensions landscape has been transformed as the majority of people are enrolled into defined contribution schemes. We have witnessed the growth in master trusts – 94% of employers who chose a trust-based scheme opted for a master trust.
  • We now expect that significantly more employers will be subject to automatic enrolment duties than originally anticipated, mainly due to an increase in the number of new companies that have started up, and fewer going out of business than was forecast. We have revised the staging profile accordingly, so that it reflects the 1.8 million employers we expect to help through the automatic enrolment process from now until 2018.

If you would like help with your payroll or advice on Pensions Auto Enrolment please contact us.

Internet links: Commentary

Government toughens National Minimum Wage (NMW) sanctions

The government has announced a package of measures including tougher NMW penalties to ensure employees receive the pay they are entitled to.

The measures include:

  • doubling the penalties for non-payment of the NMW and the new National Living Wage
  • increasing the enforcement budget
  • setting up a new team in HMRC to take forward criminal prosecutions for those who deliberately do not comply
  • ensuring that anyone found guilty will be considered for disqualification from being a company director for up to 15 years

Business Secretary Sajid Javid said:

‘There is no excuse for employers flouting minimum wage rules and these announcements will ensure those who do try and cheat staff out of pay will feel the full force of the law.

This one nation government is committed to making work pay and making sure hardworking people get the salary they are entitled to.’

The government has announced the introduction of a new team of HMRC compliance officers who will investigate the most serious cases of employers not paying the NMW and National Living Wage. The team will have the power to use all available sanctions, including penalties, prosecutions and naming and shaming the most exploitative employers.

Stiffer penalties

Employers who fail to pay employees the minimum wage will have to pay penalties which will be up to twice what they currently are. This reform is intended to increase compliance and make sure those who break the law face tough consequences.

The calculation of penalties on those who do not comply will rise from 100% of arrears to 200%. This will be halved if employers pay within 14 days. The overall maximum penalty of £20,000 per worker remains unchanged.

Other changes

In other related changes a new Director of Labour Market Enforcement and Exploitation will be created to oversee enforcement of the NMW, the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate and the Gangmasters Licensing Authority. The Director will set priorities for enforcement based on a single view of the intelligence about exploitation and non-compliance.

A consultation will be launched in the autumn on the introduction of a new offence of aggravated breach of labour market legislation. The consultation will also propose giving the Gangmasters Licensing Authority additional investigatory powers and a wider remit to tackle serious labour exploitation more effectively.

The government has also announced they will improve the guidance and support made available to businesses on compliance. They will also work with payroll providers to be sure payroll software contains checks that staff are being paid what they are entitled to.

If you would like help with payroll or employment law please do get in touch.

Internet link: GOV News

Making tax simpler for charities

In September HMRC updated their detailed guidance notes which outline how the tax system operates for charities. The notes include how to apply to be recognised as a charity for tax and the operation of gift aid and payroll giving.

Over the last five years the government has brought in a range of changes to the tax system to make it simpler for charities to make the most of tax reliefs, so that more money can go to good causes.

Gift aid small donation scheme

Through the gift aid small donations scheme charities can claim a gift aid-style top-up on small donations eg a donation to a charity vendor in the street, up to a limit of £5,000 per year. This limit will increase to £8,000 per year from April 2016.

Charities online

Charities can submit claims for gift aid tax relief online which speeds up the claims process. 95% of charities now use this online system and the claims are processed within five working days.

HMRC outreach team

To date an HMRC outreach team has delivered face-to-face presentations to over 650 charities to spread awareness and help charities to successfully claim tax relief.

Community amateur sports clubs

The government has amended the law so that local sports clubs registered as community amateur sports clubs can receive corporate gift aid to help these clubs benefit their local communities.

Social investment tax relief

The social investment tax relief scheme has been created to encourage people to invest in social enterprises including charities. Individuals making an eligible investment will be able to deduct 30% of the cost of that investment from their income tax liability.

Lower IHT rate

If people leave at least 10% of the net value of their estate (its worth, minus any debt, other liabilities and reliefs) to charity, then 36% inheritance tax can be paid instead of 40%.

If you want further details on the tax treatment of charities please contact us.

Internet links: GOV.UK news GOV.UK guidance

5p carrier bag charge comes into force

Carrier bag charges began in England on 5 October 2015. For a large retailer the minimum charge is 5p for single-use plastic carrier bags. For small or medium-sized businesses no charge is required but can be made on a voluntary basis.

A business that employs 250 or more full-time equivalent employees, in all roles not just in retail roles, will be treated as being large and must charge the 5p. The number of employees is calculated at the start of each reporting year. The first reporting year will start on 5 October and run to 6 April 2016. Subsequent reporting years will start on 7 April.

When calculating full-time equivalent employees a business that is operated under a franchise needs to only include employees in that business, not the whole franchise.

The type of bags that will carry the charge will be:

  • unused
  • plastic
  • with handles and
  • 70 microns thick or less.

Where deliveries or online sales are made to customers any plastic bags used will also have to be included in the total cost. It may be that the amount of bags to be used is unknown when the order is placed. In this situation an average number of bags can be used in the charge as long as 5p or more is charged per bag overall.

There are a number of specific exemptions on the types of bags which would not be subject to the charge. These include bags for:

  • uncooked fish and fish products
  • uncooked meat, poultry and their products
  • prescription medicine
  • free promotional material given away.

Retailers will need to maintain reporting records and also make a report to Defra on or before 31 May following the end of the reporting year. The first report should therefore be sent to Defra by 31 May 2016.

The details to be sent to Defra are as follows:

  • number of bags distributed
  • the amount of money received from selling the bags
  • any VAT paid from the money received from selling bags
  • what the business did with the proceeds from the charge
  • any reasonable costs (see below) and how they break down.

Reasonable costs include costs to comply with the legislation and do not include the costs of the bags. Examples would be:

  • costs of changing till systems
  • training staff
  • communicating the policy to staff.

Once reasonable costs have been deducted, the remaining proceeds should all be donated to good causes.

The local authority, where the shop is based, is authorised to make inspections to ensure the law is being followed. Where there is non-compliance, they will have the authority to issue a notice to the retailer to correct the non-compliance or issue a fixed fine of up to £200 or a variable penalty of up to £20,000. In additional the local authority can order the retailer to advertise that they have broken the law.

Internet link: GOV.UK Guidance

Autumn Statement date announced

The government has announced that the date of the Autumn Statement will be 25 November 2015.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, has announced that there will be an Office for Budget Responsibility forecast alongside the Spending Review on Wednesday 25 November 2015. The government will therefore publish a joint Autumn Statement and Spending Review on this date.

We will keep you informed of key announcements.

Internet link: GOV.UK News

Deadline for ‘paper’ self assessment tax returns

For those individuals who have previously submitted ‘paper’ self assessment tax returns the deadline for the 2014/15 return is 31 October 2015. Returns submitted after that date must be submitted electronically or they will incur a minimum penalty of £100. The penalty applies even when there is no tax to pay or the tax is paid on time.

If you would like any help with the completion of your return please do get in touch.

Internet link: GOV.UK Self Assessment