Taxman Cuts Time Allowed to Reclaim Overpaid Tax 
Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs is cutting the time taxpayers have to reclaim overpaid tax by two years, between now and April.

Traditionally taxpayers had almost six years to reclaim any money that has been overpaid to HMRC, but by April 2012 this will be cut to just four years for all taxpayers.

Alistair Darling first introduced the changes to the tax deadline when he was Chancellor in the 2008 budget; with those in self-assessment having the four year deadline imposed from April 2010; whilst those who were solely in the PAYE system were given longer.

Under the new system money due from the 2008/09 tax year must be chased up by April 5, 2013. Although taxpayers who miss this deadline, may be able to fall back on the little-known Extra Statutory Concession B14.

HMRC have also introduced a four-year limit for it to issue tax assessments asking for underpaid tax; with a spokesperson for HMRC saying: “Four years strikes a balance between certainty for taxpayers, which would be provided by shorter time limits, and the need for HMRC to have sufficient time after receiving a return to check the tax position.”

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Small Business Owners Face January Crackdown 
Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs (HMRC) has announced that it will tackle “rule breakers” who failed to come forward and pay VAT during an amnesty campaign that closed on New Year’s Eve.

The amnesty was aimed at the estimated 40,000 businesses that had not registered for VAT by the end of September last year, but as of December, only 841 had come forward.

HMRC has warned that those who have ignored the letters sent out in July face “substantial penalties and criminal prosecution”, with small business owners and sole traders being targeted this month.

Marian Wilson, head of campaigns at HMRC said that the Department has been “identifying people and companies” and that the 40,000 letters were a “gentle reminder” that companies with an annual turnover of more than £73,000 must register for VAT.

However, they deny being disheartened by the low take up from their reminders, saying: “We don't particularly regard the uptake as low. Not all of them will have gone over the threshold - we weren't expecting 40,000 to register.”

And in another move to claw back tax, it has been reported that HMRC is interviewing finance directors at some of the UK’s richest football clubs to find out whether players are recording all their benefits.

It is well known that players receive free holidays, luxury accommodation and other gifts and these are being checked against tax returns to see whether players could be liable for any unpaid tax.
However, HMRC said that it would not “discuss individual cases under any circumstances,” with a spokesman adding:

"For benefits in kind, the basic rule is that if an employer provides an employee with anything other than pay, it may count as an expense or benefit, and they will need to check whether they need to report it to HMRC and pay any tax or National Insurance contributions”.

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Victory For Consumers On Credit Card Charges  
Ministers will announce today that charging consumers for using credit and debit cards to pay for goods and services will be banned by this time next year.

At the moment, many companies invoke a surcharge on customers who pay by card, particularly low-cost airlines, which were in the vanguard of using the practice. But many other sectors have now jumped on the bandwagon.

People now pay a surcharge on cinema tickets, cars, utility bills, package holidays and even on their tax bill if they use a credit card, which is costing consumers hundreds of millions of pounds a year.

After intervention by Which?, who complained about the fees to the Office of Fair Trading (OFT), ministers have got involved and say that people are sick of being “ripped off” by the hidden charges, hence the pending legislation.

Financial secretary to the Treasury, Mark Hoban, said: “We’re leading the way in Europe by stopping this practice. The Government remains committed to helping consumers get a good deal in these difficult times. Consumers are sick of the rip-off culture and we are determined to do what we can to end it.”

Richard Lloyd, the executive director of Which?, said last night: “The Government’s decision to ban rip-off debit and credit card surcharges is a huge victory for consumers.

“This announcement goes further than the Office of Fair Trading’s proposals, finally putting an end to these unfair charges. More than 50,000 people supported our campaign to see these fees stamped out.

“Given that airline passengers alone pay more than £265,000 a day in card surcharges, businesses shouldn’t drag their feet over this. While the law will come into force at the end of 2012, we want companies to be upfront and fair over card charges today.”

However, it is expected that the ban on fees will be vigorously opposed and it will be an interesting to watch developments between now and next Christmas.

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Christmas Shopping On-Line 
A survey has shown that consumers will spend £186m on-line on Christmas Day, with that figure almost doubling on Boxing Day.

E-retailing group Interactive Media in Retail Group (IMRG) predicts that there will be a 12 per cent increase in on-line spending over the Christmas period than there was in 2010. And price comparison website Kelkoo puts the on-line spend hike at over 16 per cent.

Last year the busiest time for on-line shopping was on Christmas Day, when 1.4 million people visited the Argos website and placed 73,000 orders. The hour between 9.00 and 10.00 that evening saw 100,000 visitors alone.

David J. Smith, chief marketing and communications officer at IMRG, said: "The amount of money consumers spend online every Christmas Day is continuing to show double-digit growth. When you consider that the growth for the same day in 2010 was 26 per cent, the increase is all the more impressive as it is coming from a very high base.

"Although shopping on Christmas Day might not appear to quite be in the Christmas spirit, it is worth considering that many of these sales could actually be associated with popular gifts people have received, such as downloadable content for MP3 players and Kindles."

And Ross Clemmow, director of marketing operations at Argos, said: "On Christmas Day, when the presents have all been opened and the turkey has been eaten, many of our customers' thoughts turn to shopping and the great deals that can be had.

"For some it's about buying practical items for the year ahead – many have received vouchers or money they're keen to spend, while others choose to prepare for the following Christmas well in advance by securing bargains on decorations and lights."

However, many shoppers will still follow the more usual Christmas tradition of queuing in person for their bargains on Boxing Day morning, when an estimated 5.6 million drivers are predicted to hit the roads.

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Cheque Guarantee Cards Won’t Return 
Research from the Payments Council “provides clear evidence that no case exists for reinstating the cheque guarantee card scheme” because almost 90 per cent of users said that their cheques continued to be accepted without it.

In fact, only 40 per cent of consumers who had used their card to guarantee a cheque in the last twelve months were aware that the scheme had actually closed in June.

A Payments Council survey found that over 80 per cent of businesses poled still accepted cheques from customers without a guarantee card, particularly f they knew them. And only one of the 501 businesses that accepted guarantee cards before the scheme closed said that the closure had had a detrimental effect on its business.

Adrian Kamellard, chief executive of the Payments Council said: "We have committed that cheques are here to stay, so we were pleased that the demise of the guaranteed cheque has had little impact on the way people use cheques, nor has it stopped businesses accepting them.”

The cheque guarantee system meant that cheques up to £50 or £100 were honoured by the bank, as long as the card number was written on the back, even if there were insufficient funds in the account.

The scheme was used predominantly by tradesman for small jobs, guaranteeing them payment by often elderly customers. However, t would appear that knowledge of the customer’s bilty to pay is guarantee enough.

Mr Kamellard added: “It’s particularly reassuring to find that older people have taken the change in their stride, however, our research has highlighted that there is a small minority of customers and businesses who might need extra help – so that will be what we’re focussing on next.”

And Andrew Tyrie, chairman of the Treasury Committee, said: “The Payments Council must do more to ensure that banks do not phase out cheques on the quiet."

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