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Business tax strategies

Starting a business

Starting your own business is one of the most fulfilling things you can do in life, but it usually also carries a degree of risk. During the start-up phase you will need to make all kinds of decisions that could be critical to the long-term success of the enterprise. You'll need to consider such things as: the type of business and its attributes; your target market and competition; profit potential and how you will extract those profits; the rate of business growth; and the impact of running the business on your personal life. At some point, you'll also need to consider how you will exit the business when the time comes, and realise its value. We can provide expert, tailored advice and help you avoid the common mistakes.

Making a business plan

One of the first things you need to consider is your business plan. This is not only for the benefit of potential investors, but to help you stay on the right course in the short, medium and long-term. It should include: the business structure that best meets your needs (such as: sole trader, partnership, limited liability partnership or limited company); your intended funding sources; tax-efficient borrowings; whether a PAYE scheme is necessary; and whether the business should be VAT registered.

We can guide you through these important decisions, and help you to complete the appropriate registrations. We can assist with cash flow forecasts, helping you to spot potential cash shortfalls, and provide regular updates so you can monitor your business's performance.

Choosing a business structure

Deciding on the most appropriate structure for your business isn't necessarily straightforward. Sole traders, partnerships, limited companies and limited liability partnerships all have their own pros and cons, with different implications for control, perception, support and costs. For example, careful consideration is needed regarding whether or not to retain personal ownership of any freehold property on incorporation. We can help you to decide on the best structure for your business.

Deciding on a year end

It's also important to choose a year end that suits your business. Is there a time of year when it will be more convenient to close off your accounting records, ready for us? What time of year would be best for stock-taking? Is your trading seasonal? From a tax perspective, choosing a year end early in the tax year for an unincorporated business usually means that an increase in profits is more slowly reflected in an increased tax bill, and over time the delay between earning profits and paying the tax can create a source of working capital for the business. On the other hand, a decrease in profits will more slowly result in a lower tax bill. Speak to us for advice about choosing your year end.

Registering with HMRC

When you start a business, it is important to inform HMRC of your new self-employed status as soon as possible. If and when you take on employees you need to register for and set up a PAYE scheme and accept all the responsibilities and obligations that go with it, including compliance with Real Time Information reporting (and remember for this purpose you will most likely be an employee of your limited company, if you incorporate). You will also now have to comply with the pensions auto-enrolment obligations, although exemptions apply to director-only companies so do get in touch for advice in this area.

Please talk to us as soon as you envisage having employees so we can help you set up a PAYE scheme and comply with your payroll obligations, or take on the task on your behalf.

Starting a business - action plan

Prepare a robust business plan


Ensure that you have access to suitable funding


Check your right to use your chosen trading name


Choose the right business structure


Register with HMRC


Register for VAT


Register your business name  
Trade and professional registrations


Choose your year end


Plan to reduce your tax liability


Develop your branding


Involve the family


Plan to avoid fines and penalties


Claiming deductible expenses

As your accountants and tax advisers, our job is to help ensure that you benefit from all of the allowances and reliefs available to you. You will pay tax on your taxable profits, so a crucial element of tax planning is to claim all deductible expenses, many of which will be included in your accounting records.

If you are self-employed and carry on your business from home you can claim tax relief on part of your household expenses, including insurance, repairs and utilities. You may also be able to claim for the cost of travel and accommodation when you are working away from your main place of business, so you should keep adequate business records, such as a log of business journeys. In addition to ensuring that your accounts are accurate, these records may also be requested by HMRC. An appropriate computer package might be worth considering, to aid concise and effective record-keeping.

You may also wish to consider the voluntary cash basis for calculating taxable income for small businesses, which allows eligible self-employed individuals and partnerships to calculate their profits on the basis of the cash that passes through their business. Businesses are eligible if they have annual receipts of up to £83,000 and they will be able to continue to use the cash basis until receipts reach £166,000. This is something we should discuss with you in detail if you are eligible. Allowable payments include most purchases of plant and machinery, when paid, rather than claiming capital allowances.

Unincorporated businesses are able to choose to deduct certain expenses on a flat rate basis. However, this is worth discussing before opting for it, as the flat rates are not generous.

Claiming capital allowances

'Capital allowances' is the term used to describe the deduction we are able to claim on your behalf for expenditure on business equipment, in lieu of depreciation.

Annual Investment Allowance (AIA)

The maximum annual amount of the AIA has been set at a new permanent rate of £200,000 from 1 January 2016. This means up to £200,000 of the year's investment in plant and machinery, except for cars, is allowed at 100%. The AIA applies to businesses of any size and most business structures, but there are provisions to prevent multiple claims. Businesses are able to allocate their AIA in any way they wish; so it is quite acceptable for them to set their allowance against expenditure qualifying for a lower rate of allowances (such as integral features) - see more on this below.

Enhanced Capital Allowances (ECA)

In addition to the AIA, a 100% first year allowance is also available on new energy saving or environmentally friendly equipment. Where companies (only) have losses arising from ECAs, they may choose how much they wish to carry forward and how much they wish to surrender for a cash payment (tax credit is payable at 19% but subject to limits).

A separate ECA scheme is available for new electric and low carbon dioxide (CO2) emission (up to 75g/km) cars, new zero emissions goods vehicles (up to 31 March 2018 (corporates) or 5 April 2018 (others)). They still qualify for the 100% first year allowance, but do not qualify for the payable ECA regime.

Writing Down Allowance (WDA)

Any expenditure not covered by the AIA (or ECAs) enters either the main rate pool or the special rate pool, attracting WDA at the appropriate rate - 18% and 8% respectively. The special rate 8% pool applies to higher emission cars, long-life assets and integral features of buildings, specifically:

  • electrical systems (including lighting systems)
  • cold water systems
  • space or water heating systems, powered systems of ventilation, air cooling or purification and any floor or ceiling comprised in such systems
  • lifts, escalators and moving walkways
  • external solar shading.

For most other plant and equipment, including some cars (see below), the main rate applies.

A WDA of up to £1,000 may be claimed by businesses, where the unrelieved expenditure in the main pool or the special rate pool is £1,000 or less.

Enterprise Zones

The Enterprise Zones in assisted areas qualify for enhanced capital allowances. In these areas, 100% First Year Allowances will be available for expenditure incurred by trading companies on qualifying plant or machinery.


Currently for cars purchased with CO2 emissions exceeding 75g/km, the main rate of 18% applies. However, cars with CO2 emissions above 130g/km will be restricted to the special rate of 8%. For non-corporates, cars with a non-business use element continue to be dealt with in single asset pools, so the correct private use adjustments can be made but the rate of WDA will be determined by the car's CO2 emissions. Remember cars do not qualify for the AIA.


When a building is purchased for business use, capital allowances can be claimed on plant elements contained therein, eg. air conditioning, subject to certain conditions. A maximum 100% initial business premises renovation allowance is available for converting or renovating unused business premises within designated assisted areas, until 31 March 2017 for corporation tax and 5 April 2017 for income tax. Please contact us for further details. WDA of 25% (on a straight line basis) applies to expenditure on which an initial allowance is not claimed.

Research and Development (R&D) investment

Tax relief is available on R&D revenue expenditure at varying rates. The current rates of relief are as follows:

  • for small and medium-sized companies paying corporation tax at 20%, the effective rate of tax relief is 46% (that is a tax deduction of 230% on the expenditure). For small and medium-sized companies not yet in profit, the relief can be converted into a tax credit payment effectively worth 33.35% of the expenditure
  • for larger companies, the effective rate of relief is 26% (that is tax relief on 130% of the expenditure)
  • an alternative 11% 'Above the Line' (ATL) credit exists for large company R&D expenditure. The credit is fully payable, net of tax, to companies with no corporation tax liability. The ATL credit scheme was optional until it became mandatory on 1 April 2016
  • SMEs barred from claiming SME R&D tax credit by virtue of receiving some other form of state aid (usually a grant) for the same project will be able to claim the large company R&D tax credit. Therefore they will qualify for relief on 130% of their R&D expenditure. An SME may also be entitled to the large company R&D tax credit for certain work that has been subcontracted to it.

Bringing family members into the business

As long as it can be justified commercially, you can employ family members in your business. They can be remunerated with a salary, and possibly also with benefits such as a company car or medical insurance. You can also make payments into a registered pension scheme.

Family members may also be taken into partnership, thereby gaining more flexibility in profit allocation. Taking your non-minor children into partnership and gradually reducing your own involvement as their contribution increases can be a very tax-efficient way of passing on the family business. Of course, you should be aware that this could put your whole family wealth at risk, if the business were to fail.

It is worth noting that HMRC may challenge excessive remuneration packages or profit shares for family members, so seek our advice first. In most cases, if you operate your business through a trading limited company, under current tax law you can pass shares on to other family members and thus gradually transfer the business with no immediate tax liability.

However, a tax saving for the donor usually impacts on the donee, and you need to steer clear of the 'settlements legislation', so again, contact us for advice before taking any action.

Unincorporated businesses

Business profits are charged to income tax and Class 4 national insurance contributions (NICs) on the current year basis. This means that the profits 'taxed' for each tax year (ending 5 April) are those earned in the accounting period ending in the tax year.

For example, in the case of a sole trader who draws up his accounts to 31 July each year, his profits for the year ended 31 July 2016 will normally be taxed in 2016/17.

There are special rules for the early and final years of a business, and for partnership joiners and leavers.

Numerous 'fines' are being administered for those who fail to comply with the rules and regulations set by government departments. We have already mentioned income tax but other possible 'traps' to avoid are:

  • late VAT registration and late filing penalties
  • late payment penalties and interest
  • penalties for errors in returns
  • penalties for late PAYE returns
  • penalties for failing to operate a PAYE or sub-contractors scheme
  • penalties for failing to comply with pensions auto-enrolment regulations.

In order to help you to steer clear of these pitfalls, we must receive all of the details for your accounts and Tax Returns in good time, and be kept informed of any changes in your business, financial and personal circumstances.

Determining employment status

There is no statutory definition of 'employment' or 'self-employment', so determining whether someone is employed or self-employed is not straightforward.

Instead, HMRC applies a series of 'tests' in order to ascertain whether someone is classified correctly. As large amounts of both tax and NICs can be at stake, HMRC often takes quite an aggressive line with regard to this issue, and errors can be costly, so seeking advice that is tailored to your situation is essential. Please contact us for assistance in this matter.

Under the 'IR35' rules, companies and partnerships providing the personal services of the 'owners' of the business must consider each and every contract they enter into for the provision of personal services. The test is whether or not the contract is one which, had it been between the owner or partner and the customer, would have required the customer to treat the owner or partner as an employee and therefore be subject to PAYE.

The contract 'passes' if the owner/partner would have been classified as self-employed; it fails if the owner/partner would have been classified as an employee. If the contract 'fails', the business is required to account for PAYE and NICs on the 'deemed' employment income from the contract at the end of the tax year. This is done using specific rules. We can advise you about these, so please contact us for further information.

Whose risk?

If the question is whether an individual is an employee or self-employed, the risk lies with the 'engager' or payer - with a potential liability for the PAYE which should have been paid over without right of recourse to the 'employee'. If the question is whether or not IR35 applies, the question (and any liability due) is for the individual and his/her company (the payee). The position for individuals working through their own company in the public sector is to change from April 2017. The intention is that the public sector employer, agency, or third party that pays the worker's intermediary will have to decide if the IR35 rules apply to a contract, and if so, account for and pay the relevant tax and NICs.

Debtors and unbilled work

As explained above, small businesses may opt into the cash basis and calculate their profits on the basis of the cash passing through the business. However, it is a feature of the tax system that other businesses (including all corporates) must include in their turnover for the year the value of incomplete work, of unpaid bills (debtors) and of work completed but not yet billed, all as at the end of the year.

We will need to discuss with you exactly what needs to be identified and the basis of valuation. Keeping an eye on debtors and unbilled work is very important to your cash flow.

Limited companies

Forming a limited company may be a consideration if the limitation of liability is important, but it should be noted that banks and other creditors often require personal guarantees from directors for company borrowings.

Trading through a limited company can be an effective way of sheltering profits. Profits paid out in the form of salaries, bonuses, or dividends may be liable to top tax rates, whereas profits retained in the company will be taxed at 20%.

Funds retained by the company can be used to buy equipment or to provide for pensions - both of which can be eligible for tax relief. They could be used to fund dividends when profits are scarce (spreading income into years when you might be liable to a lower rate of income tax) or capitalised and potentially taxed at 10% and/or 20% on a liquidation or sale.

From April 2016, a new system of taxation applies to dividends and this has reduced the potential tax savings available. We would be happy to discuss the implications of incorporation with you, before you decide whether or not to incorporate your business.

National insurance contributions (NICs)

Leaving profits in the company may be tax-efficient, but you will of course need money to live on, so you should consider the best ways to extract profits from your business.

A salary will meet most of your needs, but you should not overlook the use of benefits, which could save income tax and could also result in a lower NIC liability.

Five NIC-saving strategies:

  1. Increasing the amount the employer contributes to company pension schemes. Care should be taken however as there are limits on the amount of pension contributions an individual can make both annually and over their lifetime
  2. Share incentive plans (shares bought out of pre-tax and pre-NIC income)
  3. For some companies, disincorporation and instead operating as a sole trader or partnership may be beneficial
  4. Instead of an increased salary, paying a bonus to reduce employee (not director) contributions
  5. Paying dividends instead of bonuses to owner-directors.

Increasing your net income as an owner-director

As an example, consider how much you might save if, as an owner-director, you wanted to extract £10,000 profit (pre-tax) your company makes in 2016/17 by way of a dividend rather than a bonus. We have assumed in this scenario that the director has already taken salary in excess of the upper earnings limit for NIC, is a 40% taxpayer, and the £5,000 dividend tax allowance has already been utilised.

Case study

As you can see in this case study, the net income is increased by 6% by opting to declare a dividend. Be sure to discuss this with us, as this is a complex area of tax law.


Bonus £
Dividend £
Profit to extract



Employers' NICs (13.8% on gross bonus)



Gross bonus



Corporation tax (20% - dividend is not deductible for corporation tax)






Employees' NICs (2% on gross bonus)



Income tax (40% on gross bonus)



Income tax on dividend



Net amount extracted



Remember that dividends are usually payable to all shareholders and are not earnings for pension contributions and certain other purposes. It is possible to waive dividends, although this can result in tax complications. Finally, you need to consider with us the effect of regular dividend payments on the valuation of shares in your company.

Preparing for the year end

Tax and financial planning should be undertaken before the end of your business year, rather than left until the end of the tax or financial year. Some of the issues to consider include:

  • the impact that accelerating expenditure into the current financial year, or deferring it into the next, might have on your tax position and financial results
  • making additional pension contributions or reviewing your pension arrangements
  • how you might take profits from your business at the smallest tax cost, and how the timing of payment of dividends and bonuses can reduce or defer tax
  • improvements to your billing systems and record keeping system, or a general review of your current systems to improve profitability and cash flow
  • national insurance efficiency and employee remuneration.

Avoiding late filing penalties

It is important to keep your tax affairs in order so that you avoid incurring any late filing penalties. The cut-off dates are shown in the calendar, but the current penalties are:

Return one day late


Return 3 months late

An additional £10 for each following day up to 90 days

Return 6 months late

Add £300 or 5% of the tax due

Return one year late

Add £300 or 5% of the tax due*

* In more serious cases, this penalty may be increased to 100% of the tax due.

The timetable for making tax payments is relatively straightforward for the self-employed:

  • 31 January in the tax year, first payment on account
  • 31 July after the tax year, second payment on account
  • 31 January after the tax year, balancing payment.

Again, a system of interest and penalties applies. For example, if any balance of tax due for 2015/16 is not paid within 30 days after 31 January 2017, HMRC will add a 5% late payment penalty as well as the interest that will be charged from 1 February 2017.

A further 5% penalty will be added to any 2015/16 tax unpaid after 31 July 2017, with a final 5% penalty added to any 2015/16 tax still unpaid after 31 January 2018. Interest is also charged on outstanding penalties, as well as on unpaid tax and NICs.

If your business is incorporated, it will be liable to corporation tax. Corporation tax is usually payable nine months and one day after the end of the company's accounting period.

If there are cash flow issues, HMRC might be persuaded to accept a spreading of your next business tax payment - you will have to pay interest at the HMRC rate, but keep to the agreed schedule and late payment penalties will be waived. Arrangements need to be put in place before the due date for paying the tax, so talk to us in good time if you wish to apply.

Payments on account

Payments on account are normally equal to 50% of the previous year's net liability. A claim can be made to reduce your payments on account, if appropriate, although interest will be charged if your actual liability is more than the reduced amount paid on account.

There is no equivalent mechanism to make increased payments on account when the year's tax will be higher, so you should ensure that you build a reserve of money to pay the balance of tax due.

Don't wait until it's too late if you have difficulties! Please tell us in good time about any issues facing your business, as we may be able to offer solutions.

Payments on account are not due where the relevant amount is less than £1,000 or if more than 80% of the total tax liability is met by income tax deducted at source. In these cases, the balance of tax due for the year, including capital gains tax, is payable on the 31 January following the end of the tax year.

Case Study

Raul is self-employed. His accounts are made up to 31 August each year. When we prepare the 2016 Return we will be including his profit for the year ended 31 August 2015, and that is the profit which will be taxed for 2015/16.

Raul's payments on account for 2016/17 will automatically be based on the 2015/16 liability.

Providing we know that Raul's profits for the year to 31 August 2016 are significantly less than the previous year, we can examine the figures, perhaps even prepare the annual accounts and, taking into account any other sources of taxable income, make a claim to reduce Raul's 2016/17 payments on account, easing his cash flow by reducing the tax payments due in January and July 2017.

Your next steps: contact us to discuss...

  • Starting up a new business
  • Raising finance for your venture
  • Timing capital and revenue expenditure to maximum tax advantage
  • Minimising employer and employee NIC costs
  • Improving profitability and developing a plan for tax-efficient profit extraction