Student tax scam warning

HMRC is warning new students starting university that they could be targeted by scammers trying to steal their money and personal details. As new students start the academic year, they can be particularly vulnerable to tax scams. This is especially prevalent if they have a part-time job and are new to interacting with HMRC. This year, there is a significant increase in the numbers of students attending university and means that more young people may choose to take on part-time work. 

Many tax scams are directly targeting university students. Fraudulent emails and texts will regularly include links which take students to websites where their information can be stolen. Between April and May this year, 18- to 24-year olds reported more than 5,000 phone scams to HMRC.

These scams often offer fake tax refunds which HMRC does not offer by SMS or email.  Students can also be approached to act as ‘money mules’, with offers of various rewards for transferring funds through their own, genuine financial accounts, inadvertently laundering criminal funds.

Commenting on the warning, HMRC’s Head of Cyber Security Operations at HMRC, said: 

‘Our advice is to be wary if you are contacted out of the blue by someone asking for money or personal information. We see high numbers of fraudsters contacting people claiming to be from HMRC. If in doubt, our advice is – do not reply directly to anything suspicious, but contact HMRC through GOV.UK straight away and search GOV.UK for HMRC scams’ .

Government announces winter COVID plan

The Prime Minister, Boris Johnson has set out the government’s autumn and winter plan for managing Covid. 

The government is aiming to sustain the progress made and prepare the country for future challenges, while ensuring the National Health Service (NHS) does not come under unsustainable pressure.

The government plans to achieve this by:

  • Building our defences through pharmaceutical interventions: vaccines, antivirals and disease modifying therapeutics.
  • Identifying and isolating positive cases to limit transmission: Test, Trace and Isolate.
  • Supporting the NHS and social care: managing pressures and recovering services.
  • Advising people on how to protect themselves and others: clear guidance and communications.
  • Pursuing an international approach: helping to vaccinate the world and managing risks at the border.

This is known as Plan A. There are of course a number of variables that could change the expected outlook including the outbreak of new variants and other seasonal respiratory diseases such as the flu.

If the data suggests the NHS is likely to come under unsustainable pressure, the government has prepared a Plan B for England. It is hoped that this plan will not be required but the plan contains certain measures which can help control transmission of the virus while seeking to minimise economic and social impacts. 

This includes:

  • Communicating clearly and urgently to the public that the level of risk has increased, and with it the need to behave more cautiously.
  • Introducing mandatory vaccine-only COVID-status certification in certain settings.
  • Legally mandating face coverings in certain settings.

Budget date announced

The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak has confirmed that the next UK Budget will take place on Wednesday, 27 October 2021. This will be the Chancellor’s third Budget and the first one to revert back to the Autumn Budget schedule that was interrupted first by Brexit related issues and then by the coronavirus pandemic. It means that this year, 2021, will see 2 Budget’s the first that took place in March and the second that has been scheduled for October.  

Details of all the Budget announcements will be made on a special section of the GOV.UK website which will be updated following completion of the Chancellor’s speech in October.

The Budget will be published alongside the latest forecasts from the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR). The OBR has executive responsibility for producing the official UK economic and fiscal forecasts, evaluating the government’s performance against its fiscal targets, assessing the sustainability of and risks to the public finances and scrutinising government tax and welfare spending.

The Chancellor also confirmed that the 27 October 2021 will also see the government spending plans set out under the Spending Review 2021. The three-year review will set UK government departments’ resource and capital budgets for 2022-23 to 2024-25 and the devolved administrations’ block grants for the same period.

Capped social care costs from October 2023

The government has announced new plans to cap social care costs in England from October 2023. This change is expected to see the introduction of a new £86,000 cap on care costs across an individual’s lifetime.

There will also be the following measures of financial assistance for those without substantial assets:

  • Anyone with less than £20,000 of assets will not have to pay anything towards their care from their savings or the value of their home.
  • People with between £20,000 and £100,000 of assets will be eligible for some means-tested financial support on a sliding scale. 
  • The new upper capital limit of £100,000 is more than four times the current limit of £23,250. This means more people will be eligible for some means-tested Local Authority support.

If someone’s assets are over £100,000 then full fees must be paid. However, the maximum that a person will have to pay over their lifetime towards personal care costs will be £86,000 as a result of the new cap. If the payment of these fees means that their remaining assets fall below £100,000 then some further financial support should be available. Once the £86,000 cap is reached, Local Authorities will pay for all eligible personal care costs.

Individuals may choose to “top up” their care costs by paying the difference towards a more expensive service, but this will not count towards the cap. There is also an important exception for ‘living costs’ which could amount to additional significant costs. There will be a lot more detail on these changes to come and of course the old limits will continue for the next 2 years, and any monies paid will not be part of the new cap. 

Child benefit when child turns 16

Taxpayers entitled to the child benefit should be aware that HMRC usually stop paying child benefit on the 31 August on or after a child’s 16th Birthday. Under qualifying circumstances, the child benefit can continue until a child reaches their 20th birthday. A qualifying young person is someone aged 16,17, 18 or 19 in full time non-advanced education or in approved training.

Some examples of full-time non-advanced education are:

  • A levels and other general academic qualifications of a similar standard, for example, Pre-U and the International Baccalaureate
  • T levels
  • Scottish Highers
  • NVQs and other vocational qualifications up to level 3
  • home education – if it started before your child turned 16 or after 16 if they have special needs
  • traineeships in England

A child would not qualify if entering advanced education such as a university degree or BTEC Higher National Certificate.

Approved training should be unpaid and can include:

  • Foundation Apprenticeships or Traineeships in Wales
  • Employability Fund programmes in Scotland
  • PEACE IV Children and Young People 2.1, Training for Success, or Skills for Life and Work in Northern Ireland

Any parents with children that remain in approved education or training should contact the child benefit office to ensure they continue receiving the child benefit payments to which they are entitled. No child benefit is payable after a young person reaches the age of 20 years.

The weekly rates of child benefit for the only or eldest child in a family is currently £21.05 and the weekly rate for all other children is £13.95.

How to deal with tax appeals

There are a number of options open to taxpayers who disagree with a tax decision issued by HMRC. It is important to note that not all decisions by HMRC can be appealed against. There is normally a 30-day deadline for making a claim, so time is of the essence.

If you or your business have been affected by the coronavirus outbreak, the time limit has been extended. HMRC will give you an extra 3 months to appeal. You should still send your appeal as soon as you can, and explain the delay is because of coronavirus.

The case worker, who made the decision, will look at your case again and consider your appeal. If there is no change, HMRC will then carry out a review using HMRC officers that were not involved in the original decision. A response to an appeal is usually made within 45 days, but can take longer if a complex issue.

If a taxpayer does not want a review or disagrees with the review, they can either appeal to the independent tax tribunal or use the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) process. The ADR uses independent HMRC facilitators to help resolve disputes between HMRC and taxpayer. The use of the ADR seeks to find a fair and quick outcome for both parties, helping to reduce costs and avoid a tribunal case. 

Postmasters’ bankruptcies reviewed

The recent Court of Appeal and Crown Court decisions to quash the convictions of many former postmasters was widely welcomed. The Courts found that the original convictions were based on evidence from the Post Office’s Horizon IT system which has now been found to be unreliable.

These cases caused an enormous miscarriage of justice affecting postmasters across the UK. The impact of this debacle resulted in many postmasters losing their jobs, going bankrupt and in some cases being sent to prison or taking their own lives. 

A new press release from the Insolvency Service is seeking information from postmasters who believe they may have been made bankrupt due to the Horizon IT system. This relates to cases where postmasters were made bankrupt by the Post Office Limited and also where postmasters may have petitioned for their own bankruptcy or made a bankruptcy application to the Office of the Adjudicator.

The Official Receiver, acting as the Trustee/Trustee ex-officio in bankruptcy, is now undertaking enquiries to identify these cases and investigate whether these bankruptcy orders should be reviewed. Anyone affected by the Horizon discrepancies are being asked to contact the Insolvency Service in the first instance.

Card security update

VISA have issued information regarding changes to card processing security from September 2021. The idea is to reduce online fraud.

The changes will apply across Europe. A key part of the new security arrangements is the requirement for Strong Customer Authentication (SCA). This means you may be asked to provide additional information when making some purchases.

In their update VISA said:

Banks are introducing these new security measures for Visa cardholders who shop online or make contactless payments. This will help them ensure only you can use your Visa and give you even more confidence and protection when paying with Visa.

  • Online: You may have to enter a passcode, which would be sent to your mobile phone or landline or authenticate your payment in another way, depending on how your Visa Card issuing bank has implemented the new security measures.
  • In-store: For contactless purchases, you may be asked to enter your PIN more often.

You may be asked to take an additional security step to confirm you are you when making a payment using your banks’ chosen authentication method. Your bank will have informed you by now on how to do this. If they have not, please contact your bank.

Hopefully, this will give us even more confidence and protection when paying with a credit card, as all card issuers will need to mirror Visa’s changes to maintain a level, secure playing field.

Stage 4 COVID roadmap implemented 19th July

The Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, spoke to the nation and confirmed that the vaccines have significantly weakened the link between coronavirus cases and hospitalisations and deaths. This has allowed the government to confirm that many COVID restrictions will be lifted in England on 19 July, known as Freedom Day. 

The main changes will see an end to social distancing, facemasks will no longer be mandatory, and the opening of all venues currently closed with no capacity limits. The Prime Minister stressed that whilst many official restrictions will be removed it is expected that we will exercise our own personal judgement regarding precautions we should continue to take. 

The press release from the Prime Minister’s office stated: 

'Limits on social contact will end, meaning there will be no restrictions on indoor or outdoor gatherings. Weddings, funerals and other life events able to take place without limits or restrictions.

All venues currently closed will be allowed to reopen, including nightclubs, and there will be no legal requirement for table service in hospitality settings.

Face coverings will no longer be legally required in shops, schools, hospitality, or on public transport although guidance will be in place to suggest where people might choose to wear one, such as where you come into contact with people you don’t usually meet in enclosed and crowded places.'

There are also expected to be changes to the requirement for fully vaccinated people to have to self-isolate if they are identified as having been in contact with someone who tested positive.

Relaxing restrictions as case numbers continue to climb is no doubt a risky move. It will be interesting to see if the public accept personal responsibility in dealing with the pandemic or if restrictions will need to be reintroduced at some future date.

OTS – making better use of third party data

The Office of Tax Simplification (OTS) was established in July 2010, to provide advice to the Chancellor on simplifying the UK tax system. The OTS has recently published a new report titled ‘Making better use of third-party data: a vision for the future’. The report sets out proposals for making better use of data held by third parties, such as reporting interest on savings and investments from banks directly to HMRC. 

Commenting on the report, the OTS Tax Director said:

‘The report considers the kinds of tax data individuals could find it helpful for third parties to automatically transfer to HMRC, and how this might best be embedded into the next stage of its work on the Single Customer Account.’

The report encourages the government to explore further and take forward this agenda, and to:

  • ensure that data reported to HMRC by third parties is visible to taxpayers and their agents through the forthcoming Single Customer Account, and used to update tax codes and support the completion of individuals’ tax returns
  • set out a clear roadmap of the stages through which changes would be consulted on and made
  • consider the most effective choice of unique identifier to enable third party data to be readily and accurately matched with HMRC’s taxpayer records
  • consult widely on the balance of responsibilities as between data providers, software providers, agents, taxpayers and HMRC
  • ensure that HMRC have the necessary funding.