Category Archives: Rants

Tax doesn’t have to be taxing

Readers of a certain age will recall the title of this piece was a slogan coined by Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs for an advertising campaign some years ago. They were trying to explain that dealing with your tax affairs needn’t be a complex thing—and to an extent, over the past few years or so, this has proved to be the case.

I am self-employed. I’m a sole trader. I have been such on and off for the past 16 years or so. As one of this growing band of entrepreneurs I must fill out a self-assessment tax form each year. Should I be so lucky as to have had a good financial year and ticked over the minimum income tax threshold, then I dutifully cough up what I owe—as well as half of what HMRC think I might owe next year. Don’t ask.

Anyway, the current bunch of cretins in charge of this fair country decided it would be a spiffing wheeze if we “hardworking” [sic] self-employed types should perform the annual tax return ritual four times a year. You can type the words “tax returns four times a year” into your preferred search engine to find any number of stories about it. Somewhat unsurprisingly, a lot of we “hardworking” [sic] self-employed types were a little upset by the notion, and an online petition was started. Of course I signed it.

Anyway, this last week the signatories received the following email from the Powers That Be:

The Government has responded to the petition you signed – “Scrap plans forcing self employed & small business to do 4 tax returns yearly”.

Government responded:

Making Tax Digital will not mean ‘four tax returns a year’. Quarterly updates will largely be a matter of checking data generated from record keeping software or apps and clicking ‘send’.

These reforms will not mean that businesses have to provide the equivalent of four tax returns every year. Updating HMRC through software or apps will deliver a light-touch process, much less burdensome and time-consuming than it is today.

At the March 2015 Budget the government committed to transform the tax system by introducing simple, secure and personalised digital tax accounts, removing the need for annual tax returns.

At the 2015 Spending Review the government announced it would invest £1.3bn in HMRC to make this vision a reality, transforming HMRC into one of the most digitally advanced tax administrations in the world.

One element of this vision will be asking most businesses, self-employed people and landlords to keep track of their tax affairs digitally and update HMRC at least quarterly via their digital tax account.

Many taxpayers have told HMRC that they want more certainty over their tax bill, and don’t want to wait until the end of the year, or even longer, before knowing where they stand with their taxes.

We also estimate that £6.5bn in tax goes unpaid every year because of mistakes made when filling in tax returns. These reforms will make it easier for taxpayers to maintain accurate and up-to-date tax affairs, reducing the scope for error.

With businesses keeping track of their tax affairs digitally, quarterly updates will be fundamentally different from filling out an annual tax return in a number of crucial respects:

  • Quarterly updates will not involve all the complexity of a full tax return. The updates will be generated from existing digital business records. In most cases, little or no further entry of information will be needed. It will be much quicker to complete than the current tax return.
  • As part of the process the business owner or individual will receive a developing in-year picture of their tax position, helping people have greater certainty about what they owe, allowing them to plan their finances more effectively. This differs from the current system where many taxpayers are caught out by their tax bill when it finally arrives.
  • In-year updates will not be subject to the same sanctions for lateness or inaccuracies as apply now to the year-end position. HMRC will consult during 2016 on what sanctions might be appropriate for a more digital tax administration.

The government has already announced that these measures will not apply to individuals in employment or pensioners, unless they have secondary incomes of more than £10,000 per year from self-employment or property.

The reforms will rely on businesses, self-employed people and landlords using software or apps that can connect securely to their digital tax account. The government will ensure that free products are available. The Gov.UK service will signpost taxpayers to the right product, with clear HMRC guidance about how to choose software.

HMRC will ensure support is available for people to get online if they need it. We will also provide alternatives for those who genuinely cannot use digital tools, like telephone filing. This will build on our Needs Extra Support service, which has gone from strength to strength in helping more vulnerable customers.

We’re introducing these reforms gradually. We’ve been in discussion with stakeholders since March 2015 and will be consulting on the details of the proposals throughout 2016.

We will use volunteers to test the new tools and processes and give us feedback. Quarterly updates will be introduced for some from 2018, and will be phased in fully by 2020, giving taxpayers time to adapt.

We want to work with all stakeholders to ensure these changes work for them. For more information about the proposed reforms please search for ‘Making Tax Digital’ on Gov.UK or use the following link:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/making-tax-digital

HMRC

That’s a lot of words effectively saying “stop your whinging and just get on with it”.

In case you glazed over, the important bit—for me at least—was this: “Making Tax Digital will not mean ‘four tax returns a year’. Quarterly updates will largely be a matter of checking data generated from record keeping software or apps and clicking ‘send’.“.

Oh, okay. So what they’re saying is I will have to actually start keeping proper accounts with proper software, rather than maintaining a simple spreadsheet and a box full of receipts which has hitherto been quite adequate. Am I expected to spend money on this software?

“The reforms will rely on businesses, self-employed people and landlords using software or apps that can connect securely to their digital tax account. The government will ensure that free products are available. The Gov.UK service will signpost taxpayers to the right product, with clear HMRC guidance about how to choose software.”

Fair enough, I suppose. However, this still expects me to sit down every bloody quarter and punch in some figures to an online account of my taxes. Just so you know, I haven’t managed earned enough to pay income tax for several years. I don’t find an annual return at all burdensome, and doesn’t actually take me more than a couple of hours with my accountant and about 20 minutes online to complete.

Incidentally, who are these “stakeholders” that have been consulted? I’ve not been asked my opinion on this.

Rather than cutting red tape and the burden of the state, this government seems intent on doing exactly the opposite. (Surprise!) Far from a “light touch” I think it’s going to cause more annoyance than anything else. I’ve got better things to be doing than submitting quarterly updates on my lack of tax-earning ability. Why the hell would I want to keep up with my tax affairs like that anyway?

I guess it’s going to happen whatever we do. My ranting about it isn’t going to change it, so in five years I shall be grumbling about it again as the free software fails to connect to my digital tax account for the umpteenth time because I haven’t updated it or because I’ve had to dig out an old PC to run it because Mac OS or iOS aren’t supported. My guess is it’ll be like every other government IT scheme. It’ll crash and burn, and cost billions to implement, saving nothing in the long run.

This rant is brought to you by HMRC’s web site’s failure to recognise Best Beloved’s online account this year, requiring a postal password reset because he doesn’t have a registered email address with the system. It bodes well, doesn’t it?

Nationalism: Nasty or Nice?

I’ve been mulling this post over for some time. I’ve been editing and re-editing, trying to put over what I have in my head. I may upset some readers. If that is the case, so be it. Sometimes, you have to say what you have to say.

It can’t have escaped attention—here in the UK, particularly—that a certain nationalist political party is beginning to make some headway in gaining parliamentary seats.

Let’s leave to one side the fact that both of the United Kingdom Independence Party’s seats have been gained by the sitting Conservative MP defecting to them, forcing a by-election, and being re-elected. Let’s also leave to one side the mainstream media’s fawning obsession with UKIP, because the blame for the party’s rise can be laid squarely at their feet, in my opinion.

A general disquiet and discontent about our elected representatives has been brewing since the global financial collapse of 2008, and the Westminster expenses scandal of 2010. I’m surprised it took so long, but the population in general has slowly woken up to the fact that MPs are out of touch with the real world, the world in which the rest of us live and work. While it’s always been an undercurrent—probably always has been, and probably always will be—the rise of UKIP has been mirroring a general feeling that someone or something else is to blame for all our ills.

UKIP began as a one trick party, its sole reason for existence was to push for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union. It gained some Euro MPs, a few English councillors, but never made much headway in parliamentary elections. Now it’s making a lot of noise, and has somehow transmogrified into a more acceptable version of the British National Party and English Defence League.

Instead of blaming the finance industry, which was truly the chief architect of our current financial woes, and which seems not to have learned from its mistakes at all, far more base instincts are being called upon. Immigrants, foreigners, the “others”—they are the ones we should, apparently be blaming for everything that’s wrong with our world.

There is now a lot of hand-wringing in Westminster, and the main parties have all lurched further to the right wing. They’ve done this in some mistaken belief they must be seen to be doing something about the root of all our ills. We are now in danger of losing sight of reality, as those who harbour frankly outright fascist views on anyone who isn’t “indigenous British” suddenly find they are being listened to by the Westminster elite.

The joke is UKIP is being put forward as a party that is different to the old guard. The fact that is it anything but seems to be completely ignored. The established parties, scared that their relevance is beginning to wane, are scrambling to out-UKIP UKIP, and anyone who has a clear head can only shake it in despair.

Who speaks for me? Who speaks for what may well be the vast majority of the population of this country? Right now, no-one. I would like to believe that a majority of the population in this country are like me. I don’t care about immigration, never have. I don’t think the EU is a monster we have to escape from. I think we have a moral duty to look after the disabled, the sick, the elderly, and I think we should encourage those who can afford it to pay more tax so we can rebuild the society our grandparents and great-grandparents forged after the Second World War.

Instead, we seem to be slipping back to the 1930s or earlier. Those who lurked in the shadows now feel they can come out and spout their hideous views without sanction. You can’t turn on the TV without seeing Nigel Farage, UKIP’s main spokeshole and leader, grinning out.

Tied to the renewed vigour of blatant racism seems to be a growth in the veneration of national symbols—not just flags, but also things like the poppy. Every November we are encouraged to support the Poppy Appeal, and to observe the act of remembrance, respecting the dead of many conflicts since the armistice of 1918. Somehow, since western powers bombed and invaded numerous Middle Eastern countries on some spurious pretext of fighting “wars on terror”, this annual act of remembrance has been co-opted into some quasi-religious festival of honour. To be seen in public without wearing a poppy is seen as something sacrilegious. Those who might prefer not to buy into poppy worship are vilified, while politicians and public figures try to out-poppy each other to show how well they remember the fallen. It’s become a paper flower circus.

The same thing is happening with the English flag—the red cross on a white background, the cross of St George. We have become accustomed to seeing these flags sprouting on cars, vans and houses during sporting events where the national teams are playing. You can probably picture the kind of person who happily proclaims their nationality by such displays. These are the same kind of person which support the likes of the English Defence League, the British National Party, Britain First, and UKIP.

I can’t help thinking these nationalistic attitudes can only lead us backwards, not forwards. As a nation, we seem to want to draw into ourselves, pull up the drawbridge and to hell with anything “other”. We want to blame everyone else for our problems.

I am happy to be proud of my country. I am British first, English second, and a European third. One of my grandfathers was from the Republic of Ireland, an immigrant who came to the UK to work and make a better life for himself. It seems likely that the other side of my family may have arrived from France several hundred years ago. I have no issue with people of other nationalities arriving here to do the same. I am proud of what my country has done, what its inventors, scientists and artists have created. There is nothing wrong with pride in where you live.

When you stop being parochial, you realise we all, whatever our colour or creed, live on a small rock, orbiting an unremarkable star. I wish we could all just get over our petty obsessions with race, colour, religion, borders and lusting after natural resources and just live happily together. Regrettably, it seems it will be some time yet before human beings learn to do that, if we ever do.

I think I’m getting too old for this

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I’ve been holding off updating my desktop Mac’s operating system for ages. This was partly inertia, partly “if it ain’t broke”, partly worries over an incompatibility with some hardware management software.

Having got an iPad, though, I eventually found my lack of interest in updating the OS was leading to incompatibilities. I couldn’t sync properly, and some of the apps I use were being updated but not supported on the otherwise happily working OS. Also, a new version of the OS will be with us quite soon.

I’d sort of made up my mind about how to do the upgrades a few weeks ago. I began the process of migrating photo libraries, and then forgot about the upgrade! This weekend, the news broke that my preferred photo management and editing software, Aperture, was no longer going to be developed by Apple.

My hand was being forced. I took the plunge. Better to be as up-to-date as possible, making a potential switch to new software less painful down the line.

As I type, a great chunk of iMovie updates are downloading. Numbers, Pages, iPhoto and Aperture all wait in the queue. Then another ton of OS patches.

If I am lucky, I’ll get to see if the hardware drive management software will be compatible after all. If it’s not, then the drive gets reformatted to Apple standards.

I’m getting too old for all this. Gone are the days when I wanted to be at the bleeding edge. I much prefer the comfortable, if worn out, slippers to the shiny, new, but toe-pinching ones everyone else is wearing!

I hate being ill

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I do so hate being ill.

As a general rule, I’m usually in rude health for most of the time. Sadly, I managed to collect a particularly insidious little cold virus over the weekend. It has contrived to give me a tickly throat, then sniffles, then sneezes, and now insists on producing copious amounts of mucus.

I wouldn’t mind, but the currently affected nostril—it’s never both together, have you ever noticed?—has been contrived to be impossible to clear by blowing, and lets me know it needs more of my precious time by gently letting snot drip down my upper lip.

Ick.

This time last year, the world threw a particular doozy at me. Aside from the usual symptoms, including two days in actual bed with a fever, that particular little bug made me deaf. My ears are still not quite right even now.

We are going away for a few days. It looks like a couple of them will be spent fighting off this cold. Nice.

How about it, Science? Forget feeding the world, forget climate change, forget creating thorium nuclear energy—oh, wait, sorry. You’d already forgotten that one. How about throwing some resources at finding a cure for the common cold?

I’m joking, of course. The common cold virus mutates so quickly it will probably be impossible to find a vaccine for it. Shame.

They really ought to know better

For some time, there has been an Americanism that’s been slowly but steadily infecting our language.

Screen Shot 2014-04-06 at 09.30.22

Can you spot it?

For some reason, the meaning of the word “anniversary” has been lost while travelling across the Atlantic Ocean. The fact that the advertising company for the Historic Royal Palaces got it wrong—never mind no-one at the HRP spotted it—gives me cause for concern.

I blame Americans for this idiocy. We gifted them a language, and they have been subverting is ever since. I can forgive some language shifts, but trumpeting a 300 year anniversary really annoys me.

It ought to be 300th anniversary. Or 300 years since a German took the throne in England. Not a 300 year anniversary. Anniversary means “returning yearly”. It’s in the word. What the Americans have given us is a tautology.

Rant over… for now.

I just want to talk to a human

I received a letter from my bank this morning. They appeared to be under the misapprehension I earn a fair salary, and they wanted to let me know my account would be changing from “current account” to “bank account”.

Yes, you read that correctly. A “bank account”. From a current account. A current account will change to being a bank account. I’m now almost confused as my bank appears to be.

What benefit this change would be to me was not immediately apparent. I would seem to retain the same services I already use, plus access to a high interest savings account, and some app to let me get real time balances and statements on my phone.

Great. That’s impressive.

There’s a phone number I could call to let the bank know I might not want this fantastic upgrade to my account. They called it an upgrade, yet it doesn’t seem to be any different to the account I already own, save they expect me to maintain the supposedly high level of income that prompted the original change. Some chance of that.

I picked up the phone, and immediately hit the problem that I don’t use phone banking and don’t recall the last time I had to set up a security number, or even what that number might have been. Of course, I got through the early bits about sort codes, account numbers and dates of birth, but stalled at the security number. There was no option to bypass the automated system to talk to a human being.

I hung up in disgust. I tried to find out if I could sort this out through my internet banking, but there’s not a clue about the impending upgrade there. Back on the blower.

This time, because I earlier punched incorrect numbers in at the security number stage in a failed attempt to attract the attention of a real human being, I was told the number I can’t remember was locked “for my security”. I was transferred to—a human being!

Why, for the love of Bob, couldn’t I do that from the top of the pyramid?

Anyway, we began the process of sorting things out. Hang on, I’m to be transferred where to do what? I don’t want a security number. I don’t do phone banking. I began to rant. I just wanted to deal with this impending change, not set up a system I will never use. I do use the internet banking occasionally, but mostly I smile and pass the time of day with real human beings in my local bank branch. I just wanted to talk to someone to stop this account change, please.

On hold—having been warned not to hang up while on hold. Rubbish music. Obviously some discussion was going on wherever on the planet the phone system is currently operated from about this annoyed (and annoying) customer.

The minutes ticked by.  Ice ages came and went. God got older.

Finally, I was passed on to a lovely chirpy Scottish lady, who dealt with my issue in about ten seconds. I’ve been on the bloody phone for nearly ten minutes, for crying out loud! It’s been costing me money!

Anyway, it’s all sorted now. I am writing it up to lower my blood pressure. All this frustration because I choose not to use phone banking, and therefore don’t have some stupid security number. Is it beyond the realms of reality for the system to let a caller choose to speak to a human being from the start? Really?

Braying scum | It’s not the despair

This is our parliament. These are the people we have elected to serve our interests, and they spend their lives wasting that opportunity by bellowing, growling and making animal noises at each other. They shout, they interrupt, they refuse to shut up, they act like a pack of chimps. No, not like a pack of chimps. More unruly, more vile, more deliberate, more malicious, more unpleasant. It’s an insult to animals to compare these people to animals.

via Braying scum | It’s not the despair.

I couldn’t put it better. Remember, these people work for us.

(In case you missed it, this is about the behaviour of MPs in the House of Commons today.)

The cutesification of everything makes me want to strangle an elf

Until recently, the increasing cutesification of society has been relatively easy to ignore. Experience has taught me that reading the product description on the back of an Innocent smoothie—essentially an In the Night Garden script about fruit—will cause me to involuntarily clench my fist so hard that I’ll cover myself in apple pulp. Similarly I know that I cant use Aussie shampoo, or see a bag of Percy Pigs, or watch any advert where a woman with the voice of a three-year-old sings a twee ukulele version of a song I used to like, because I’ll end up curled tight into the foetal position, shivering and weeping into my fists for days. I know this.

via The cutesification of everything makes me want to strangle an elf | Stuart Heritage | Comment is free | The Guardian.

What a brilliant rant for a Monday morning.

Another update? So soon?

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Every other day, or so it seems, there’s an update to Adobe Flash Player. Yet more bug fixes and security loopholes patched up.  I don’t let it update automatically, much preferring to wait until something useful bugs me about updating. What makes me chuckle, though, is the desperation exhibited by the download screen.

“Did you know…” is simpers, and then proceeds to tell me about games I never play on Facebook (I’ve actually blocked them), video sites that use Flash (only when I let them) and how many “connected PCs” have the bloatware installed (presumably so they can spread malware and viruses more easily).

When movement and animation on a web page was new and exciting I was a big fan of what was then Macromedia Flash. It was a powerful vector-based animation system, which allowed you to build in interactivity and fun to a web site. I never fully mastered the software, and used it for stupid things like animated GIFs and annoying splash screens.

Then Adobe acquired Macromedia, and killed off their arch rival illustration package FreeHand. Around the same time, I began to wonder why some web sites would cause my Mac’s processing to bog down, setting the otherwise mostly dormant cooling fans to hit warp factor nine.

On investigation, it turned out to be the Flash Player plugin. It turned out the player was running banner ads, and nothing actually useful. Flash Player was a complete resource hog, and was being used to drain my laptop’s battery while selling me crap I didn’t want. Best of all, though, were the magical ballooning adverts that suddenly zoomed over to block the actual content I was reading simply because my mouse cursor strayed nearby. Oh, they were the best, no doubt about it. I lost count of how many mousemats I chewed through in my frustration over those.

I installed a Flash blocker in my browser, and browsing became a much more pleasurable pastime once more. I realise that many of the free sites I use have to sell advertising in order for them to remain free for people like me to use, but there has to be a point when the benefit of advertising is outweighed by the sheer annoyance they cause. It’s amazing what a quiet place the World Wide Web can be when you’re not bombarded by buzzing and rolling adverts all the time.

Of course, once Flash is blocked, you realise just how insidious it has become. Uploading some photos to Facebook, for example, uses Flash to allow multiple uploads. This is same on one forum I frequent. If I don’t allow Flash to run, I have to upload one photo at a time, which is a bit tedious. Some sites still insist on Flash—well, at least it’s not Flash’s drunken cousin Silverlight; let’s not even go to that particular hell—in order to play video. Some sites play nicely and will serve up a lovely HTML5 compliant video, but others resist, like a cat that really doesn’t want to be removed from your lap even though you are desperate to get to the bathroom. If Flash is required to view a video, it really has to be a good video to make me let the Player to run. Otherwise, I’m out of there.

There’s also Flash’s younger brother, Adobe Air. You’ll have come across this if you use the BBC’s iPlayer download thing on your computer. I’ve now banished Air from my systems, but when I thought it was worth keeping around, like Flash it was updated virtually every time I ran it. No more. Now, I can access iPlayer through my telly.

I long for the day when Flash and its band of ne’erdowell relatives disappear into Silicon Heaven.