The Budget and small business

By Ken Maggs, Moore Thompson

There were a number of announcements in last week’s Budget that will affect small business owners, contractors and sole traders, from the extension of Entrepreneurs’ Relief to a decrease in Capital Gains Tax (CGT).

The extension of Entrepreneurs’ Tax relief means that entrepreneurs will be able to access a 10 per cent rate of capital gains tax on newly issued shares in unlisted companies purchased on or after 17 March 2016, provided they are held for a minimum of three years from 6 April 2016. These will be subject to a separate lifetime limit of £10 million of gains.

The Government will also allow entrepreneur’s relief to be claimed on the disposal of privately held-business assets to a family member, and will allow more relief in joint ventures and partnerships where the existing 5 per cent minimum holding conditions are not satisfied.

In addition, the rate of CGT has been reduced from 28 per cent to 20 per cent for higher rate taxpayers. The rate for basic rate band taxpayers will change from 18 per cent to 10 per cent. While this does not apply to gains made on the disposal of residential properties, for those looking to close their company, a capital distribution will be more tax efficient than an income distribution, or dividend, even in cases where Entrepreneurs’ Relief cannot be claimed.

Small firms are also delighted that almost all the recommendations made by the Office for Tax Simplification (OTS) have been adopted by the Chancellor, with others still to be discussed. These include an investment of £71m to make it quicker and easier for small businesses to deal with HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) and a proposal for an asset protection model for the self-employed.

 

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Posted in Tax

10 smart online marketing tips for small businesses

If you run a small business, the chances are high that your marketing budget is limited at best. To help you make the most of your money and place your attention where you’ll see the best return on your investment, we’ve put together ten tips that you can action straight away.

1. Know your goals

One of the big mistakes businesses make is to carry out ‘spray and pray’ marketing where they aim at everyone and everything, and try to achieve something, without really knowing what that something is. With each marketing activity you carry out, it’s best to start with a single goal, whether it’s driving more traffic to your website or securing more sales of a particular product.

2. Know your target audience

We see it all the time but as well as knowing what you want your marketing to achieve, it’s important to figure out who you’re aiming it at. When you understand the typical person in your target audience, you can talk to them and encourage specific people to become customers.

3. Audit your website content

If you wrote your own website copy, you may need to take a step back to see how it can be improved. Are you talking about ‘we’, ‘me’, ‘I’, and ‘our’ all the time or are you talking directly to your customers, using ‘you’ and ‘your’ to reach out to them? Marketing copy should always put the customer centre stage.

Trying asking the following questions about your website content to:

  • Does each page have a unique focus and message?
  • Is the navigation clear?
  • Is there a call to action on each page?
  • Does your website offer value to your customers?
  • Does your content reflect your goals?
  • When was the last time you added fresh content to your website?

4. Spring clean your SEO

Search engine optimisation can feel overwhelming to small businesses as it feels as though the rules are changing all the time. The best thing you can do for your organic SEO is to create a website that’s entirely focused on giving value to your customers.

Other steps can help to drive traffic to your site though and make a good first impression. This includes:

  • Making sure the SEO <title> tag for each page is unique, less than 55-60 characters and contains your primary keyword for the page.
  • Creating a compelling and unique meta description for each page that is fewer than 155 characters and includes the primary keyword for your page.
  • Making sure that your main headings have an H1 tag.
  • Adding alt tags to your images (preferably with at least one per page including your primary keyword).
  • Adding internal links to related articles.
  • Adding Schema markup to your website copy.
  • Checking your website’s page speed insights and correcting any problems.

Baffled by SEO? Check out the Moz Beginners Guide to SEO.

5. Start using Google Analytics

The single biggest mistakes many small businesses make is to neglect to measure the success of their marketing activities. By tracking your conversion rates – i.e. how many click throughs to your website are turning into sales – you can figure out which marketing activities are the most cost effective.

Google Analytics is a good place to start as it gives you a massive selection of information about how people are behaving on your website, including where they come in (and where from), where they go, and where they leave. Google Search Console (previously Google Webmaster Tools) is fantastic too.

6. Track where phone calls are coming from

If you decide to run a campaign to encourage phone calls, it’s a good idea to use a tracked phone number that will let you monitor where calls are coming from. Services such as HostedNumbers.com can help with this.

7. Add your business to free local directories

If you run a bricks and mortar business that relies on local footfall, then adding your company to good local directories can be a successful marketing avenue. Since Google Pigeon, Google tends to prioritise local businesses with a strong presence in local directories. Just make sure that you list the same contact details and use the same name in all directories, so that you create a consistent presence.

8. Do some mystery shopping

While we would never recommend trying to be a carbon copy of your competitors, it doesn’t hurt to check out what they’re up to from time to time.

  • What keywords are they using to attract new customers? You can find out by using the free Moz toolbar to check any website’s meta data.
  • What are they doing and saying?
  • What offers are they running?
  • How are they differentiating themselves from their competitors?
  • How are they using social media?

9. Start blogging

There are lots of benefits associated with blogging regularly. Not only is a blog fresh content for search engines to index, but each new article is also a fresh reason to contact your customers via your newsletter, something to share to social media, a way to build your authority and showcase your knowledge, and a way to give extra value to your customers.

10. Use videos on social media and/or your website

Video is a great way to show the people behind your business and to connect with potential customers. Even a two-minute video giving advice to your customers could be a surprisingly easy way to add value and stand out from your competitors. Video is also a great way to show your products in use or demonstrate your services. You don’t have to spend a fortune on production – many people within small businesses record themselves on their phones or tablets and share straight to social media.

So there you have it – our ten smart online marketing tips for small businesses. What one of these do you think you would find easier to action today? Let us know how you get on! If you’ve found it useful, we’d love it if you would hit the share buttons and spread the word. It only takes a second but it means a lot.

 

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Payroll tax abusers – Taxman nets £500m

By Ken Maggs, Moore Thompson

The taxman collected £5224.6m through its investigations into payroll tax abusers between 2014 and 2015, mainly through the clampdown on so-called ‘umbrella companies’ that employ contract workers.

These umbrella companies often use complex structures to minimise PAYE and National Insurance Contributions (NICs) for their clients by employing them directly and paying them as employees, or, on occasion as self-employed.

As HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) points out, although many of these companies operate within the law, some use the structures to disguise self-employment and avoid paying the correct amount of tax by abusing the travel and subsistence tax reliefs that are currently available to contract workers.

In addition, some of these firms pay their contractors the national minimum wage and then supplement their income by paying inflated travel and subsistence allowances or other benefits under salary sacrifice arrangements, which significantly reduces the amount of tax and NICs that should go to the taxman.

However, there are concerns that HMRC’s continued clampdown on umbrella companies could put law-abiding firms at risk, making it harder for them to carry on working, with the result that the entire industry could be facing a bleak future.

In fact, according to construction union Ucatt, the policy change introduced by HMRC from April this year could cost around £3,000 per contractor. The change relates to the tax treatment of employees of umbrella companies, which HMRC maintains will cost them around £360 per person. However, a recent case study undertaken by the union shows a different picture.

It gives the example of a construction worker employed by an umbrella company with £144 per week of travel expenses. Under the new law, the expenses will be taxed at 45 per cent (20 per cent income tax plus both employees’ and employers’ NICs), which will mean a loss of £3,369 per year.

 

 

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Why outsourcing your IT support could help you take your business to the next level

By Pav Patel, One Source Communications

Many small and medium-sized businesses face a dilemma – should they outsource their IT support on an ongoing basis, bring someone in-house, or simply wing it and seek an expert when something goes wrong?

Understandably, one of the biggest factors that influences this decision is price. What is most cost effective for the business?

While many businesses decide to cross their fingers and hope that nothing goes wrong, this can turn out to be a false economy. In this week’s blog, we’re looking at reasons why outsourcing your IT support could take your business to the next level.

  • You can prevent problems before they occur

Computers are designed to make our lives easier….until something goes wrong. Computer problems, whether to do with your software, hardware or network, can turn what should have been a straightforward day into a nightmare with loads of lost time, lost business and unhappy customers.

When you outsource your IT, you can regularly schedule onsite visits by one or more IT professionals to make sure everything’s running smoothly and identify potential problems before they occur.

Here at One Source Communications, our IT specialists work through a meticulous maintenance checklist, and will check that all of your licenses and documentation are up-to-date. This includes server and workstation maintenance and troubleshooting, virus protection, and system updates, and means that you can continue to deliver a consistent service to your clients.

  • You will have an IT infrastructure that will serve your business now and in the future

When you work with an external company for your IT support and/or telecoms need, they may be able to suggest IT solutions for your company that you didn’t know existed.

It’s important to understand your business goals and to create an IT infrastructure that not only has the capacity to support your business where it is now but to grow to where you want it to be in the future.

Having support from an external company can give you a wider perspective and the input of IT professionals with different areas of expertise.

Want to know about cloud-based solutions, security, back-up options and more? An IT support company like One Source Communications will be able advise you.

  • You will be able to get support when you need it

Another benefit of outsourcing your IT support to an external company is that, in the event of an emergency, you will be able to call on help and even get advice 24/7/365. Most external IT support firms employ multiple IT professionals to be able to guarantee consistent support and a rapid emergency response time.

You may even find that a crisis can be averted by talking to an experienced IT professional over the phone who can walk you through some basic checks and troubleshooting. If they do still need to come to your site, they’ll know what you’ve already tried.

When you outsource your IT support, you don’t have to worry that your IT team are sick or on holiday as someone will always be available. Outsourcing also gives you the flexibility to use more support during business times or during specific projects and upgrades, or less support during slow times.

  • Outsourcing your IT support may be more affordable than you think

If you employ IT staff in-house, you are responsible for the costs associated with the interviewing process, payroll, tax, pensions, holiday pay, sickness pay, maternity pay, training costs and more.

However, when you outsource your IT support, these costs are taken care of by the IT support company, who will also manage things like performance reviews, training, background checks, and so on.

Instead, you will pay for the IT support you need, usually as a monthly fee. This lets you plan your budget in advance with none of the pressures of being an employer. At One Source Communications, we offer a choice of IT support plans to help you access the services you need at a price you can afford.

  • You’ll have quality assurance and a satisfaction guarantee

Most IT support companies will have strict procedures in place to ensure that your computers, software and network are maintained to high standards, following industry best practice and Microsoft standards, for example.

You should also receive documentation of your network and support visits with the opportunity to review your IT infrastructure and the support service at regular intervals. Most companies will also offer quality assurance and a satisfaction guarantee.

  • It’s good for your business

With the reassurance of knowing that your IT systems are exactly what your business needs to function and grow, and that downtime should be cut to a minimum, you can spend more time working on rather than in your business, looking at the big picture stuff that’s necessary to grow. You may be able to offer your customers better solutions or a more enjoyable experience of buying from you, all of which will help to generate good will, repeat custom, and take your business to the next level.

If you would like to know more about our IT support services and how One Source Communications can work with your business, please call us on 08442 570 111.

 

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Record numbers file self-assessment form online

By Ken Maggs, Moore Thompson

 

A record number of almost 90 per cent of self-assessment taxpayers who filed their return to HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) by midnight on 31 January did so online, with only 11 per cent sticking to the old paper returns.

 

Some 9.24 million taxpayers completed their self-assessment form via HMRC’s website, meaning that only 1.14 million returns were filed on paper before an earlier deadline. Meanwhile, some 870,000 returns were not received by the deadline, so those who failed to get them in on time will now face financial penalties.

 

However, although taxpayers appear to have embraced the digital return, critics are becoming increasingly concerned abut HMRC’s ambition to “fully digitise” the tax return system, claiming that vulnerable groups will be penalised for not wanting to use the internet.

 

They also predict that the quantity of data sought by the taxman will increase administrative costs and that the trend to push everything online will result in far more tax investigations without necessarily raising extra revenue. These critics also believe that HMRC’s ultimate goal is to obtain highly detailed data, which could result in more frequent and earlier demands for payment.

 

As far as individuals are concerned, the taxman is planning “personal tax accounts”, which are aimed at those whose financial affairs are relatively simple and don’t have an accountant. Meanwhile, small businesses, landlords and the self-employed will have to report information to HMRC quarterly. This plan has gone down badly, with 110,000 small business owners having already petitioned against the change, arguing that quarterly reporting would cost too much time and money.

 

However, HMRC denies that taxpayers will be forced to go digital. In a statement last year entitled Making tax digital: a myth-buster, it said that people who genuinely can’t use digital tools will be offered alternatives, such as nominating someone else to update their information for them.

 

 

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Employers confused over the workplace pension

By Ken Maggs, Moore Thompson

 

Almost half the employers who will have to set up workplace pension schemes for their employees in the next two years are confused about their responsibilities, according to a recent survey by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB).

 

The business group found that 45 per cent of those polled were unclear about the rules of auto-enrolment and around a quarter were concerned that their business would not be able to cope with the extra cost. Meanwhile, one in four said that they didn’t even know their staging date.

 

The FSB also found that firms were underestimating the costs of implementing auto-enrolment schemes, with small business owners who had yet to set up schemes estimating overall costs to be, on average, £903, which is far less than the £1,436 average in overall costs reported by businesses that have already introduced workplace pensions.

 

As a spokesman for the group pointed out, auto-enrolment for small firms is fast approaching and the sooner small business owns get to grips with what they need to do to comply, the better off they will be.

 

However, The Pensions Regulator (TPR) was insistent that auto-enrolment has been a success so far, with 5.4 million workers having been signed up since 2012. The rules are that all employers, including those who only employ one person, must offer a workplace pension to anyone over the age of 22 and who earns more than £10,000 a year.

 

The Government is currently running a major advertising campaign featuring a 10ft hairy monster called Workie, which is aimed at ensuring that small business owners are aware of the new rules. The FSB said that such a campaign is vital, given that awareness levels are so low. The group also applauded the improved information on the regulator’s website.

 

 

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Do you have a Google+ page for your business?

by AnneMarie Gilbert, Grafixbiz

Have you been left wondering how to best use Google+ for your business? It can take a bit of time to wrap your head around the different options but once you have, you will be thankful for taking the time to fathom it out! What should you have; a personal Google+ page, a Google+ community or a Google My Business page? If you opt for the latter (which is better)should it be a storefront or service area (both local business pages) or brand (non-local business)?

If you are the face of your business – e.g. a business coach, life coach or someone who’s individual personality is very much tied into their brand – you may decide to maintain a personal profile on Google+ to connect with your customers. If you have built up a large network of like-minded people – for example, of work at home mums or solopreneurs – you might decide to set up a Google+ community.

There are several benefits to having a Google My Business page. One is that you can have multiple administrators for the same account – great if you want a team, Virtual Administrator or Social Media Management Company to update the page as they won’t need to use your personal Google+ login details.

For local businesses, having a local business type page can help you secure a strong presence on search engine results pages for searches for businesses of your type.

In order to derive the best results from Google My Business, you should:

  • Represent your business as it’s consistently represented and recognised in the real world across signage, stationery, and other branding.
  • Make sure your address is accurate and precise.
  • Choose the fewest number of categories it takes to describe your overall core business.

Before you decide which page to set up, determine your eligibility
Before you decide whether to set up a local or brand business page, you need to decide which one would be the best fit for your business. Google has strict eligibility criteria for a local Google+ page:

  • You must be able to make in-person contact with your customers during your stated opening hours (although ATMs, video rental kiosks and express mail drop boxes are the exemption to this rule).
  • You cannot have a local Google+ page if your business is under construction or not yet open to the public.
  • Rental or for-sale properties cannot have their own local Google+ page, although sales or leasing offices can.
  • You also cannot list an ongoing service, class or meeting at a location you don’t own or have authority to represent. You would need the ‘host’ or owner of the premises to display your information on their local Google+ business page within the ‘Introduction’ field.

Setting up a local Google+ page

Step 1: Create a Google+ account
If you have a Gmail address, then the good news is that you will already have a Google+ account. If you don’t, your first step will be to set one up. When you go to https://accounts.google.com, you will be presented with the option to sign in or ‘Create an account’. Click on the latter option.

This will take you to the following screen:

https://i2.wp.com/www.grafixbiz.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/create-your-google-account.jpg?w=800

 

Complete the form to the right of the screen and you will be given the option to set up your personal profile. Google+ walks you through the process and you can find instructions on Google.

Once your Google+ account is set up and you’ve clicked the ‘Finish’ option, you will be taken through to a screen where you will see options such as ‘All’, ‘Friends’, ‘Family’ and ‘Acquaintances’ across the top of the page. To the top left, you will see a button that says ‘Home’. Click on this to view a pulldown menu – the eighth option on this is ‘Pages’. Click on ‘Pages’ to continue.

Set 2: Get your business page

You’ll be taken to the following screen:

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Click on ‘Get your page’. You’ll then be taken to screen where you need to choose what type of Google business page you want.

choose a business type

 

Choose the Storefront business option if you serve customers at your business location and you want them to be able to find you on Google Maps – this is ideal for shops, restaurants and hotels.

Choose the Service area business option if you serve customers at their location within a specific service area and want your customers to be able to see whether you cover their area on Google Maps – this is the perfect choice for plumbers, electricians, taxi firms and takeaway food companies.

A Google+ brand page is similar to a Facebook business page in that it lets you reach out to existing and potential customers. This is the best option if you work with customers all over the country, or even the world.

Setting up a Storefront or Service Area page

If you click on the Storefront or Service Area options, you will be taken to a map where you will be asked to enter your business name and address. If Google has a record of your business or there are several businesses with a similar name, you will be shown one or more pins on the map and asked to choose which one is yours.

If none of the options Google gives you match your business, you’ll see an option on the search bar drop down which says: ‘None of these match. Add your business’ – click on this. You will then have the opportunity to enter your business name, country/region, street address, city, postal code, main business phone number and choose a category that best fits your business.

On this screen, there is a tick box asking whether you deliver goods and services at your customers’ locations. You would tick this if you run a Service Area-type business such as a pizza delivery company or you’re an electrician, for example, but if people come to you, leave this box unchecked.
Whether your business was already on the map or you had to add the business, you will then see a message asking you to confirm that you are authorised to manage the business and agree to the Terms and Conditions. Tick the check box and click Continue.

Google will then show a message about sending you a code to verify that the page is yours. Click ‘Continue and verify later’.

You will then be taken through to your Google My Business Storefront or Service Area page where Google will talk you through how to configure your settings, access your business apps and edit your page. Your edits won’t show up on Google until you verify your page.

It is at this point that you can add a profile picture (this should be at least 250 x 250 pixels but can be larger) and a cover image (ideally, this should be 1,080 x 608 pixels). You can also add photos of your business, change your opening hours, add further contact details and much, much more.

Once you are happy with your profile (which you can edit at any time in the future too), click on the ‘Verify now’ button.

Setting up a Brand page
If, from the ‘Choose your business type’ page, you click on ‘Brand’, you will be taken to the screen below where you should enter the page name, your web address and the type of page (choose from Product or Brand, Entertainment, Community or Other). Tick the ‘Page Terms’ statement and click on ‘Create page’.

https://i1.wp.com/www.grafixbiz.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/create-your-googleplus-page.jpg?w=800

 

As with the Storefront and Service area pages, you’ll then be given the opportunity to set up your Brand page – you can take a tour if you’re not sure what to do first. Upload your profile picture and cover image before adding your contact details; at this stage, you can decide who can see those details, e.g. make them public, people in your Extended Circles or Your Circles. As a business, you’ll probably want as many people to see your page as possible.

Next, you will be prompted to write a short introduction about your brand. You can add a website or email link in here.

After being asked to add a tagline, the final step is to verify that the website you’ve listed as yours on the page is correct. Google will give you a link to information about how to do this in Google Webmaster Tools.

So, there you have it – how to set up the bare bones of your Google for Business page. Once your page is set up, you can then add in more ‘About’ information, links and images, and begin posting to your customers.

Source: This post has been edited from the original posting to the Grafixbiz blog, July 23 2015. Used with express permmission See original text here

 

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Personal tax accounts unveiled

By Ken Maggs, Moore Thompson

 

HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) has gone live with its new system of personal tax accounts ahead of the 31 December deadline of self-assessment filing, in a bid to make the department one of the most digitally advanced tax administrations in the world.

According to the department, the move will mean that UK taxpayers can manage their tax affairs online, as the online personal tax account (PTA) aims to provide a “joined-up view” of taxes and benefits.

By 2020, the new digital accounts will encompass all taxpayers, whether individual or corporate, and from April 2018, businesses, including the self-employed and landlords, will have to update HMRC every quarter if this activity is their main source of income. The obligation to report quarterly will also apply where the money is a secondary source of income worth more than £10,000, and the main income is from employment or from a pension.

Meanwhile, in the ‘back office’, the department will bring together all the information it holds on a taxpayer into one system, including data from employers, banks, building societies and other government departments. This will eventually lead to the demise of the annual tax return for most taxpayers and so the current system of self-assessment, introduced in 1996 and now largely online, will wither away.

As a spokesman for the department pointed out, because self-assessment for individuals and small firms will work through digital tax accounts, there will be no need for them to send in annual tax returns.

However, the obligation for taxpayers to inform the department of taxable income or to provide information relating to that income will not change, where HMRC does not have the data from another source. As the spokesman said, they will still have to confirm their information is correct and make sure that the right tax is paid.

 

 

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Employers cautious over pay rises next year

By Ken Maggs, Moore Thompson

As 2015 draws to a close, a study by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) shows that bosses plan to keep hiring staff next year but could limit pay rises in anticipation of the new national living wage and apprenticeship levy.

According to the business group’s annual employment outlook, some firms are also thinking about price hikes or recruitment freezes to offset the higher labour costs the new wage and levy are expected to bring.

The survey found that almost half the business owners polled anticipated that the new levy would be “costly and bureaucratic”, although it was conducted before Chancellor George Osborne confirmed in his Autumn Statement that it would be set at 0.5 per cent of an employer’s payroll only if the annual wage bill of the firm was more than £3m.

According to the CBI, the employers surveyed had expressed support for the aims of the levy and for funding it but some had concerns that the Government merely wanted to hit targets for a quantity of apprenticeships rather than focussing on quality.

Meanwhile, just over 40 per cent of respondents said they expected their workforce to be larger by the end of 2016 and more than 50 per cent said they intended to increase pay in line with the retail prices index (RPI) measure of inflation, which was 1.1 per cent last month.

When asked about the national living wage, which will increase the minimum hourly rate for workers aged 25 or older to £7.20 from £6.70, a small percentage thought they would have to raise prices to offset it and almost 30 per cent said they would be employing fewer people because of it.

However, the effect will be more pronounced in the hospitality industry, which traditionally relies on lower paid staff. More than 50 per cent of employers in this sector anticipated having to raise prices and almost 30 per cent said they would employ fewer people.

 

 

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Submissions invited on Charities Bill amid fears for the independence of good cause

By Ken Maggs, Moore Thompson

The charity sector has been asked for its views on provisions in the Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Bill as it reaches committee stage in the House of Commons.

MPs last week passed a second reading of the proposed changes and have passed it to committee stage in the House of Commons.

The parliamentary website urges those with “relevant expertise and experience or a special interest” in the bill to submit their response.

The bill would give extra powers to the Charity Commission, including a controversial power to give official warnings to charities.

Shadow minister Anna Turley told Parliament this would risk threatening the independence of charities.

She said the main fear was that the powers would be used for issues of “relatively low concern”.

“There are no objections in principle to giving the Charity Commission the power to give warnings to a charity, but the current drafting raises some concerns within the sector,” she said.

Another provision would be enabling the Charity Commission to automatically disqualify from trusteeship those with convictions for sexual offences, money laundering or terrorism offences. It would also give charities the ability to make social investments.

Turley said: “We think it is absolutely right that charities have the freedom to dispose of their assets in the way that they see fit.”

Conservative MP Wendy Morton called for the bill to “ensure that smaller charities are not disproportionately affected by any bureaucracy or too much legislation”.

“It does not matter whether a charity is small or large: charities have so much to give to our country, society and communities, and I will do all I can to ensure that they get the support they deserve,” she said.

But the minister for civil society, Rob Wilson, said the bill “seeks to achieve a balance” and dismissed concerns of an overly powerful Charity Commission.

He said: “The new Commission powers need to be broad enough to make them useful. If they are too narrow they would be impractical and go unused or would leave loopholes to be exploited by the unscrupulous.”

The committee is expected to hold its first meeting on Tuesday 15 December.

The deadline for submissions from charities is Thursday 7 January, when the committee will finish and report the bill back to MPs.

 

 

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