Budget 2012: Impact on small firms

On first impression, you might think there was little announced in the Budget that will have an impact on small firms.

Yet on closer inspection, there are a few changes that could greatly affect the UK's small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

At the same time, a number of things that the chancellor didn't alter have come in for continued criticism from the small business community.

Here we take a closer look at all these issues.

Tax simplifications

Perhaps the biggest change for small firms is how they have to calculate their tax payments.

From April 2013, companies with sales of up to £77,000 per year will be allowed to change their accounting from the established accrual method to a cash basis.

What this means is that firms will only have to pay tax on the amount of money they have actually received, rather than total orders, as under the current accrual-based system.

This will be hugely beneficial for small firms, as it will end their having to pay tax on received orders for which they have yet to be paid.

If successful, the Treasury will then consider expanding the change to firms with sales of up to £150,000 per year, which it estimates would mean more than three million firms being able to benefit.

Yet while it will make life much easier for small firms, and in many cases remove an unwanted financial pressure, some commentators have warned that it will make tax evasion far easier.

Explaining this, Chas Roy-Chowdhury, head of taxation at accountancy group Acca Global, said this was because under the cash basis system, small firms could more easily calculate their tax returns on their own.

He added: "The accrual method is more complex, and therefore more often requires an outside accountant, who effectively checks a firms' books.

"Without this third-party checking, the fear is that there may be more deliberate evasion."

George Osborne also confirmed that the government is to move ahead with plans to integrate income tax and national insurance, first announced in last year's Budget, so firms do not have to run two different payroll tax systems.

Corporation tax

One of the much trumpeted announcements in the Budget was the chancellor's decision to speed up the drop in the basic rate of corporation tax, the taxation that firms have to pay on their profits.

The basic rate will now fall to 24% next month, down from the current 26%.

Yet this change does not effect small firms, as those with profits not exceeding £300,000 a year already only have to pay 20%.

This change was first announced by the government back in 2010 and was a reduction of the 21% rate that small companies previously had to pay.

Patent box

Small firms which have patented a product will be able to benefit from the so-called Patent Box.

Coming into effect from April 2013, the Patent Box is a reduced level of corporation tax on profits attributed to patents and similar types of intellectual property.

As confirmed by the chancellor, it will introduce a lower rate of 10%.

Sectors likely to benefit most include pharmaceuticals and the software industry.

Youth enterprise loans

Young entrepreneurs were given a boost in the Budget by the announcement of a new loan initiative.

Under a one-year pilot scheme to be launched by March 2013, up to 7,000 young people aged between 18 and 24 will be able to apply to borrow between £5,000 and £10,000 to back their business idea.

The government is now looking for third parties to administer the scheme, with the Prince's Trust being one name suggested.

It is not yet known what rates of interest will be charged on the loans, but if the scheme is successful, the government says it wants to introduce it permanently.

Business rates

Perhaps the biggest Budget disappointment for small firms was that George Osborne did not announce any reduction in business rates, the tax firms have to pay on their property.

Instead, business rates will go up by 5.6% from next month, as had previously been announced.

Many small firms have complained that this rise will hit them hard.

Fuel duty

The Budget also offered no reprieve for small firms struggling with the high price of petrol and diesel.

Instead, fuel duty will continue to go up by three pence in August.

John Walker, national chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, said: "We are disappointed that the chancellor has not announced a cut in the level of fuel duty and that the rise deferred to August is still to go ahead.

"This will still hit small businesses and households hard and so we need to see a long-term solution to address high and volatile fuel prices."

New loan scheme

One of the biggest developments this week for small firms - the introduction of a new bank lending scheme - was announced a day before the Budget.

Under the £20bn National Loan Guarantee Scheme (NLGS), SMEs will be able to access loans with interest rates one percentage point lower than those available outside the initiative.

Barclays, Santander, Lloyds and Royal Bank of Scotland have so far signed up, and firms with an annual turnover of up to £50m will be able to participate.

The discounted loans are being made available because the government is to guarantee £20bn of the banks' own borrowing, thereby allowing the lenders to borrow more cheaply than they normally do.

The FSB has given the scheme a warm welcome, but a number of small firms have complained that their main problem regarding bank loans is actually getting them approved, rather than the interest rate they have to pay.

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