How should SMEs adapt their Social Media marketing after the recent data scandal?

social media marketingThe harvesting by Cambridge Analytica (CA) of the personal details of an estimated 87 million Facebook users is rightly being investigated by the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

It has been alleged that CA, which has since gone out of business, used the data to help their customers to try to influence the outcome of elections and referenda in many parts of the world, notably during the US presidential campaign and also during the UK’s 2016 referendum on leaving the EU.

Whether these attempts were successful remains to be seen, but the episode does raise questions about individuals’ rights on Social Media, especially in the light of the imminent introduction of new Data Protection Regulations (GDPR).

While individuals ultimately have the responsibility for deciding who can see their interactions on social media, and therefore, if they don’t act could be argued to be fair game, it is likely that GDPR will at least force social media platforms to be more careful to whom they permit data access.

What difference does all this make to promotional activities on Social Media?

The first question is whether Facebook, Twitter and other social media users will be less active on these platforms.

So far, it seems not. Research by Reuters/Ipsos in the US has found that a quarter of Facebook users in the survey said they used it less or had left it but another quarter said they used it even more. The other half said their use had not changed.

As yet, there have been no similar surveys on the other side of the Atlantic and the situation is only likely to become a little clearer when Facebook reveals its next quarterly profits.

Facebook, particularly, but also other platforms, derives most of its revenue from advertising on its pages. This has been claimed to be particularly useful to small businesses, especially those that operate within defined local areas.

But it is questionable whether using it to generate sales directly is quite so effective as is claimed. Indeed, Facebook users have recently had to choose whether Facebook can collect and use personal data to serve targeted ads where the opt-out means users will see general ones; there was no opt-out from seeing ads.

Businesses can also use Social Media effectively to raise their brand’s profile, enhance their reputation and drive visitors to their websites and so far, there appears to be no reason why they should not continue to do so. However, like Google AdWords that are served to online searches the social media platforms are restricting visibility in favour of paid-for access to eyeballs.

Nevertheless, despite the influence peddled by CA and restrictions imposed by GDPR, businesses should still recognise that Social Media is becoming a key ingredient of the promotion mix.

As a consequence, businesses need to be very careful about collecting and analysing the personal data of customers, especially with regard to consent.

SMEs – don’t let the looming GDPR deadline distract you from cyber security

cyber security and cyber crimeWith the May 25 deadline looming for businesses to comply with the new General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) it is only natural that SMEs will be primarily focused on this issue.

While there is some evidence that a number of SMEs have left dealing with GDPR to the last minute, this is understandable given that the consultation period only finished last month.

So, although the clock is ticking, it makes sense to check for any last-minute updates on the ICO (Information Commissioner’s Office) online guidance before completing the GDPR compliance process.

GDPR is aimed primarily at protecting the personal and individual data of your customers and contacts but businesses also need to have robust protection from fraud and other malicious practices for themselves.

Cybercrime is becoming increasingly sophisticated and there is new evidence about how much it has been costing SMEs.

Research by YouGov commissioned by Barclays Business Banking has found that 44% of SMEs had suffered a cyber-attack and a small percentage had actually had to make staff redundant to cover the cost of dealing with it. Given that there are more than 5.6million SMEs that theoretically equates to a loss of up to 50,000 jobs.

The average cost of each fraud has been estimated at £35,000 and in addition to lost jobs, it could also impact on investing in training, equipment and further business development.

A robust cyber security system is essential

Criminals are using ever more sophisticated measures to scam businesses into parting with money.

Among the most worrying developments has been emails appearing to come from someone within the organisation, such as the CEO, instructing a member of staff to pay a bill or transfer money into a named account.  Or emails with attached invoice documents, which when opened give hackers access to the IT system.

It is important that businesses put in place measures to protect them against such scams.

They should include:

Staff training, this is key since staff access and online activity from work-based devices represent the greatest weakness in most online security systems.

Using strong passwords and a password policy to help staff follow security best practice. Perhaps consider also technology solutions to enforce your password policy, such as scheduled password resets.

Restricting staff access to only the data and services for which they are authorised and have been trained.

Installing security software, such as anti-spyware and anti-virus programs, to help detect and remove malicious code if it slips into the business network.

Using intrusion detectors to monitor system and network activity. If a detection system suspects a potential security breach, it can generate an alarm, such as an email alert, based upon the type of activity it has identified.

Finally, the business should ensure staff understand their role and any relevant policies and procedures, and provide them with regular cyber security awareness and training.

Do the Q1 insolvency figures suggest Brexit chickens coming home to roost?

Brexit chickensYet again, as in the last quarter of 2017, construction and retail were the top two sectors in the insolvency statistics for January to March 2018.

The first three months of 2018 were at their highest quarterly level since the same quarter in 2014, with a total of 4,462 companies entering insolvency, 3209 of them via Creditors’ Voluntary Liquidations (CVLs) accounting for 72% of all the quarter’s insolvencies.

Total insolvencies also represented a 26.2% increase on the same quarter in 2017 and an increase of 13% on the pre-Christmas October to December quarter.

Regardless of the excuses of the usual post-Christmas slump, and this year, the effects of the three-week weather event known as “Beast from the East”, it seems clear now that insolvency numbers are heading inexorably upwards as they were throughout 2017.

Equally clear, given the vast numbers of CVLs as a proportion of the total, it seems that company directors are no more optimistic about the future and are continuing to throw in the towel.

So, was “project fear” actually “project reality”?

In the aftermath of the June 2016 majority vote in the referendum to leave the EU, much scorn was heaped on the alleged scaremongering tactics of the Treasury and the then Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne for their warnings about the negative effects of Brexit on the UK economy.

While those supporting leaving the EU remain upbeat, the evidence is mounting that all is not well.

Consider the evidence.  Despite the improvements in global growth in the last two years the UK has dropped from being one of the top seven performers to the bottom and last week the ONS (Office for National Statistics) reported that UK growth for January to March had dropped to 0.1% from 0.4% in the previous three months.

The CBI interpreted this as the start of a prolonged economic slowdown and its survey of manufacturers, services and distribution companies led it to predict a near-standstill situation for the next three months.

In a pessimistic comment piece in Sunday’s Observer, the writer Will Hutton was of the opinion that the UK economy was heading for imminent recession, citing as examples the slumps in mortgage approvals (by 21%) and car manufacturing (by 13% for the domestic market and by 12% for export). These are significant examples given that the UK economy depends heavily on consumer spending and confidence, both of which have been in short supply for some time now.

While the pro-Brexit camp remain relentlessly upbeat about the UK’s economic future despite the continued opacity of the negotiation process and the goals, is it time to concede that the fears of those in favour of remaining in the EU are being realised and the Brexit chickens are coming home to roost?

Managers, what effects do your stress levels have on your team?

stress and managementStress is an inescapable part of life and work, and it is well recognised that the effects of stress can be both positive and negative.

Imagine what it must be like to work for Donald Trump who like all managers will have significant impact on stress levels based on how he deals with staff; “you’re fired”.

Psychologists call good stress “eu-stress” and bad stress “dis-stress”.

The effects of stress can have significant effects in the workplace and arguably can make, or break, a business.  To a large extent, this depends on how stress arises and how it is managed.

The average working week adds up to approximately 47 hours a week and over a lifetime this equates to 100,000-plus hours! So, if those hours are predominantly filled with negative stress, both employees and the business are likely to suffer.

Managers have a key role in promoting and controlling stress

While the manager may be under pressure to achieve challenging targets and therefore be stressed themselves, they need to be very honest and self-aware about how they handle both themselves and others to ensure positive, rather than negative results.

They need to recognise when their own stress levels are reaching the point where it is turning from good and motivating to bad and demotivating.  A good indicator of this is when it lasts too long or becomes too intense to be managed. The results can be high blood pressure, fatigue, depression, and anxiety.

If they put pressure on their team to meet results by shouting, swearing, threats and other negative behaviour, they may achieve results in the short-term but ultimately their behaviour will be counter-productive.

So, the first step for the manager in managing their own negative stress is recognising it and trying to moderate their own behaviour to manage it.  This may mean acknowledging their own limitations and getting help, even if only a listening ear, in order to strengthen their self-control.

Negative, or dis-stress happens when employees feel that the amount of effort they are putting in does not meet the rewards they receive. If this happens they are likely to become less motivated to put in effort and do their best.

However, the “reward” or incentive does not have to be the promise of more money.   In fact, research has found that the promise of extra cash, while welcome, is not often the prime motivator for workers to put in greater effort.

It can be as simple as a thank you for a job well done, or for putting in the extra effort that has allowed the team to achieve the desired target. Maybe treating the team to cream cakes at coffee break or taking five minutes out to talk to them about their non-work interests and activities and family.

The point is to convey that people are recognised as individuals and valued, no matter how challenging the circumstances may be.

The other aspect of managing stress is to ensure it isn’t constant, and in especially high-pressure environments to make sure that it is relieved every now and then. Ideally it should not be ‘taken home’.

The effective manager will not only be able to manage their own stress but also to manage the “right” level of stress that gets the best out of their team. Something that Donald Trump is clearly not doing.

 

With thanks to Ivan Throne https://darktriadman.com/2015/12/16/donald-trump-the-dark-triad-man/ for permission to use the picture.

How can UK manufacturers plan ahead given the current pre-Brexit uncertainty?

UK manuafacturer Port Talbot Steel worksIt has become fashionable in some quarters to downplay the importance of the UK’s manufacturing sector to our economy.

Yet the UK is the world’s eighth largest industrial nation, our manufacturing industry employs 2.6 million people and it contributes 11% of GVA (Gross Value Added as the measure of the value of goods and services produced in an area, industry or sector of an economy).

It accounts for 44% of total exports with SMEs doing particularly well representing 70% of business research and development (R&D) and providing 13% of business investment.

But no matter how innovative or agile, manufacturers still need a reasonable length of time to plan ahead as well as at least some degree of certainty.

Both of these seem to be in short supply at the moment.

What are the key challenges for UK manufacturers?

Manufacturing covers a wide range of products, from food to vehicles to machinery.

To keep their businesses healthy all manufacturers need to be aware of their competition, both at home and overseas.

A major concern is the control of cash flow, particularly costs, both payroll and raw materials or, if they are part of a supply chain, the costs of the components or ingredients manufacturers need to complete their part of the process.

In the run-up to leaving the EU, however, these issues have been far from straightforward.  Imported materials prices have risen because of the reduction in the value of £Sterling against other currencies, causing problems for the steel industry, for example.

Then there is the long-standing skills shortage, particularly for trained engineers, construction workers and even for low-skilled workers needed to pick and pack produce from farms, most of which have relied on EU workers. Already, we have seen the numbers of EU migrants reduced substantially over the uncertainty about their status post-Brexit. This has already threatened levels of manufacturing output.

While the Government would doubtless argue that this is in part being addressed by its Apprenticeship levy, the BCC (British Chambers of Commerce) has recently criticised the scheme’s implementation as unfit for purpose, noting that there has been a 24% drop in the numbers starting apprenticeships. In any case, it will take time before people are sufficiently well-skilled to be introduced into the workforce.

Equally, with the UK at near-full employment there is a question mark over whether there are even enough unskilled workers available.

It has been argued that adopting the latest technology and automation is the answer.  However, in some sectors, for a manufacturer to re-equip a factory needs considerable time for planning and to raise the finance, and again, the need for skilled people competent to run and maintain an automated production line. It is a big investment decision and one that understandably manufacturers are likely to be wary of in the current uncertainty.

Which brings us to the other dominant and vexed question of the moment and that is the as-yet undecided situation on tariffs, the customs union and the single market or completely free trade.

While remaining in the customs union with the EU after Brexit would protect exporters from tariffs it would also prevent them from reaching agreements with countries outside the EU. Completely free trade brings its own risks as to whether there is sufficient demand for UK products outside the EU. And then there is the potential loss of EU trade and most likely higher costs from tariffs.

Despite all these concerns, we are told that SMEs have been particularly successful in export markets over the last year or so. It is not, however, clear what impact this has had on overall volume.

Whether this will continue will depend heavily on the outcome of the negotiations over Brexit and the eventual agreements that are made.

How crucial is SME growth to the UK economy post-Brexit?

SME growth and the challengesSMEs are often described as the backbone of the UK’s economy and it has been said that their future success will be crucial post-Brexit.

There are an estimated 5.7 million SMEs in the UK accounting for around 99% of all private sector businesses and providing 60% of UK employment. The CBI (Confederation of British Industry) believes that the UK’s economic growth depends on them.

Analysis by the Centre for Economic and Business Research has suggested that helping some 22,000 high-growth small businesses to flourish could close Britain’s productivity gap with its rivals.

On these figures one can conclude that SMEs are vitally important to the UK economy, both now and in the future, and especially their ability to compete in foreign markets to bring in the needed income to replace Europe once tariffs are in place.

Yet, it is also alleged that SMEs’ are not being given sufficient attention by the Government during the ongoing negotiations about leaving the EU.

What are the potential challenges facing SME growth post Brexit?

Investing in R & D is a significant challenge for many smaller SMEs.  Many rely on pooling their resources by using centralised research facilities for their sector. However, much of the current research funding comes via EU grants and such applications require considerable lead time.  This has already had some impact in SMEs scaling back their research plans, according to the CEO of the Materials Processing Institute.

A second worry is access to talent.  The European Start-up Monitor calculates that 51% of UK start-up employees come from outside the UK and the FSB has also highlighted that one in five small businesses rely on skills and labour from the EU.

A third concern is access to and ease of dealing with foreign markets. SMEs need help with investing in and establishing sales abroad, they are wary of the significant upfront costs and existential risks.

Then there is the SMEs’ position in many supply chains. Given the uncertainty about future post-Brexit tariffs it is worrying that the CIPS (Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply) has calculated that 46% of EU businesses currently working with UK suppliers are in the process of finding local replacements.

On the other hand, the CBI has found from its own research that the supply chain ties between the UK and EU “could go in the other direction”. It has calculated that strengthening supply chains could add £30 Billion to the UK economy by 2025.

While questions have been raised about the UK SMEs’ preparedness for Brexit, it is difficult to see how they could make themselves readier given that there is so much uncertainty about the final outcomes of various aspects of the ongoing negotiations.

Plainly, the ability to innovate, and therefore access to R & D, to foreign markets and to attract the right talent are among the most crucial concerns.

But essentially, while there is a lot of growth potential in UK SMEs they are going to continue to be hampered in making plans unless more attention is paid both to their needs and their concerns than currently appears to be the case.

Are creditors and their lawyers using Winding-Up Petitions for debt collection?

using courts for debt collectionI have written previously about short term thinking by businesses and the effect it has been having on their ability to plan ahead for the medium and longer term.

It has been affecting businesses’ ability to invest in capacity, efficiency and R & D as planning for growth. Instead, most SMEs seem to be focused on cash flow and immediate profits, in that order.

In the current uncertain economic climate short term thinking may seem to be a rational response by creditors seeking payment.

However, there is another, perhaps more worrying trend that I am seeing among creditors, many of them suppliers to SMEs. Larger companies owed money and their solicitor advisers are often pursuing debts by early use of a winding-up petition instead of speaking with their SME clients and if necessary helping them. Unlike most reporting which is about large companies delaying payments to SMEs, I am focusing on large companies’ aggressive debt collection from SMEs.

Sometimes it is necessary for creditors to help their clients who are in difficulty such as allowing time to pay or helping them put a restructuring plan in place.

There is rarely a day when the demise of another business is not reported in the media. At the moment, these are consumer-oriented businesses, such as Toys R Us, Maplin, Carpetright, UK Claire’s Accessories and East, not to mention the many struggling restaurant chains.

Again, arguably, uncertainty about the future could be a motivating factor in using insolvency procedures where creditors are owed substantial sums but all too often one creditor uses legal action as leverage, a ransom even, to get to the head of the queue for being paid.

The lack of trust and consequences of such action have a negative impact on both businesses concerned and the wider economy.

How effective is formal insolvency for debt recovery?

Aggressive debt collection by creditors to wind up clients is very short-sighted because if a Winding Up Petition (WUP) is granted they are even less likely to get their money.

Firstly, the WUP process is in itself costly, including the fees charged by the Insolvency Service and the Practitioner as Liquidator are paid ahead of any distribution to creditors. The IP is most likely to look for the quickest option when realising assets despite any obligation to recover as much as possible. This will normally be based on selling the company’s tangible assets, but the question is how much these will fetch and whether it will be enough to cover its liabilities.

Since the debts to secured creditors such as banks, and to preferential creditors such as employees, take precedence will there be anything left to repay unsecured creditors, such as suppliers?

If the supplier creditors’ primary motivation is to recover their money as quickly as possible, they should also remember that the insolvency process can be lengthy, given that a business can petition to delay the WUP to allow for time to set up a restructuring plan such as a CVA.

Surely, therefore, rather than using the courts as a tool for debt recovery it would be preferable for creditors to have the patience to allow a business the chance to be saved with the help of an experienced restructuring adviser where provision is made for debts to be paid in a manageable way over time. That way, while it would be wise for them not to extend further credit to the company in difficulty, they will keep them as a client with the prospect of getting their money back over time.

The key is to not let the debt grow, to have patience and to think for the medium and longer term.

After all, If the restructuring is successful, the creditor will end up with a potentially growing and successful client company from which their own business will ultimately benefit.

Can SMEs have confidence in the Government’s new Small Business Commissioner?

mall business commissioner a superhero?In December 2017 the UK Government appointed a Small Business Commissioner with the remit of supporting SMEs struggling with late and unfair payment practices when dealing with larger businesses.

The Commissioner appointed to tackle this is Paul Uppal, who ran his own small business for 20 years, and it will be his job to support SMEs in taking action on late payments and on making a complaint.  There is also a website where SMEs can get help.

Three months after his appointment, however, research by Close Brothers Invoice Finance found that very few SMEs have any confidence that the Commissioner will be able to make a difference. Their report says: “84% of SMEs do not anticipate that the introduction of the small business commissioner will have any positive impact on their business.”

According to Mike Cherry, National Chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB): “The UK is gripped by a poor payments crisis, over 30% of payments to small businesses are late and the average value of each payment is £6,142. This not only impacts on the small business and the owner, it is damaging the wider economy.”

It has been estimated by the Centre for Economic and Business Research that a group of 22,000 so-called high growth small businesses make a disproportionately large contribution to the economy, providing an estimated £65,000 per worker compared to the national average of £55,000.

However, while very high on the list, ‘late payment’ was not SMEs’ only concern when asked about their issues and prospects for 2018.

According to a survey by chiefexecutive.com, high on the SME list of challenges were firstly recruiting, retaining and developing quality people, followed by managing growth and change (specifically access to and cost of funding) and the Government’s competence, regulation and understanding of business.

In fourth place was managing uncertainty (the wider geo-political and economic context). Other research has found that more than half of SMEs felt that their Brexit concerns were being ignored and that ministers were not listening to their views.

Given that SMEs are seen as the key to improving the UK economy’s growth and productivity plainly they will need as much support as possible.

As the deadline for leaving the EU is less than a year away it is high time that there was serious attention paid to SME voices and that significant and effective steps taken to address them.

The Small Business Commissioner appointment is a start, but he might also take up other causes for small businesses, not least holding banks to account for their dealings with SMEs. There is the prospect of a complaints procedure that avoids the need to deal with issues through the courts. There is also the creeping nature of fees and charges which go unreported in the press, the latest being Lloyds revised fees that for some have in interest rates being increased up to 52% and fees being increased by 240%.

it remains to be seen how effective the new Commissioner will be.

What are the accounting options for SMEs?

woman doing her accounting I have talked previously about the importance of having up to date and regular Management Accounts where there are fundamentally two options for producing them: either doing the data entry, bookkeeping and accounts in-house, or outsourcing all or part of the work to a specialist firm.

Related to this is whether certain services are outsourced, such as Year End accounts, tax returns, payroll and pension administration.

Hybrid options should also be considered such as data being entered into the accounts by in-house staff with external bookkeepers or accountants doing more advanced work such as bank reconciliations, producing VAT returns and producing management reports.

If any of the work is done in-house, then suitably trained staff will be needed as will having access to the right accounting packages.

Considerations when looking for an accounting package

There are several accounting packages that might be considered where the main factors are choosing one are whether it produces the reports you want, does it have the functionality you need, is it appropriate for your business, its ease of use and cost.

Most packages are now cloud-based so you are likely to pay a monthly fee. Most also provide scope for upgrade and adding functionality depending on the size and complexity of the business and its requirements but for smaller businesses it makes sense to start with a basic package.

Among the best-known for SMEs are Sage, Quickbooks and Xero and all of these are flexible with scope for adding more functionality and reports.

The basic requirements will be to produce standard reports including: profit & loss, balance sheet, trial balance, aged debtors and aged creditors. These should also allow for reporting by period such as last month and year-to-date figures and the ability to compare them with the same period last year.

They should also make it easy to produce and file VAT returns, do invoicing and produce account statements for reconciling accounts and chasing payments. Additional functionality could include daily reports of key figures, monitoring dashboards, links to bank accounts, managing and online filing of payroll, pension auto-enrolment and, if relevant, the tracking of stock and order processing.

A package that offers all these options can be used for monitoring efficiency and business processes, for monitoring cash flow as well as producing Management and Year End Accounts, but remember, the more sophisticated the package, the greater complexity and higher the monthly fee. Do remember when producing reports based on data, “rubbish in, rubbish out”.

Backup, security, reliability and update of the software are also factors.

Related to the package decision are controls which might be done through the package such as of purchasing decisions to issue and approve prices and orders, and cash flow management to make and authorise payments. I advocate that these should be separate from those administering accounts and done by different people.

If all of the above are outsourced, then a business doesn’t need its own accounting package as the outsource supplier will use their own. However, if any of the work is done in-house then one will be required. Some outsource suppliers use several packages and can be flexible, however most use a preferred brand so you won’t have a choice and you should check it can be tailored to suit your business. You will also need to check if you need your own version for them to access and work on or if you can have access to theirs.

If you do decide to do all or any of the work in-house, then in addition to choosing a package you will need to consider the cost and overheads associated with both employing staff to carry out the work and training them on how to use the software.

There is no doubt that a comprehensive and detailed accounting system is needed to monitor productivity and cash flow, and the right one can save time and cost, but clearly considerable research and thought is needed before choosing the appropriate accounting package for your business.

Your accountant, providing they know and understand your business, ought to be able to help you choose the right one.

The High Value Dealer and the new Money Laundering Regulations 2017

The High Value Dealer and money launderingMoney laundering is the process of making illegally-gained proceeds (i.e., “dirty money”) appear legal (i.e., “clean”). The first step in the process involves introducing cash into the financial system by some means, known in the jargon as “placement”.

Typically, this can involve making a purchase, or a deposit for the purchase of, a high value item from a business and paying in cash.

In 2017 the Government introduced the Money Laundering, Terrorist Financing and Transfer of Funds (Information on the Payer) Regulations. This was a 4th update of legislation that was first introduced in 2003 in a bid to stamp out money laundering.

While the regulations deal with the criminal aspect of laundering money they have implications for reputable businesses that unwittingly might be targeted by criminals, among them High Value Dealers (other specified service providers are also detailed in the guidance).

A High Value Dealer (HVD) is defined as a firm or sole practitioner making, or accepting, cash payments of the equivalent of €10,000 or more.

Under the regulations HVDs must carry out a risk assessment on their business’ vulnerability to being used as a conduit for money laundering, review it regularly and keep records of both the transaction and the customer. They must also ensure they and all staff are trained to spot suspicious activity and they must carry out due diligence and risk assessments on clients to whom high value goods may be supplied. Again, all this must be documented.

HMRC (HM Revenue and Customs) oversee HVDs and its inspectors can turn up unannounced to check the records. If they do attend they will look most closely at cash receipts for goods and tend to make the assumption that the receipt is illegally laundered money unless the HVD can produce suitable checks on their clients.

HMRC has the power to impose fines for any infringements based on the failure to produce records and the penalties can be steep, up to 100% of the value of the sale. Since the regulations were brought into force HMRC has updated its guidance for HVDs, downloadable as a PDF

Are you a High Value Dealer?

Many SMEs may fall into the category of being HVDs without realising it.

Your company may be at higher risk if it has:

  • customers carrying out large, one-off cash transactions;
  • customers that are not local to the business;
  • overseas customers especially from a high risk third country as defined by the EU.

I recently came across a family business of 30 years–plus standing with an impeccable record of honest and debt-free trading selling large second-hand capital items.

While it had very few transactions involving cash payments, three were identified as being above the €10,000 cut-off point. Despite the fact that these three were with long-standing and known customers, the HMRC inspector ruled that the transactions had breached regulations, by not producing documents proving the identity (copy of a driving licence or passport) and place of residence (utility bill) of the customers concerned. HMRC imposed a fine on the company of £20,000, saying this was a 50% reduction on the maximum. Understandably my client is contesting this as being excessive, but the matter hasn’t yet been resolved.

With such legislation, HMRC might be seeking to maximise its revenue, but whether justified or not, it costs a lot of time and money for an SME to contest such a harsh judgement, one that can so easily have been avoided.

While my client, after 12 years of my support, now has a strong balance sheet and if necessary can pay the fine, it is easy to see that the size of the fines may push some SMEs into insolvency.

It therefore makes sense to know whether your business comes under the definition of a HVD and to ensure it is protected and complies with the regulations.