snippets-article-imageLike many of you, we like to keep up with what’s happening in the wider world and can frequently be found scouring the newspapers and other media for interesting information.

Below are some of the ‘snippets’ we’ve noticed in the Press recent weeks. If you want any more information on any of the topics covered, just let us know by using the ‘Talk to Us’ link above.

More workers, less pay
There has been a big rise in the number of agency workers in recent years, reports the Financial Times, and by 2020 there could be a million in the UK. Classed as ‘workers’ rather than employees, they do not get the protections employees receive by law, and on average get paid significantly less. The Resolution Foundation, which researched the numbers, says agency workers are the forgotten face of today’s workforce.

Advisers warned off tax avoidance
Seven professional bodies in the UK have issued new guidelines to their members following the government’s recent legislative measures against tax avoidance. They say that tax advisers who are involved in tax planning that is contrary to parliament’s clear intentions or that is “highly artificial” are open to disciplinary action. But many advisers are uneasy because there is no clear legal distinction between what is regarded as acceptable tax planning and what  counts as tax avoidance.

Take the money for your pension
FT columnist Merryn Somerset Webb invites readers to imagine they own an investment that has risen by 480% over the past seven years. Moreover, the rise is down to just one factor – the steady decline in  interest rates over that period. Wouldn’t common sense tell you it was time to sell? she asks. The investment she refers to is the ‘transfer value’ of a defined benefit/final salary pension scheme. The example she cites is a reader who’s been offered a transfer value of £300,000 for a pension likely to be £7,000 a year at retirement in 20 years’ time. In 2009 the transfer value was just £63,000. Could you be worse off by taking the £300,000? Only if inflation shoots up to a very high level (the final salary pension is inflation-proofed), she argues, provided you invest it sensibly.

Bank of England’s QE has hurt business
The Bank of England’s Quantitative Easing, which has kept interest rates at near-zero since the financial crisis, has caused business to reduce pay and fire employees, according to a report cited by the Financial Times. This is because businesses have had to put more money into their pension funds, whose future liabilities to pensioners have been substantially increased by lower interest rates.

Modest gift for savers with new NSI Bond
Philip Hammond’s Autumn Statement contained few giveaways, but there was a modest gift for savers. Next Spring a new National Savings & Investments Bond will be launched that will pay 2.2% interest for three years. This is well ahead of the best 3-year rates currently available. The maximum investment will be just £3,000 per person – though Mr Hammond could do what previous Chancellors have done and hope to win a popular headline by raising the limit next year.

New measures mean some will pay IHT at 80%
The ‘residential nil rate band’ that will be introduced to inheritance tax law from April 2017 means a couple will be able to hand down an estate of up to £1 million with no tax after 2020, says the Telegraph. The ‘taper’ provisions mean that if your estate is over £2.2 million you do not get the new allowance, but if it is £2 million you do get it. That means there’s an effective tax rate of 80% on the £200,000 difference. Clearly there is scope for some tax planning in such cases.

Where’s the gold?
After he wrote a recent article about gold, Telegraph reporter James Dyson had stacks of readers’ letters questioning the basis of exchange traded funds that invest in gold. Do they really have the gold? readers asked. Dyson dug into the details to establish that the biggest UK fund has standardised gold bars, each one numbered and certified, in bank vaults in London. Its $10 billion’s worth of gold would fit, the boss told him, into an average kitchen. These physical holdings of gold are independently audited twice a year.

New £1 to beat forgers
Next year, Britain will get a new pound. A new £1 coin, to be precise, because the Bank of England reckons no less than 3 in every 100 of the 1.5 billion in circulation today are forgeries. The 12-sided replacement coin will be a much bigger challenge for forgers, and indeed for coin machine vendors, who are hard at work reprogramming their machines ready for the change. It starts in March but the old coins will be valid until September. The Mail says a complete set of all 25 different designs of the old £1 coin – including a new one marked 2016 that won’t even enter circulation but can be bought from the Royal Mint for nearly £9 – could become very valuable.

BTL buyers go limited
There has been a huge rise in the number of Buy To Let owners using companies to hold their properties, says the Mail. In the first 9 months of 2016 there were over 100,000 BTL loans to companies, more than  double the number for the whole of 2015. Most are doing so to avoid the effect of a tax change in April 2017, when tax relief against the higher rate of income tax on mortgage interest will be disallowed. It’s estimated the changes will push half a million BTL owners into paying higher rate income tax at 40%.

Energy firm failure worries
The failure of GB Energy (a recent entrant to the domestic energy supply market that offered very cheap deals but went bankrupt in November) has sent shock waves through the market. A subsidiary of the Midlands Co-op has bought GB Energy and will take over supply, but it will not meet all the bills. Customers paying by direct debit who had credit on their accounts will get paid, but it will be via a levy on the whole energy industry under new rules laid down by regulator Ofgem. Pundits said there had been an explosion in the number of of new energy suppliers in recent years and others might also fail.

Care homes investigation
UK care homes will be investigated by the Competition and Markets Authority, reported the BBC. It will review contract terms and practices and ask if there have been breaches of UK consumer law, as some have claimed. It will also evaluate competition between care homes in driving quality and value for money for residents and taxpayers, and review the way local authorities and other public bodies purchase and assign care home places. The review will take up to a year to complete.