Cyber protection laws introduced

New consumer protections against hacking and cyber-attacks came into force at the end of April 2024. All internet connected smart devices will be required by law to meet minimum-security standards. 

Manufacturers will be legally required to protect consumers from hackers and cyber criminals from accessing devices with internet or network connectivity – from smartphones to games consoles and connected fridges – as the UK becomes the first country in the world to introduce these laws.

Under the new regime, manufacturers will be banned from having weak, easily guessable default passwords like ‘admin’ or ‘12345’ and if there is a common password the user will be promoted to change it on start-up. This will help prevent threats like the damaging Mirai attack in 2016 which saw 300,000 smart products compromised due to weak security features and used to attack major internet platforms and services, leaving much of the US East Coast without internet. Since then, similar attacks have occurred on UK banks including Lloyds and RBS leading to disruption to customers. 

The move marks a significant step towards boosting the UK’s resilience towards cyber-crime, as recent figures show 99% of UK adults own at least one smart device and UK households own an average of nine connected devices. The new regime will also help give customers confidence in buying and using products, which will in turn help grow businesses and the economy.

An investigation conducted by Which? showed that a home filled with smart devices could be exposed to more than 12,000 hacking attacks from across the world in a single week, with a total of 2,684 attempts to guess weak default passwords on just five devices.

Source:Other | 06-05-2024

Post Office Offences Bill to be extended

The Government has tabled amendments to expand the territorial extent of the Post Office Offences Bill. Convictions resulting from the Post Office Horizon scandal in Northern Ireland will now be within scope.

This blanket exoneration will automatically quash convictions brought about by the scandal, including 26 in Northern Ireland, clearing the names of many people who have had their lives ruined.

As in England and Wales, convictions in Northern Ireland will need to meet a set of criteria before they are quashed, including:

  • Prosecutions brought about by the state prosecutor or the police.
  • Offences carried out in connection with Post Office business between 1996 and 2018.
  • Were for relevant offences such as theft, fraud and false accounting.
  • Were against sub-postmasters, their employees, officers, family members or direct employees of the Post Office working in a Post Office that used the Horizon system software.

Postal Affairs Minister Kevin Hollinrake said:

” We always carefully consider the territorial extent of each piece of legislation and are rigorous in our commitment to devolution. However, it has become apparent that the Northern Ireland Executive does not have the ability to rapidly address the 26 convictions known to be within its purview.

It has become clear that postmasters in Northern Ireland could have their convictions quashed significantly later than those who were convicted in England and Wales, which would be unacceptable.

This follows the decision to introduce landmark legislation – which is making its way through parliament – to quash the convictions of hundreds of innocent sub-postmasters wrongly convicted as a result of the Horizon scandal. This will speed up the financial redress process – where we are offering a £600,000 fixed sum which can be administered quickly for those who accept it.”

Source:Other | 29-04-2024

Do’s and don’ts for Standard Visitors to the UK

There is useful guidance published on GOV.UK that explains the do’s and don’ts for Standard Visitors to the UK. Visitors to the UK who are classed as a ‘Standard Visitor’ are allowed in the UK for tourism, business, study (courses up to 6 months) and other permitted activities.

Permitted activities include the following:

  • for tourism, for example on a holiday or vacation;
  • to see your family or friends;
  • to volunteer for up to 30 days with a registered charity;
  • to pass through the UK to another country (‘in transit’);
  • for certain business activities, for example attending a meeting or interview;
  • for certain paid engagements or events (a ‘permitted paid engagement’) as an expert in your profession, for example to give lectures or perform;
  • to take part in a school exchange programme;
  • to do a recreational course of up to 30 days, for example a dance course;
  • to study, undertake a placement or take an exam;
  • as an academic, senior doctor or dentist; or
  • for medical reasons.

The following activities are not permitted for a Standard Visitor:

  • undertake paid or unpaid work for a UK company or as a self-employed person, unless you are doing a permitted paid engagement or event;
  • claim public funds (benefits);
  • live in the UK for long periods of time through frequent or successive visits; or
  • marry or register a civil partnership or give notice of marriage or civil partnership – you will need to apply for a Marriage Visitor visa.
Source:HM Government | 21-04-2024

Tipping boost

The government’s Tipping Act is a step closer to coming into force, as the Code of Practice is published and laid before Parliament. The new Code of Practice will protect the tips of more than 2 million workers giving them a fair share of the tips received by a company.

Millions of UK workers are set to take home an estimated £200 million more of their hard-earned cash, as landmark legislation on tipping took a step towards coming into force.

The government introduced the Code of Practice on the fair and transparent distribution of tips that will have legal effect under the Employment (Allocation of Tips) Act 2023.

The updated Code of Practice will be statutory and have legal effect, meaning it can be introduced as evidence in an employment tribunal.

The Act and secondary legislation make it unlawful for businesses to hold back service charges from their employees, ensuring staff receive all of the tips they have earned.

The measures are expected to come into force on 1st October 2024, once they have been approved by Parliament.

Many hospitality workers rely on tips to top up their pay and are often left powerless if businesses do not pass on service charges from customers to their staff.

This overhaul of tipping practices is set to benefit more than 2 million UK workers across the hospitality, leisure and services sectors helping to ease cost of living pressures and give them peace of mind that they will keep their hard-earned money.

Source:Other | 23-04-2024

Smart energy

In a recent press release, the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero confirmed that consumers are set to benefit from cheaper and more convenient energy deals as part of new measures to create a smart, flexible electricity system to help save money on bills. They said:

“New proposals set out in a recent consultation will introduce minimum requirements for cyber security and grid stability, and minimum product standards for energy smart appliances to give consumers confidence to accept smart devices and make it easier for them to benefit from cheaper bills. Electric heating appliances with the greatest flexibility potential – like heat pumps – could also be required to have smart functionality.

“Smart appliances enable consumers to manage their energy use to benefit from cheaper tariffs at times of low electricity demand, for example a smart charge point which waits for a period of low-demand overnight to charge the car. This will reduce the consumer’s bill while also ensuring that their car is ready to be used in the morning.

“By shifting some electricity use away from peak periods, this will ease pressure on the grid and reduce reliance on backup fossil fuel generation and the need for new infrastructure like pylons, helping to save up to £50 billion by 2050. The use of smart systems and flexibility could create 10,000 jobs and increase GDP by up to £1.3 billion by 2050. A further 14,000 jobs could be created by exporting the technology.”

Source:Other | 23-04-2024

View and prove your immigration status

A UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) account can be used by eligible users to view and prove their immigration status online. This may be required to provide proof of your status to employers or higher education providers.

The service can also be used to update personal details or to check what rights you have in the UK, for example the right to work, rent or claim benefits.

You will have a UKVI if you have ever:

  • applied to the EU Settlement Scheme;
  • used the ‘UK Immigration: ID Check’ app to prove your identity when applying for a visa;
  • created one when applying for a visa (you will have received a UKVI account confirmation email); and
  • created one to get access to an eVisa (an online record of your immigration status) – you will have received an email about this.

If you are unable to access your account, then you will need to recover your UK Visas and Immigration Account by calling the UK Visas and Immigration phone line on 0300 790 6268.

Source:Home Office | 15-04-2024

Accessing the HMRC mobile APP

HMRC’s free tax app is available to download from the App Store for iOS and from the Google Play Store for Android. The latest version of the app includes updated functionality.

The app can be used to see:

  • your tax code and National Insurance number;
  • your income and benefits;
  • your income from work in the previous 5 years;
  • how much you will receive in tax credits and when they will be paid;
  • your Unique Taxpayer Reference (UTR) self-assessment;
  • how much self-assessment tax you owe;
  • your Child Benefit; and
  • your State Pension.

The app can also be used to complete a number of tasks that usually require the user to be logged on to a computer. This includes:

  • get an estimate of the tax you need to pay;
  • make a self-assessment payment;
  • set a reminder to make a self-assessment payment;
  • report tax credits changes and complete your renewal;
  • access your Help to Save account;
  • using HMRC’s tax calculator to work out your take home pay after Income Tax and National Insurance deductions;
  • track forms and letters you have sent to HMRC;
  • claim a refund if you have paid too much tax;
  • ask HMRC’s digital assistant for help and information;
  • update your name and / or postal address;
  • save your National Insurance number to your digital wallet; and
  • choose to be contacted by HMRC electronically, instead of by letter.
Source:HM Revenue & Customs | 08-04-2024

HMRC continues to target till fraud

HMRC has, for many years, looked to target businesses that deliberately undertake electronic sales suppression (ESS). ESS happens where a business deliberately manipulates its electronic sales records in order to hide or reduce the value of individual transactions. 

This type of fraud is hard to spot as it tries to reduce the recorded turnover of the business and the corresponding tax liabilities while providing what appears to be a credible and compliant audit trail. This can be done by misusing built in till functions or installing software specifically designed to suppress sales.

HMRC officers are continuing to target businesses across the country that are suspected of being involved in making, supplying or promoting ESS systems. These businesses can face fines of up to £50,000 and criminal investigations. HMRC is also actively targeting users of these systems who will also face having to pay back tax evaded, financial penalties and possible criminal convictions. HMRC has confirmed that they will continue to contact and target till fraud throughout 2024.

HMRC is also urging affected businesses to voluntarily come forward and use the online portal to disclose their undeclared sales and stop using ESS software immediately. If businesses do not come forward, HMRC may issue an assessment and open an investigation, and harsher penalties will apply.

Source:HM Revenue & Customs | 08-04-2024

Measures to support household budgets from 1 April

In a recent press release the government confirmed the following policies to support household incomes from 1 April 2024.

  1. The National Living Wage has officially risen from £10.42 an hour to £11.44. This marks a £1,800 annual boost to full-time workers’ pay packets. This means nobody over 21 will earn less than two-thirds of the average hourly wage increase – putting more money in the pockets of around 3 million of UK’s lowest paid workers.
  2. Households will also save around £250 a year on average thanks to a drop in energy bills introduced by Ofgem. This marks a 12.3% fall from the previous quarter, which brings prices down to their lowest since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
  3. An increase to the Local Housing Allowance means some of the poorest families on either Universal Credit or Housing Benefit will gain around £800 a year on average. 
  4. Additionally, these changes run alongside the roll out of 15 hours of free childcare, which will save working parents an average of £3,450 a year – the first stage in the £8 billion childcare package that was announced by the Chancellor last year.

Clearly the recent increases in inflation have had a major impact on spending power and although the above measures are welcomed, the real increases in purchasing power are to some extent reduced by the continuing increase in prices.

However, since October 2022, the Consumer Prices Index (CPI) has already more than halved from 11.1% to 3.4%. This is stabilising the financial situation for many families, and the government expects that by Quarter 4 2024 (October-December) CPI will have fallen to 1.4%.

Source:Other | 04-04-2024

HMRC helpline changes on hold

HMRC has been forced into an embarrassing climbdown on plans to close the Self-Assessment, VAT and PAYE helplines from early April until September this year. HMRC has now confirmed that these helpline changes have been abandoned following feedback from many concerned stakeholders, including MPs, accountants and members of the public. This means that the helplines will remain open as usual for the time being.

However, these moves indicate that a significant shift towards online self-service options will become the norm in the longer term. HMRC has also said that they will continue encouraging customers to self-serve where possible and access the information they need more quickly and easily by going online or to the HMRC app, which is available 24/7.

HMRC’s Chief Executive said:

‘Making best use of online services allows HMRC to help more taxpayers and get the most out of every pound of taxpayers’ money by boosting productivity.

Our helpline and webchat advisers will always be there for those taxpayers who need support because they are vulnerable, digitally excluded or have complex affairs.

However, the pace of this change needs to match the public appetite for managing their tax affairs online.

We’ve listened to the feedback and we’re halting the helpline changes as we recognise more needs to be done to ensure all taxpayers’ needs are met, whilst also encouraging them to transition to online services.’

Source:HM Revenue & Customs | 25-03-2024