A fuel volume data update plus a warning about some of the ‘HMRC rebate’ scams doing the rounds at this time of year

FT - 2020Moneytalksymbol

According to the ONS, fuel volumes across Great Britain last November (2020) were down almost 24% against their benchmark February 2020 level.

And, as everyone in the petrol retailing industry knows, February isn’t exactly the busiest time of any year on most forecourts. Looking at their monthly figures we see that at no point between March and November last year did fuel volumes reach those February levels. The closest that they came to even that level was during August, September and October – when they were just over 90% of last February’s level. Then in November we saw the effect of the various degrees of Tiered Restrictions imposed on different areas, followed by even tighter restrictions just before Christmas, and the return of full lockdown at the start of January.

As an educated guess therefore, it’s reasonably safe to expect that when all the data is published for 2020, the typical ‘average forecourt’ will probably have seen a drop of around 30% on full-year volumes compared to the last ‘normal’ year – 2019. As bad as that is, at least most forecourts are still open, and many have found innovations (such as click & collect or home-delivery services) in order to maximise their non-fuel turnover. A few have even found it worth opening up their long-mothballed car wash bay again, as the latest restrictions have put the hand-wash cowboys out of business for a while. On that point, it’s worth paying attention to what one such retailer reminded us of: firstly, if your wash hasn’t seen any real use for a while, it’s probably going to need an engineer’s visit to make sure that it doesn’t chew up a customer’s car; secondly, make sure that your public liability insurance is up to date and still covers the wash!

The scary bit

The end of January always means hundreds of thousands of people submitting their Self-Assessment Tax Returns online. But the really scary bit is what happens in the weeks after January 31: regular as clockwork the scammers/con-artists/criminals suddenly get to work. The traditional method is by sending an email, which at first glance appears to be from HMRC, advising that you’re owed some form of tax rebate or refund. All you have to do to collect it is to follow their link and put in your bank details. And then wait while they empty your bank account. This particular scam has been going on for years, especially at this time of year, yet incredibly every year a few dozen (maybe a few hundred – who really knows?) innocent people still fall for it. To make matters worse this year, the criminals have resorted to sending not just emails but text messages – and some of these inevitably mention ‘Covid rebates’ or ‘Covid-related grants’, etc.

So, let’s be clear. If you receive an email, text, WhatsApp or any other sort of communication telling you that you’re due a tax rebate or ‘Covid grant’ of any sort: just DELETE it. Don’t follow any links, don’t download anything, just hit DELETE.

The only thing you’ll miss by doing that is infecting your PC or smartphone with something potentially very destructive and/or costly to clean-up.

If you have filed your own tax return, you’ll already know how HMRC communicates with taxpayers – it’s never by email or text. You have to go through your own secure log-in to your government account where you’ll find any messages from the tax-people.

If HMRC do actually owe you any money at all, they will already have your bank details (because you filled those in as part of your Self-Assessment Return) and you’ll receive what you’re owed directly in due course. You won’t receive an email or text asking you to do anything at all.

Easy to spot

It’s amazing that we have to repeat this warning at least once a year. Some of these communications really can appear genuine at first glance; but even if they do, chances are that on closer inspection there’ll be a weird IP address somewhere in them that definitely isn’t from a government website. Most of them however are relatively easy to spot – they’re written by people who are only semi-literate, contain obvious typos and phrases that aren’t even used in this country. And despite all of that, some people fall for them.

And while we’re on this subject, we might as well repeat that the same applies to your bank. They won’t send you anything that asks you to follow a link, or asks for your log-on details or PIN. They may send you a message asking you to contact them but that will not contain any links. If you receive that sort of message, simply call your bank or go and log into your online bank app or even join the queue outside your local branch and see them in person.

As always, if you’re in any doubt, speak to your accountant – keeping you out of trouble with the tax people is just one part of their job; just as importantly they can help prevent you being scammed. If your accountant is too busy or reluctant to offer advice, you know where we are.

 

EKW Group provides accounting and payroll solutions for independent petroleum and convenience dealers, including fully outsourced accounting options:

01942 816512

ekwgroup.co.uk