== EFT payments bunch up - what’s your experience? ==


Have you noticed anything ’odd’ in relation to your debit or credit card receipts in recent months?

Some retailers claim to have seen a change in the way their banks are paying them, particularly the debit card receipts.

According to these retailers they’d become used to seeing a steady stream of near-daily transfers into their bank accounts, albeit with the usual, constant, two to three working days’ banking delay.

So, for example they’d expect to see any particular Monday’s debit card transactions arrive in their bank account by the Wednesday of the same week, or Friday’s transactions arrive by the following Tuesday. What appears to have changed in the past few months, according to some retailers, is that they’re now seeing almost a whole week’s worth of debit card transactions arrive on one day.

So, for example they’ll see five or six separate daily totals arrive on one particular day, then nothing for the next few days. Then perhaps a single deposit from the previous weekend’s trading, then another four of five days’ worth of sales on a single day. If this sort of payment pattern has really become widespread then it’s almost like going back to the early days of EFTs in the late 1980s.

While the ’average’ overall time delay from transaction to receipt may still work out as three working days, this sort of pattern could put some retailers’ bank accounts under considerable extra stress on a day-to-day basis - depending on their own cash outflows - and hence push some retailers into a position where they start to incur additional overdraft and/or unauthorised borrowing charges from their bank.

But then again it might just be a coincidence or a figment of over-stressed imaginations.


== Paperless VAT returns in 2010 will mean changes for you ==


It may have passed you by, what with the credit crunch, but there’s an important change coming soon to how you submit VAT returns and pay the tax due. HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) plans to phase out paper VAT returns from April 2010. After then it will be mandatory for all VAT-registered traders with a turnover of over £100,000, plus any newly-registered traders, to submit their returns online and pay electronically. That ’turnover’ figure means ’sales excluding VAT’ so it will affect almost all petrol retailers. Obviously the dealer sector of the industry has turnover figures running into millions, but even the smaller commission operators will almost certainly have shop sales of more than £2,000 a week even before taking fuel or car wash commissions into account.

Not only will the VAT return itself have to be done on line, but payment will also have to be made electronically. There’ll be a number of options available, including direct debit facilities. HMRC will automatically collect payment from your bank account on the third working day after seven calendar days following your return due date - which will give you slightly more time to pay the tax. There’s also going to be an option to pay by credit card. If you have a debit or credit card issued by a UK bank, you can pay your VAT over the internet using the BillPay service provided by Alliance & Leicester Commercial Bank.

However, if the payment terms remain as at present then this option begins to look rather expensive, as payments by card will carry a 1.25% surcharge. This means that if your VAT bill is say, £8,000 for a quarter, it’ll cost you an extra £100 to use the credit card payment method, and that’s before any additional charges from your own card issuer are added.

April 2010 is just a few months away so if you don’t currently prepare your own VAT returns you’ll need to discuss the new system with your accountant/book-keeper. Bear in mind that you (or your business) will have an individual on-line registration that will be password-protected, so in theory only you will be able to go on line and make the return and payment - which will be quite a change for those retailers who give their book-keeper a blank, signed cheque and VAT return form and tell them to ’sort it’.



== Computer security... is yours up to scratch? ==


By forcing the VAT return ’on line’ HMRC may indeed force those last remaining retailers who’ve so far resisted the PC coming into their office, into a major change of working style and practice. Now this isn’t the place to review the history of the ’paperless office’ or ’automation’ - it’s just a fact that while almost every petrol retailer has some form of computer somewhere in their business, quite a few have tried to keep these infernal machines from taking over their private work space. They may indeed have a valid point - is spending the first hour or two of every working day dealing with emails really the most productive use of your time? Well, now there’ll be no excuse for not having a PC in the office, even if it’s only to be able to pay the VAT. But it does raise some major questions about computer security. Remember that you’ll be putting even more of your confidential business details (and access to your bank account) into that machine sitting on your office desk. How many people have access to that office when you’re not around? And how many of them have an awful lot more knowledge of PCs than you? Even those retailers who’ve been enthusiastic users of PCs on site for years may have become a little casual towards security. Leaving passwords on a note lying in the top draw of your desk isn’t ever a great idea. And that’s before we get into the realms of spyware, unsecured WiFi networks and the like. It’s not just the PC-novices who need to consider security. Review yours now before someone else tests it for you!