== Minimum Wage to rise ==


The National Minimum Wage for adults (employees aged 22 and over) will increase to £5.80 an hour from October 1. The government has accepted the Low Pay Commission’s (LPC’s) recommendation of a 7p increase from the current rate of £5.73 per hour. Other hourly rates will also rise. For 18- to 21-year-olds, it will increase from £4.77 to £4.83, while for 16- and 17-year-olds, it will go up from £3.53 to £3.57.

In addition to these changes, the government has said that from October 2010, the ’adult’ rate will include 21-year-olds.

As we reported in March, the date set for the submission of the LPC’s recommendations on the new rates for the Minimum Wage was moved from February to May to allow it to take the latest economic evidence into account. The general reaction to the increase has been quite muted - many commentators see it as a ’token’ increase that is unlikely to have much impact on employers, but which still allows the government to claim some political credit with lower-paid voters for not freezing the rate despite the overall economic climate being the worst in a generation.

The LPC also proposed that information should be made available about employers who have shown a wilful disregard for the Minimum Wage laws - the government said it would look at the practical issues involved, which is probably the last we’ll hear of it!



== Taxpayers warned over refund email scams ==


HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) has warned taxpayers to be on their guard against fraudulent emails promising them a tax rebate. Tax refund ’phishing’ scams are on the increase, and most often target smaller businesses, the self-employed and those who complete self-assessment tax returns. The bogus emails attempt to persuade people to hand over confidential information with the promise of a tax rebate.

However, HMRC has said that it would not inform customers of a tax rebate via email, or invite them to complete an online form to receive a rebate. The fraudsters tend to be most active around important periods in the tax calendar.

Scams generally work by directing recipients to a web page that appears identical to the HMRC site with the inducement of a substantial tax refund.

HMRC reiterated that although these emails may contain its logo and other details, they are fake and urged people never to respond to an email which asks for personal information.

The tax authorities said that, while they may send emails from time to time, they would never do so requesting login, bank and credit card details.

Anyone who believes they have been sent a fraudulent email should report it to HMRC (phishing@hmrc.gsi.gov.uk). If you do receive any correspondence that appears to offer some form of ’rebate’ just remember the golden rules:

(1) There’s no such thing as a free lunch;

(2) If it looks too good to be true, it most probably is.

In any case, your accountant or professional business advisor will be in a good position to tell you whether any official government agency is actually likely to owe you any money - ask them before you even think about responding.



== Health & safety should be treated seriously ==


Small businesses are being urged to be mindful of complying with the rules on health and safety ahead of the publication of a new official strategy. The Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) new strategy (due out on June 3) is likely to insist that business owners and employees work together more closely on improving health and safety and risk assessment.

Already in force is the Health and Safety Offences Act 2008, which increased the maximum fine that may be imposed in the lower courts to £20,000 for most health and safety offences. It also gave both the higher and lower courts the option to imprison employers for a greater number of offences.

While petrol retailers are probably more conscious of health and safety than most small businesses, if only because of the ’competent persons’ training that they receive in respect of the special risks attached to handling fuel, there’s no excuse for complacency in more general areas of operation.

It’s one thing to be able to deal properly with tanker deliveries and fire hazards on the forecourt but quite another when it comes to potential accidents in the shop or store room.

There’s also some concern that while the oil majors used to provide comprehensive initial safety training for those retailers who worked directly for them, or who took company-owned sites, the trend over recent years has been for multi-site networks where the individuals actually in charge of these devolved sites may have received a rather more diluted introduction to health and safety. Add to that the simple fact that health and safety isn’t a static subject, and ask yourself just how up to date is your own training?



== More businesses to keep wages ’on hold’ ==


Still on the subject of wages, according to Incomes Data Services (IDS), some 30% of the pay settlements that it monitored last month involved pay freezes.

IDS said that more and more firms were pegging wages at current levels. Over the first quarter of the year, pay freezes accounted for 20% of wage deals. Now that figure has risen to a third.

Where wage increases were agreed in April, the average was 2%, down from the 3% in the months from January to March.

The contrast with 2008 is even starker. IDS said that of the 243 settlements it has analysed this year, 64 resulted in wage freezes. The total number of wage freezes for the whole of 2008 was seven!