== Limited company annual accounts - steeper late filing penalties ==

As many of the oil majors have sold off sites in recent years, quite a few small independent retailers have acquired them - often setting up private limited companies to do so. One of the annual deadlines faced by all such companies is the need to file their ’statutory’ financial accounts at Companies House.

The basic rule for private companies (ie ’Ltd’ as opposed to ’Plc’) is that you now have only nine months from your year-end accounting date to file your completed accounts. It used to be 10 months, but for any accounting period that started after April 5, 2008, it has been cut to nine. Not only has the period been cut, but also the penalties for late filing have just risen dramatically. The new penalties came into effect on February 1 and for private companies are:

Up to one month late £150

Between one month and three months late £375

Between three months and six months late £750

More than six months late £1,500

And these penalties will be doubled if the current and previous year’s filing were both late.

The first you might know of the penalty will be an invoice from the Registrar of Companies landing at your company’s registered offices. And Companies House is already warning that the ’accounts are in the post’ excuse won’t be accepted.

It shouldn’t be difficult to get a set of limited company accounts completed and filed within nine months, even if they need the extra work of a ’statutory audit’ - but as many accountants will tell you, their clients are often substantially ’behind’ with their book-keeping and the accountant then can’t even start working on the year-end figures until the missing information has been obtained. So don’t delay - get your accounting up to date and save yourself some money.

== Minimum wage recommendation delayed until May ==

Each October sees the introduction of updated rates for the National Minimum Wage.

However the actual sequence of events before that has usually been for the Low Pay Commission to make a recommendation in February for the government to consider and/or adopt in its March or April Budget, before the rate is applied from October 1.

This year of course we’re in rather uncharted economic waters, and the Low Pay Commission says it will not now make a recommendation until early in May - giving it time to see just how bad the most up-to-date economic figures look.

However it insists that the delay will not affect the formal implementation date of October 1.

Of course that does still leave the door open for what many employers’ organisations have been asking for - that the Minimum Wage rate be frozen at its current rate for at least another year.

Politically that seems rather unlikely; after all a government that can’t stop the ’fat bankers’ in what are now essentially nationalised banks from awarding themselves large bonuses, is hardly likely to turn around and impose a complete freeze on the pay of the lowest paid section of the workforce.

== Increase in minimum redundancy pay ==

In the present climate many employers and employees are talking about ’statutory redundancy pay’ - which refers to a specific calculation of the minimum legal amount that an employer owes to any employee who they make redundant.

In many organisations the first thing that the staff do when they hear rumours of redundancies is to look up a ready-reckoner on the web just to see what size lump-sum payment they might get.

The precise calculation can be quite fiddly but takes into account factors including the employee’s age, length of service and their weekly pay - there’s an upper limit on the weekly pay that counts towards the entitlement. That upper limit has just been increased, and in practice that means the amount payable goes up. On February 1 the upper earnings limit rose from £330 a week to £350 a week.

We’ve commented a few times before that some clients have been cutting back on forecourt staff, often through ’natural wastage’.

In other words things like not replacing staff who have left and leaving the site operator or their direct family to make up the additional hours. There comes a point though where any employer needing to cut staff runs out of ’natural wastage’ and has to start looking at the formal redundancy process for people who don’t want to leave. Frankly at this point you might feel that you’ve just entered a legal minefield. And you wouldn’t be far wrong. Employment law is most definitely not for amateurs. Always seek legal and professional advice before starting any redundancy process.

Incidentally, the compensation figures relating to things like unfair dismissal have just been increased quite considerably, in line with all the other penalty increases announced by government agencies during January and February. You have been warned.

== Long-term sick notes must have holidays too ==

According to a recent ruling by the European Court of Justice (ECJ), any employee who has been absent from work due to long-term sickness is still entitled to take all of the paid annual holiday that had accrued to them while they were away.

One estimate is that an employee who’s been off sick for two years could still claim some 40 days’ paid holiday when they eventually return. And if they’ve left or been fired in the meantime, they can still go back and claim for the period while they were employed.

The ECJ has stated the principle that: "A worker does not lose his right to paid annual leave which he has been unable to exercise because of sickness. He must be compensated for his annual leave not taken." Perhaps the only point of common sense in its judgement as reported, is that at least the employee on a sick note can’t take the holiday while they’re on sick leave.