A scam or a rip-off attempt

I have posted this on Facebook:

Last week someone or some company tried to relieve me of a fair amount of money. They said that we needed to issue a new certificate for the installed loft insulation in our house. Therefore I assumed they represented the original people who did the work.

The “inspector” came, crawled about in our loft, and informed me that there were some leaks that needed to be addressed. He could arrange to have a coating put on the roof to seal it. He quoted £5,500 for the work, but then after phoning his office to get agreement for allowances and grants because Gloria and I are pensioners and blue badge holders and had spent money on solar panels, he could arrange for the work to be done for only£3,400. That should have been a red flag in sales technique but the guy was very believable.

The work would be guaranteed by the company for 15 years,

The “inspector” took a deposit of £500 from my credit card, and said they could do the work in the next few days. Yes, maybe another red flag.

After the man went, belatedly I did some due diligence. I found the company was only incorporated on 30th May 2023 so was four months old. The directors had started several companies previously and dissolved them. None seemed to be anything to do with roof repairs or loft insulation. Only one company appeared to have any assets and the new one obviously had yet to file any accounts. Fifteen year guarantee? Huh!

Either this was a scam to get me to make a deposit, or if the guys had turned up to do the work, would it really be worth £3,400?

I emailed to cancel the deal, spoke to someone on the phone who told me my deposit was non-refundable, which would have been a final conclusive red flag if I had been told during the meeting. I said they needed to refund the money or I would take action.

I telephoned the credit card people, explained what had happened, and they have assured me the £500 would-be refunded to me as they had put a stop on it. I feel a bit foolish. I have no idea why they chose us, unless they though we were stupid pensioners. Maybe I could have been one, but a lesson learned I think.

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Nadhim Zahawi’s tax affairs

As many of you will have realised, I keep politics out of my on-line writing and social media. I am not going to start now. There has been much speculation about the supposed investigation into Mr Zahawi’s tax affairs and a “tax expert” has made assumptions about the amount of money, or should we say value, of assets apparently now deemed liable to tax, capital gains tax so we are told. I should also say that the “whistle blower” or source of the leak of some of the circumstances, whether an employee of HMRC or of a professional adviser, has committed a sackable offence in my book.

  1. With any taxpayer, we have to consider the level of the offence. Is it negligence or carelessness, ignorance or tax fraud or evasion? In my experience acting for taxpayers in trouble with HMRC over the latter fifteen years of my tax career it is rarely evasion, though it happens. Mostly it is ignorance or an oversight.
  2. An oversight is probably carelessness. What might be omitted from a proper declaration for tax purposes varies, but it would often be related to how much money the individual concerned is used to dealing with. So for the average person on an income of under six figures, we might be looking for an omission of a thousand or a few thousand but usually not more than that. For someone used to dealing with income and other assets in millions, what might be overlooked could be much larger. Carelessness: lack of attention and thought about what you are doing.
  3. Then of course if the individual subject to investigation has not actually received any income or gains in their pocket, so to speak, they might if they were busy and did not think too much about it, assume they could not be taxed on money they never had.
  4. If no money has been received because the assets transferred were seen as a gift by the individual concerned or from an entity controlled by that individual, the gift would be deemed as a disposal for capital gains purposes. Many would say that gifts where no money has changed hand should not be liable to tax but of course they have been for many years.
  5. Did the individual in question receive any money from a transfer of shares? Probably not.
  6. We can be sure that if there was an enquiry or investigation going on in July 2022 it had most certainly been in progress for months prior to then and quite likely a year or so. HMRC are notoriously slow in their correspondence, and of course professional advisers also need time to respond and consider their case and argue if they disagree.

I am not defending anyone, including Mr Zahawi. I just hope to explain that these matters are not straightforward.

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More dishonesty

“I shudder to think how many tradespeople still fiddle their taxes. Fortunately, I was not aware any of my former clients did, but of course I could not know. Maybe some did.” That is what I wrote on 18th April.

Now I have heard it again from a landscape gardener. As I said, “If he was taking cash in hand to allow me to avoid paying his VAT, he was certainly dodging tax on any cash he took, and of course deceiving his accountant as well as defrauding HMRC. That amounts to defrauding all of us as taxpayers.” And it is no different in my book from stealing money from my back pocket. We are all poorer from this practice except the petty fraudsters who do it. Should we tolerate them?

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Kindness and indifference in the supermarket

Last week in our local Co-op I dropped my walking stick when paying at the check-out. The cheerful young lady rushed round to pick it up for me. I was a little embarrassed but thanked her. She was very considerate of someone she perceived as an older pensioner, though I do not think of myself as such.

Yesterday at the same check-out a sullen young man served me probably of the same age as the young lady. He did not look at me, did not speak to me and just grabbed my payment card to shove in the card reader when it appeared it did not want to work contactless. He probably thought I was a stupid old pensioner.

I am sure the young lady was of a naturally sunny disposition, but I did wonder whether the Co-op train their staff to deal with customers because yesterday’s lad could certainly do with some lessons. A bad attitude puts customers off and certainly will not help any business.

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Dilemmas and degrees of honesty

Recently we have needed a plumber to do a job for us. The first plumber we got appears to have let us down badly as he walked off the job, promising to come back and did not. It turned out he had gone abroad on holiday.

We got a second plumber in to finish the work. The guy operated through a limited company, but when it came to pay, he offered a “discount” for paying in cash with no VAT. As you will probably know I spent my career in tax and I was rather upset to say the least. If he was taking cash in hand to allow me to avoid paying his VAT, he was certainly dodging tax on any cash he took, and of course deceiving his accountant as well as defrauding HMRC.  That amounts to defrauding all of us as taxpayers.

I paid to his company including the VAT.

Now I have a problem. He did a good job, but should I dob him in to HMRC for his dishonesty? I shudder to think how many tradespeople still fiddle their taxes. Fortunately, I was not aware any of my former clients did, but of course I could not know. Maybe some did.

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Death and life getting in the way

It is over four years since I posted on On Our Bikes. Why the hiatus, or maybe that word is not enough to convey the long interval?

Never mind. After the last post in July 2017 things just happened. My Dad passed away, and only a few weeks later we lost my Mum as well. We were tied up dealing with what had to be done, the funeral services, the notifications to those who needed to know, and then all the admin in dealing with their estates. The estate stuff took a couple of years eventually, but there was just so much to think about.

At much the same time I started to think that I should retire. Of course, the deaths of parents concentrate the mind somewhat, but also, I realised that I did not enjoy my work as much as I always had before. To that end, I started the process of handing my tax and business practices to someone else, and I did finish work at the end of April 2018.

After finishing work, I enjoyed my leisure, and it was great to spend more time with my wife. I had my walks around the local countryside and woods and generally felt relaxed. I took a lot of photographs both with digital and with film. I came back to amateur radio, which was a hobby from my younger days.

What I did not foresee was becoming so ill in November 2020 when also everyone was so stressed with the misery and worse thrust upon us by COVID. My illness was not related to that but was very serious indeed and I have not fully recovered as I write this.

However, I am apparently still quite capable of blogging and have resolved to do more, and will try to share my thoughts on business, work, and life in general, and I hope you will stay with me.

One of my non-digital cameras

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Business and social media folly

My wife Gloria and I met an apparently very pleasant fellow at a weekend barbecue recently. We had a long chat covering a wide range of non-contentious subjects, and it emerged we had a hobby in common – amateur radio, or ham radio if you like. He is also good at repairing gadgets such as vacuum cleaners. One might think a useful person to know.

Afterwards we thought it would be good to stay in touch, so I went to “friend” our new acquaintance on Facebook. It was then I saw that not only was his personal page full of extreme politics (and I do not do politics in social media) but that he had used profanities of the worst kind to describe those whom he saw as political opponents. That might include me although as I say, I keep my politics to myself.

Needless to say, I have not “friended” this guy. I do not want anyone to think I approve of such strong language by association with this individual, especially when so many of my Facebook friends I know in a business context.

Suppose the guy is looking for work in the future, applies for a job and the prospective client or employer sees all this stuff on Facebook. Will he get the work? I think not.

What a pity.

Posted in Customer relations, Social media | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Should I be retired?

Being of “a certain age”, which means no longer young, a lot of people I meet socially and even some who have known me a while think I must be retired. Well, I suppose I could have retired, but since I am in business on my own account rather than being an employee, the question of retirement has not come up.

Even if I were employed by someone else, there is no longer an effective retirement age which is more or less compulsory.

I believe that I will know when to retire, and that will be when my work is no longer interesting, or it gets in the way of leisure activities to which I want to give higher priority.

Those who think I should be retired and who are a similar sort of age perhaps did not enjoy their work so much when they had it. I choose my work carefully now. I do not take on clients unless I like them and am happy to take them on. It means that my business feels like a hobby even though it makes money as it always has.

So why retire while work is still fun?

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What counts is what we can do

We had a very interesting speaker at a meeting I went to the other week. He was very knowledgeable in his subject and sounded as though he could really help his clients through tough times and to achieve their best.

After the talk, there was a general discussion during which it emerged that he had a doctorate in his subject. He was asked why he did not mention this in his talk or in his promotional material. He said he did not think it mattered. I suggested that potential clients and customers were not interested in qualifications, but only in what the person or business could do for them. That is my experience.

One way of showing what our business can do to help is to present case studies. I have several on my website. One client who came to me a couple of weeks ago first read my case studies last year. He was obviously a slow burner, but seeing what I had achieved for other clients ultimately persuaded him to come to me, and of course I can and am helping him to solve his problem.

People think of me mainly as a tax practitioner. What I really do is take away the worry and stress people go through when they have tax problems. That sort of pain relief allows my clients to get on with their lives rather than live a life of anxiety. Do you do that too?


Do you have a tax issue I can help you with? Get in touch and I will guide you.

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Bad professional vibes

We all pick up work we do not like. Usually we do not know we don’t like it until after we are committed to doing it, otherwise we might have declined it politely in the first place.

The other day, I accompanied someone to see a professional person. I was there to provide moral support in an unpaid capacity. My companion was obviously uncomfortable during the meeting. She said afterwards “He doesn’t like me”. I told her that I thought he did not like her case because it had become messy and was rather a lot of trouble.

Of course, it was very unprofessional for this guy to let his attitude show. Also, he annoyed me rather by asking unnecessary questions about my qualifications (as I said, I was only the unpaid moral support) and as we were visiting his office he might at least have offered us a coffee. Anyway, he had an attitude problem and succeeded in antagonising me as well as the lady I was with.

Working rules for us should include:

  • If possible, don’t take work we don’t fancy.
  • If we are stuck with a messy job, grin and bear it, and do not unsettle the client by showing our discomfort. After all, poor professional relationships lead to less work and word-of-mouth comment can damage our reputations.
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