Monthly Archives: December 2017

Blockchain and Bitcoin – an introduction for beginners written by a beginner

I am pretty interested in finance and economics (often useful as a professional accountant) and I have worked with enough tech companies over the years to feel vaguely competent in understanding at least the business models of most technology businesses and the markets they operate in. It has however taken quite a while to get me to the point of feeling like I understand anything at all about blockchain, bitcoin, cryptocurrencies and the whole related world which seems to have become really prominent recently.

Talking to fellow professionals and business owners I realised that it wasn’t that I was a long way behind the curve on this – it was simply that this stuff has usually been really badly explained by the specialists who are all over it and generalists like me can’t keep up. I decided to try and shed some light on this whole topic and if some tech expert finds I have misunderstood it, please just correct me!

So first of all, “blockchain” – this really is a set of data “blocks” linked together in a way quite similar to a chain. Each data block is encrypted and the way the encryption works is that part of it is linked to the previous block in the chain.  Even if you can’t read the data (because you don’t have the key to the encryption) you can tell that the data in the previous block is unchanged because the link to that previous block in your current block still works – i.e. the chain is unbroken.

These data blocks are stored on a large number of independent computers linked together in a peer to peer network (no-one computer is in charge of the network) and the common feature is that they have all agreed to run the same protocol (i.e. programme). Because the computers are all linked any change to any block would be instantly highlighted – the “chain” on one computer would no longer work and would be different from the chain on every other computer from that point on.

This is therefore a very flexible and resilient way to store data transparently – and the fact that the data is encrypted and only the people with the key know what it actually means makes the process very private as well.  A really clever way of squaring the circle.

Bitcoin is a specific blockchain. An individual Bitcoin is a particular number that meets a set of criteria. There are only around 21 million numbers which meet these criteria and so there is a restricted supply of Bitcoins. Identifying numbers which meet the criteria is a very computer processing intensive exercise – this process is known as “mining bitcoins” and there are untold thousands of computers devoting processing power to it all the time. When you read that “bitcoin mining is using more power than the entire state of Mexico”, it illustrates just how much effort is being put into this computing.

So an individual number which meets the criteria is a bitcoin and forms one of the blocks. The block is encrypted but if you have the key to the encryption then you “own” it and have the capacity to transfer the key to someone else – this transfer of the key is the transfer of value and the encryption keys are therefore the real Bitcoin currency.

The potential of blockchain however goes well beyond Bitcoin. There are other cryptocurrencies (the most prominent of which is probably Ethereum) and a whole host of other applications which people are devising for using the squared circle of transparency and privacy that blockchain offers. An interesting idea I have seen is a register of all large diamonds – you can put the details into blocks in a blockchain with the physical details unencrypted and ownership and cost details attached but encrypted. This would allow much easier verification of the ownership of valuable assets.

I think the key value of blockchain is that it allows some transactions and relationships to be conducted very quickly, without needing to take the time to build trust as has previously been needed. In lots of ways, in the world we live in now, there is already a huge degree of trust and the extra admin of using blockchain is completely unnecessary. In other cases, it can be a game changer.

And if you think I am going to tell you what the future value of Bitcoin is, think again.  I am an accountant, not a prophet!

 

Festive tax tips

Tax on the Christmas Party

As the festive season gets underway, here are a few tax pointers to watch out for on rewarding employees this Christmas.

How much can you spend on employees at the Christmas party?

Throwing a Christmas party for your employees will be treated as an income tax exempt benefit, provided the cost of the party does not exceed £150 per head.  The limit is an all or nothing exemption which means if the limit is exceeded, say at £200 per head, the full £200 will be a taxable benefit for each employee.

You can provide your employees with two or more parties throughout the year, however the costs will only fall within the exemption if both parties combined do not exceed £150 per head. If the costs do exceed the limit you can choose which party best utilises the exemption of £150 per head and a taxable benefit will arise on the others.

Ancillary costs such as paying for transport to the party or accommodation will also count towards the £150 per head test.

Can you claim the VAT back?

Any input tax paid on the cost of a Christmas party can be recovered in full if the party is exclusively for employees, even where directors attend the party. This is subject to the normal partial exemption rules.

However, if non employees attend, for example if you invite spouses of employees, input tax recovery must be restricted and only the element relating to employees can be reclaimed.  You should be aware that any VAT incurred on the cost of providing the party, and any ancillary costs, will need to be included in the total cost against which the £150 limit is tested.

If the party is just for business owners/shareholders, input tax cannot be reclaimed.

T’is the season to gift an employee…

As an employer, you can give your employees Christmas gifts without them incurring a taxable benefit if it falls within the trivial benefit exemption. For the exemption to apply, each gift must not:

  • exceed a value of £50,
  • be cash or a cash voucher,
  • be a reward of services performed, or
  • be part of a contractual obligation.

If the gift meets the conditions listed above, it will be completely tax free. However, in close companies (generally, a company is “close” if it is privately owned and controlled by five or fewer individual participators) and the gift is to a director or officer of that company the total tax exemption for trivial benefits is capped at £300 per tax year.

Any cash gifts to employees will be treated as earnings and attract income tax and national insurance through the payroll in the normal way.

What about the VAT?

Any input tax paid on the cost of gifts to both employees or clients can be recovered in full under your normal VAT recovery rules.

If the value of gifts to any one person in a 12 month period is below £50, there is no need to consider output VAT.  However, if it exceeds £50 per person, you should account for output tax on the value of the gifts.

Christmas Present Appeal 2017

Christmas is just around the corner and we’re once again appealing to you for gift donations.

This year, the PM+M team are collecting gifts for Blackburn, Burnley and Bury Children’s Services. We want to make it our biggest one yet!

If you are able to spare a little time and money, we know your donations will be greatly appreciated. For some children, this could be the only gift they receive this Christmas. Gifts can be for children of any age or gender and we have included a few guidelines below:

  • Gifts should be to the value of around £10
  • Gifts must be new
  • Please either deliver gifts unwrapped or wrapped
  • If wrapped, gifts should be clearly marked with gender and age range
  • Gifts should not contain confectionery or alcohol

Gifts can be dropped off at our any of our offices between 8:30am and 5pm. The last day for drop off is Friday 15 December.

The PM+M team would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your kindness and generosity and we do hope that as many of you as possible will join us in supporting such a worthy cause.

A reminder of our addresses is below but should you require any further information, please get in touch with our Marketing team on 01254 679131.

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