Archive | November 2012

Income Tax and Self-Assessment

I cheered so loudly I woke the cat.  After several weeks/months of procrastinating, I finally dug out my box file labelled ‘Tax’.  I then waded through several years’ paperwork, all kept ‘just in case’, to find anything relevant to the year 2011-2012.  This happens every year.  What’s needed is actually very little: my pension P60s and, this year, a P45 from two months’ work carried out at the beginning of 2012.  As usual I inwardly groaned at having to complete a tax return when I no longer have any self-employment income or other income – the forever hoped for publication of a book perhaps – that warranted a place on the forms.

As I fanned through sheaves of notices and reminders from HMRC a leaflet printed in RED and in a large print fell out.  It read ‘Should I be in Self Assessment?’  Yes, I muttered, this is exactly what I have been asking myself over the last couple of years.  If I could say ‘yes’ to any of the  eight questions listed in the centre box, apparently my quest would end and a further couple of evenings clicking the mouse to answer ‘no’ or enter small insignificant sums would ensue.  Insignificant, that is, to the Inland Revenue, but not actually insignificant to me, of course.

I scanned the questions.  No I’m not self employed and haven’t been for a few years preferring someone else to calculate my dues to the nation’s coffers.  No, I’m not a company director and no, no, no I don’t receive income over £100,000!  I wish.  I read on, further down the sheet.  Again no, I don’t receive foreign income liable to UK tax and furthermore I no longer receive income from letting out property.

With that I dialled the 0845 number bracing myself for something resembling the Spanish Inquisition and being regarded as a would-be felon attempting to avoid paying tax in the same way our MPs have done for years.  I expected to be treated with suspicion.  After all, isn’t it usually a bad sign when none of the options in the first five minutes of your call apply to you and you are forced to ‘wait to speak to an advisor’.  To me, this always reeks of complications.

Once I was speaking to a human being, I explained about the leaflet and how I thought I was eligible only to be told there were ‘a few items not on the list which may change things’.  Just my luck I thought.  First security – full name with all its strange spellings and a surname that can be so easily misheard even if it’s spelt out.  I have received post addressed to Ms Carson, Ms Cattle and Ms Cassell – our northern operators do pronounce my name as the latter, frequently.  Then date of birth when you hold your breath hoping you are actually on a secure connection and speaking to the right person.  After being quizzed further, I was asked why I had signed up for self-assessment in the first place.  Here I hesitated, wondering if this last question was going to ‘find me out’.  Luckily, today my brain was in gear and I remembered.  On moving to the south coast in 2001 I had let my London house out for a period of 6 years and the receipt of rental income had triggered the need to submit a tax return.  As a cash strapped landlady I struggled annually with hmrc.gov.uk rather than line an accountant’s pockets.

Ten minutes later and I was told that I did not have to complete this season’s tax return, that a letter of exemption would arrive and I could ignore any reminders – or threats, my word not hers.  If my circumstances change – royalties on a novel ha ha – then I can re-start the process.  For once I am happy not to be published.

My relief was palpable as I babbled nonsense about being increasingly nervous of anything legal on the computer and this would be one less task leaving just contents insurance and online banking to cause me jitters. In other words I can now officially ‘retire’ and join the band of ‘white haired super-surfers’ who use the computer for pleasure only, not an annual stint of purgatory raising the blood pressure as each question is read three times to ensure accuracy.

And that was when I woke the cat.

By the way, paper returns should have been sent weeks ago but, if you file your self-assessment online, you have until 31st January 2013 to submit it.  Don’t leave it and get billed a wasted sum of £100 – just get on with it.  But if you think some of the above might apply to you phone 0845 900 0444

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30 WAYS TO HELP CHILDREN STRUGGLING WITH WRITING

THIRTY WAYS TO HELP CHILDREN WITH WRITING

1 Teach them how to mind map and brainstorm ideas for a story. Model it for them. You do the spider’s legs and write their ideas for them. This releases the strain of putting words on paper. Each leg becomes a sentence – later a paragraph. They choose the order.

2 Let them dictate a story or the answers to homework and you write them down. The children can then copy them. This is NOT cheating. They are the child’s ideas.

3 When they have dictated their thoughts to you. Read it back to them but get them to follow your finger as you run it under the words. Do this once or twice. Then get them to read it WITH YOU. Only when you are sure they will succeed should you get them to read it alone.

4 Play consequences. Each person writes something down and folds the paper to hide it. Pass it on and the next person writes something. Parents please keep it simple with small words that are easily read. At the end, each child/parent/person reads out the story which won’t make sense and everyone has a good laugh.

5 Use every opportunity! Been to a film? Write three things that happened in the film. Everyone must listen when they are read out.

6 Make shopping lists together. Make a birthday present wish list, a Christmas wish list. Stick them on the fridge. Have a purpose (what better than that?) for writing.

7 Write a letter to a friend asking the friend to tea. Good reason to write!

8 Write and tell Nanny what you want for Christmas. Excellent reason to write.

9 Find their passion. This can take a while. Try lots of different activities – horseriding, gymnastics, dancing, art, singing. When you find what motivates them, get them to write on the subject using the guidelines on this page.

10 Let them use a computer, laptop or iphone (notes) to write a story. This is much more fun for a young child than giving them pencil and paper. Print out the result if you can. Make no more than three corrections and only by discussing them with the child. For example Tom misspelt the word ‘birthday’. He wrote ‘dithday’. Never tell the child off for any mistake. It is NOT careless. Their brain works differently to most children. Discuss the first sound in ‘birthday’ and change it for them – add the ‘r’ for ‘ir’ and explain the difference between bithday and birthday. Let them make a card for a friend using this word correctly.

11 For spelling mistakes – on a separate sheet write the correct word in large joined up handwriting. Get the child to write over the top. They should say the word as they write it. This is multi-sensory ie it uses more senses speaking, listening, watching and (writing action)

12 Write the first few words of a sentence and let them complete it. Could be a game.

13 Ensure the child always succeeds. This may mean writing a word they ask you for on another piece of paper. It may mean gently prompting the child if they read something wrong in their writing.

14 Never criticise as this can put children off.  For example, do not criticise their handwriting when they have laboured over a piece of work. They can’t get everything right at once.

15 There are free software programs on the internet but one good investment is a voice recognition program. When the child has practised and trained the software to recognise their voice they can speak to the computer and see their words come on to the screen by magic! This is not a cop out or opt out. Don’t let anyone tell you it is!!

16 Praise, praise, praise everything they do.

17 If they never complete work in school so never get to see their work put up on the wall, ask the teacher if they can type up a piece of work and have it displayed so the other children can admire their thoughts and imagination. This is wonderful for raising self-esteem.

18 Encourage family members to write letters and emails to the child. Get the child to respond. Explain all the above to the grandparents or aunties ie there must be no criticism and no over correcting. They could choose one spelling to mention when they write back. Only you can do 3 corrections!

19 Never learn/teach one word when there are others of the same pattern. For example, there are several words with the ‘ay’ pattern. If they spell today/todai show them play, way, stay, clay, may. Then make a funny sentence with all the words eg We will stay and may play with the clay all day.

20 Use 3D plastic letters on the fridge to demonstrate spellings. Leave them there for a couple of days.  Keep shuffling the letters and get them to put them back in the correct sequence.

21 Only deal with one pattern at a time. One a day helps the spelling to stay!

22 Encourage writing with coloured pens, art brushes, chalk and in sand. Make it fun.

23 Get the child to paint a picture and then write a description – even two or three words will do.

24 Children should always draw a picture of something they have written about.

25 Make writing fun. Make it get results. Let them show their work to admiring grandparents.

26 Buy the child a diary and get them to write in it what they are going to do (eg in the holidays) or, in the evening, they could write down what they have done each day.

27 Buy the child an address book where they can write friends’ names and addresses. This is establishing a good habit.

28 Let the children write in different coloured pens – each word a different colour.

29 Make a treasure hunt together with clues hidden over the house. They can write the clues.

30 Let them see you writing. Be a role model. Read out the letter (or email) you have written to their grandmother. Let them add a post script. If you are a writer, your child will be too.