Polls uncover widespread confusion about tax and pensions

Written by: Rachel Miller

Date: 14 November 2023

A sole trader is checking his pension status

A survey of UK sole traders has revealed worrying gaps in the financial knowledge of many small business owners; another poll has found that most people don't know what happens to their pensions after they die.

Three-quarters of UK sole traders are unsure of the current tax thresholds that apply to them according to the findings of a new poll conducted by card payments provider takepayments.

Researchers asked sole traders "true" or "false" questions to test their knowledge of common VAT and tax principles that apply to UK businesses, as well as questions about how much they typically save or reinvest into their businesses.

The findings show that:

  • 75% of sole traders do not know at what earnings threshold they'll pay the higher tax rate of 40% (£50,271);
  • 91% aren't sure what would happen if they didn't pay their tax;
  • Only 31% of sole traders polled know the deadline for submitting their self-assessment tax form (31st January);
  • 73% of sole traders believe, incorrectly, that they need to pay corporation tax.

Which sole traders are the most informed about tax?

The research highlights significant differences in tax knowledge between sectors. Lawyers, for example, are most likely to know the higher Income tax rate threshold (53% got this right), compared to retailers (13%). When it comes to the deadline for submitting the self-assessment tax form, 42% of lawyers got this right compared to 23% of estate agents.

"It's not surprising that many small business owners are unsure of the legal obligations they have regarding things like tax and VAT. The rules can be quite difficult to understand, especially if you just want to focus on growing your business." Jodie Wilkinson, head of strategic partnerships, takepayments.

Takepayments has created a tax calculator designed to quickly give business owners an estimate of what tax they should be paying.

The survey results also suggest that money is tight for many small businesses, with 21% of respondents saying they do not currently have at least three months' salary saved as a safety net. The findings also show that 18% of sole traders don't pay into a pension scheme.

Misunderstanding about pensions

Research conducted by the Money and Pensions Service has found that more than half of UK adults with a pension don't know what happens to their pension when they die. This leaves more than 26 million pension savers unsure what would happen to their pension or who would receive it.

Just 41% of those polled correctly said that it would go to their nominated beneficiary in the event of their death. However, a fifth don't know who they've chosen to receive their pension and others incorrectly believe their remaining pensions would go to their employer (8%), the government (11%) or their pension provider (7%). Almost one in four people (23%) incorrectly believe it goes to their next of kin automatically.

Jackie Spencer, head of pensions policy, the Money and Pensions Service, said: "It's a difficult topic to think about and no one expects the worst to happen to them, but it's absolutely crucial that we make plans in case it does … We're asking everyone to do one thing and check they have the right beneficiary for each and every pension they hold. This can be done by contacting your pension provider by phone or online and it'll make all the difference if you pass away early."

Written by Rachel Miller.

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