martin white | author

Tax, Flats and Sausage Rolls

Tax, Flats and Sausage Rolls

This high flying musician/author lifestyle is nothing if not glamorous. I mean, it’s been almost three weeks now since Joey by David was published and it’s selling by the – err -thimble-load – but I’m still well chuffed it’s out there and people are liking it. Even some I don’t know. A lot of people have also ‘liked’ my author page on Facebook – and I now have a high end three figure following on Twitter – which has me feeling strangely like a grown up – don’t worry, I’m sure that’ll pass. And yet, at every turn, whenever I gear myself up to getting a bunch of work done time is always flying out the window and there’s always stuff laying in wait to ambush your daily attempt to knock some words out.

Last weeks panic was to get my UK Tax Return Self Assessment for last year done – as my accountant, having fired a few mildly threatening emails at me through the year, basically gave me a time and date where he was going to be on the doorstep with his briefcase, a stern look and a solid bit of wood in case I hadn’t finished them in time.

Definitely accountancy fighting talk. No way out – doomed. So the week was then spent with receipts, bank statements, harsh language (and much of it – I’m Scottish, and also from Musselburgh, so pretty good at that), onset of rage/depression and also wondering what to do when money has been spent and no one has kept any records.

So in the spirit of passing on interesting and useful information here (which is apparently what you do in blogs), I thought it might be worth passing on some of the stuff I’ve learned last week about tax stuff after that accountancy meeting. Also, I should say for the avoidance of all doubt that my accountant is actually a very nice chap called Jonathan and he’s very, very good. And he didn’t really threaten me. Well, not much – he just knows that I would rather spend time in the chair with a ropey dentist rather than do my tax forms…

Also, some of you (maybe even both of you reading this) might be assuming that I must be making a packet to have to get an accountant in, right? Umm – no. Despite the vast fame and fortune that comes with having one short story published on kindle and playing in two local covers bands – we are definitely NOT talking large amounts of money here. In fact, although I’m pretty busy with the music side, it’s all actually quite poorly paid. It IS fun – and massively so – but when you live in a wee village about 17 miles outside Edinburgh there are a lot of long drives into town for electric band gigs and although the acoustic band do more local work, they always play long sets – so when you look at amount earned divided by hours travelling, setting up, taking down and playing, you’re probably talking minimum wage or close to it. Even less some nights.

However, without going into detail, I do have other stuff that’s a bit tricksier than music and writing – and although I’ve always done my own self assessment forms in the past when I had a ‘real’ job, changes of occupation and some massively stressful life things over the past couple of years have necessitated the employment of someone who actually knows what they’re doing. Otherwise I could get it wrong and more of my money than necessary could end up in Boris Johnson’s pocket – and no one wants that except Boris Johnson, who clearly has enough of his own money anyway. Okay, deep breath – don’t get political… …think of unicorns frolicking in pink fields… …and relax.

So, although I know it can be vulgar to talk money, here are a couple of nuggets of writer/musician friendly tax wisdom that I hope might actually help other folk in my type of situation. In the UK at least. Although I guess the principles will be the same all over.

Travel – in music mode I travel a lot to gigs, to take instruments to get maintained/repaired and also to rehearsals. All this travel is is claimable against your tax at the rate of 45p per mile. What? A puny 45p? Well, having just done a bunch of claims, it might not sound much but 45p per mile can all add up. For example, I play once a month in Whistlebinkies bar in Edinburgh with one band – thats a 21 mile trip from where I live. I always drive, so thats a 42 mile round trip – which equals £18.90 in tax claims. Multiply that by 12 and you’ve got £226.80 per year. And if you don’t claim it, you don’t get it.

Obviously you keep a record of what you get paid and what you have to buy or invest in too – thats pretty much as simple as it sounds.

But here’s an interesting thing – I teach guitar one day a week at home and mostly write or research the other four days – so there’s such a thing as a ‘Home Office Allowance’ claim. The way that works is you count the number of rooms in your house – say six rooms – then you take your heating and electricity bills – and because you are constantly in one of those six rooms for the purposes of work – you can claim one sixth of all your utility bills back through tax. No, Im not making that up…

Similar principle for internet access/phone bill and mobile phone bills – work out a sensible work to pleasure ratio and then clim for that in you annual self assessment tax return. Thats one sixth of all your home and utility bills folks. And it’s legal. I reckon BoJo probably has several 15 -20 room houses, so even that spangle will be claiming less of a percentage of his utility bills for home office use than I am!

Writingwise, any trips into town, research outings, books bought, paper and stationary, pens, printing cartridges, paper, internet access (though you have to work out a sensible percentage for that based on how many people live in the house) and cups of coffee in Costas (within reason) whilst writing or doing admin are fair game.

All said, writing isn’t as expensive a pastime as music, but if you’ve got a tight rein on what you’re doing, keep receipts and – importantly – are sensible about it, then you could well see a lot of your outlays returning to you in the form of tax rebate once you claim it via the self self assessment process. No bad.

And here’s the bit of advice no one will take – write records as you go and file receipts as you get them so when it comes to end of the tax year your work is allresady done. As if I’d do that…

But as in line with the principle of shit happening all around, the same week as I was trying to do all this, I also got the final demand to empty my old Aunts flat and deal with all her affairs as she was going into a nursing home and no one else in the family was around to deal with it. Nothing to do with writing or music that but let me tell you, if you know anyone or has any family member who is diagnosed with dementia or Altzeihmers, get them to draw up a will with power of attorney right away. Like, immediately – because if that doesn’t happen then it gets tricky and you end up having to spend a long time on the phone to non-sympathetic jobsworth types who won’t listen you if their computer says no. Don’t get me started. The Post Office – I’m looking at you.

And then finally, the sausage rolls. Strange how things stick in your head but I seem to remember from school (or somewhere) that the densest element known to man is Osmium. Some sort of platinum related metal that you wouldn’t want to build an aeroplane out of.

Well, that could now be under review, as after having bought the kids Tesco sausage rolls for ages (for the occasional lunch treat), last week I got lost on the way to the supermarket and went to Asda, where i bought some of theirs instead – and realised after I unpacked them that the weight alone in a pack of six was enough to weigh down one side of the fridge and realign the top end of the kitchen. I was kind of undecided whether this was a good or bad thing – more weight = more filling = better sausage roll? Well, it turned out that my daughter wasn’t too keen on them – she said they were too heavy. Damn, should have known. I suspect she’s called Childline due to me making her carry them in a backpack all the way to school.

Not sure what to do with the rest of them but I suspect that due to their mass, it’ll be the gravity pull around them thats distorting all the time in the house so that I can’t get anything done. Anyone got the phone number for CERN? Do you think they take donations..?

I never promised this blog wouldn’t be random.

Never mind Pink Unicorns in a Field – this is the Dark Unicorn of Having to Do Your Tax Returns who sits on top of a pillar in Dunfermline High Street. I swear he can probably see my house from across the water…


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