Consumer rights: We are adopting a little girl, are we entitled to paid leave?

Not all owners of small businesses are aware of the regulations surrounding time off for adopting parents...Will the VAT rise prove too expensive?


My partner and I will be adopting a little girl soon. My partner has sorted out paid leave. But when I asked my boss for some time off to be with the baby she refused. I'm happy to take leave or even unpaid leave but a colleague says he thinks I'm being treated unfairly and that I'm entitled to paid time off. What is the situation?



SH



Sunderland

Your colleague may be right and your boss may be wrong. I say "may be" because not everyone adopting a child will be entitled to paid leave. An individual, or one partner of a couple, adopting a child is entitled to adoption leave if they qualify. To qualify, you and your partner must be newly matched with a child through an approved adoption agency, have been employed continuously by your current employers for at least 26 weeks by the time you get the notification of the matching, and be earning more than the lower earnings limit (currently £97 a week). Either one of you can take adoption leave. The one who doesn't can take paternity leave.

A person who qualifies for adoption leave can take up to 52 weeks off. Most employees also qualify for adoption pay for the first 39 weeks of their leave. This will be at least the statutory adoption pay (£124.88 or 90 per cent or average weekly earnings if that's less).

If your partner is taking adoption leave, you are entitled to paternity leave if, again, you have been working for your current employer for 26 weeks or more and have responsibility for bringing up the child. You can take one week or two consecutive weeks but not odd days or one week here and one week there. You have to tell your boss within seven days of getting the matching certificate from the adoption agency when you intend to take that leave. You'll also qualify for paternity pay if you have been earning more £97 per week. That may be statutory paternity pay (£124.88 or 90 per cent of you weekly pay if that's less) – the minimum amount set by the Government. Your employer might ask you for self-certificate form SC3 Becoming a Parent that confirms you're entitled to the pay. You can download that from www.direct.gov.uk.

Many small employers don't realise that employees are entitled to adoption leave. Your boss will be entitled to claim back most of what she has to pay you in statutory paternity pay through the national insurance scheme. If she fires you she will have unfairly dismissed you and you can make a claim at an employment tribunal. Call the HM Revenue and Customs enquiry line on 0845 302 1479.

I run my own small business providing IT services to businesses. I've been registered for VAT for years, but with VAT set to go up to 20 per cent in January I'm wondering whether I should de-register. The business hasn't been doing well and I don't want to have to pass price rises on to my customers.

KB

London

You can't de-register if you have issued invoices worth more than the threshold in the past 12 months. At the minute, that threshold is £70,000. If your "sales" are less than £70,000 de-registering is an option. You can find the forms on www.hmrc.gov.uk.

But think carefully about this. While you're registered, you can claim back the VAT you pay out on many of your expenses. If you can no longer claim that back you may have to pass those extra costs on to your customers. Some of your clients may prefer to deal with a firm that is registered for VAT. Tax expert Neil Warren says: "It can be a prestige thing; some public bodies even insist on it."

You could think about registering for the flat rate scheme. If your total VAT turnover is less than £150,000 you can pay a flat rate of VAT on your sales. You can find your rate from the HMRC site. You can't claim back VAT on your expenses but many businesses do save money this way.

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