Adventures in Micro-Business: From handling fires to providing pensions

Each month, Russell Smith answers your queries and profiles a small business with a big challenge
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The Independent Online

Q. What does the new Disability Access law mean for my corner shop?

Q. What does the new Disability Access law mean for my corner shop?

A. From 1 October, if it is unreasonably difficult for a disabled person to access your premises or services then the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 requires you to (i) make reasonable adjustments to improve access in your shop or (ii) provide a reasonable alternative method of making your services available to disabled people. Practical guidance can be found at www.disability.gov.uk/dda. But don't panic - often a few simple, low cost actions can make all the difference for the disabled. Apart from it being the right thing to do, making it easier for disabled people to buy things in your shop makes good business sense.

Q. I've had problems with a couple of employees which have been unresolved and dragged on. I'd like to avoid that in the future and develop a formal disciplinary process. Could you suggest a source of information?

A. The ACAS website ( www.acas.org.uk) has some very useful documents that you can download including one called "Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures". The document includes straightforward flow-charts that guide you through the process.

Q. I run an engineering company which I started up two years ago and I am keen to offer my six employees a benefit package in recognition of their loyalty. Given the recent publicity on pension schemes, should I be thinking of establishing one?

A. As you have at least five employees, including yourself, you have a duty to offer access to a pension scheme. This can be either a "stakeholder" scheme, into which you do not have to make a contribution, or a "group" scheme with a contribution of at least 3 per cent of salary from the employer. New employees must be allowed to join the scheme within three months of starting employment. The Government help with this by offering corporation tax relief on company contributions and income tax relief on employee contributions. Always seek advice from an independent financial adviser.

Q. A friend of mine, who also runs a small business, recently had a fire at his premises. This set me thinking about fire safety - can you suggest a good website for advice?

A. The London Fire Brigade website ( www.london-fire.gov.uk) is a very good source of information. From it you can download the leaflet "Guidance on Fire Safety at Work" which has been produced by the Fire Protection Association and the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. The website also explains the basic requirements of fire regulations, how to carry out a risk assessment and how to write an emergency plan.

Q. A friend has suggested that I need professional indemnity insurance - could you explain what that is?

A. Many businesses, such as lawyers, are based around the provision of professional advice. Nobody is perfect all of the time and sometimes advisers get things wrong. When they do, the client may make a financial claim against the adviser. Professional indemnity insurance protects advisers against such liabilities arising out of advice given in their professional capacity. You can download a useful guide from www.businesslink.gov.uk.

Send your questions to Prof Russell Smith at ios@businessboffins.com. Selected questions will be answered each month. Answers are for the general guidance of owner-managers only; always seek professional advice.

Professor Smith is the founder of Oxford-based Business Boffins Ltd which, in collaboration with Oxford Brookes University Business School, delivers sustainability support programmes to small businesses nationwide. Independent on Sunday readers can enrol on the university-accredited programme at a discounted rate; see www.businessboffins.com/ios

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