Bend time, but be sure not to snap

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The Independent Online

Few of us work part-time or from home, or share a job, despite the fact that more flexible employment patterns are supposed to have freed us from the established drudge of working "nine to five".

Few of us work part-time or from home, or share a job, despite the fact that more flexible employment patterns are supposed to have freed us from the established drudge of working "nine to five".

Of course, employers' reluctance to offer workers this choice is the main reason behind the slow take-up. According to a government survey, less than a quarter of 2,500 firms allow their employees to work from home.

But even though employers are taking their time to come round to the idea, an increasing number of us would like the option of working from home. Although there is a risk of feeling isolation, the advantages of a life without commuting or office politics as well as being able to suit yourself when you work, are very attractive.

But there are a few things to bear in mind if you do opt for flexible working. As a reduction in hours is likely to lead to a lower wage, incomings and outgoings may need to be carefully adjusted so there isn't a massive shortfall.

If you go a step further and decide to set up your own business, it is worth remembering that it might be harder to get financing, such as a mortgage, if you become self-employed, because you won't have three years of accounts to demonstrate your earnings.

"If you are newly self-employed, most of the mainstream lenders won't touch you so you will be forced to go to a specialist lender which will have a knock-on effect on the interest you are paying," says Patrick Connolly, associate director at independent financial adviser Chartwell. "If you do go self-employed, don't think about applying for a mortgage for at least a couple of years."

If you already have a mortgage and alter your working pattern, your lender won't be particularly interested as long as you carry on meeting your monthly repayments. If you go part-time or job share, you do not need to inform your lender. But if your income will drop and threaten your ability to repay your mortgage, you should warn your lender and seek to reduce your payments.

Your pension also needs to be considered. If you go part-time and are a member of your company pension scheme you can carry on contributing to it. But if it is a money purchase scheme, remember that your employer's contribution will be reduced because it is a percentage of your salary - and you will be earning less.

Final salary schemes are slightly different and depend on whether or not your earnings decrease; if they do, this will have a knock-on effect on the amount you finally receive when you retire.

If you start working from home, you also need to inform your home contents insurer. Your premiums are likely to increase - because you may install expensive computer equipment, fax machines and photocopiers - even though the risk of burglary may fall because you are at home more.

Jill Murphy, of the insurer Direct Line, says that it all depends on how many hours you plan to work from home. "Most general insurers won't cover you if you are operating a business from home full-time," she says. "We aren't specialised in that kind of cover. But if your business equipment, the photocopiers, computer, and mobile phone, is also for personal use and you are only working from home a couple of days a week, we would still cover you."

It is worth checking with your insurer and discussing your circumstances. Also check the small print of any policy. Direct Line provides cover of up to £7,500 in case any business items are stolen, which might not be enough to insure all your equipment to its full value.

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