3 Fines Commonly Levied On British Businesses (And How To Avoid Them)

When you run a small business, you may feel that you are swamped by outgoing payments.

From high rents to marketing costs, owning your own company can be an expensive venture, and even savvy businesses with a good grip on their outgoings may find that they are struggling as inflation rises. Right now, the last thing any business needs is to incur a hefty fine.

In the UK, the average fine from the Health And Safety Executive (HSE) for non-compliance with regulations can be as much as £150,000, making it far more costly to be non-compliant than to adhere to government legislature and guidance.

Receiving a fine is a serious consequence for businesses, and may result in bankruptcy or even with your business being closed down for good. Company directors can also suffer legal penalties for severe breaches of regulations, meaning that liberty is at risk as well as finances.

With this in mind, let’s now explore 3 of the most common fines levied against UK SMEs and outline how your business can avoid them.


1. HMRC Tax Fines Commonly Levied On British Businesses

If your business is not managed properly, it may be easy to forget to file your taxes, file them late or underpay. For many business owners, this is a result of poor organisation, and often not deliberate tax evasion.

Filing taxes for small businesses can be a complex procedure, which may trip up some small business owners – particularly if they are new to running their own business.

Multiple tax penalties can stack up over time and be devastating for SMEs, who may not have enough money in the bank to protect their assets. And it’s not just the cost of the fine itself that will affect your business – on top of the fine itself, the HMRC usually adds additional penalties and interest.

These HMRC fines can include:


  • Penalty for underpayment of estimated taxes

All businesses must pay at least 90% of their current year’s tax bill to avoid incurring a fine. These payments must be made in equal instalments to avoid a fine.


  • Late filing penalty or failure to file

This penalty is one of the most expensive fines that a small business may incur, and you will be charged £100 if your tax is late by 1 day, another £100 at 3 months, 10% of the unpaid tax at 6 months, and another 10% of the unpaid tax at 12 If your tax return is late 3 times in a row, each £100 penalty will be increased to £500. Even if you are unable to pay your taxes, you should always file your tax return so that you can avoid the additional fines.


  • Late payment or failure to pay

In contrast to late filing or failure to file, this fine will not be charged if the outstanding tax is paid within 15 days after the due date. After day 15, the penalty is only 2% of your outstanding tax balance, but may be compounded by interest if you don’t pay after 30 days. If the tax remains unpaid on day 31, the tax penalty will accrue daily at a rate of 4% per annum on the outstanding tax amount.


  • Inaccurate tax filing

If your filed taxes are inaccurate due to errors or significant underestimations, you may incur an accuracy-related penalty. Accuracy-related penalties are charged at between 0-30% if they are judged to be a result of ‘lack of reasonable care’. This hefty fine may have a significant impact on SMEs and can be easily avoided by using a qualified accountant.


  • Tax fraud

As the old adage goes, crime doesn’t pay. In fact, in this case, it could be a significant cost to your business; tax fraud penalties may be as high as 70% on the underpayment amount, making it essential to be honest on your tax filing.


2.  Health And Safety Executive (HSE) Fines Commonly Levied On British Businesses

 The Health And Safety Executive frequently issues fines of up to £20,000 and if the breach is considered serious, these fines may be unlimited in cost. Alongside these potentially serious fines are some heavy personal consequences for the company and directors, including possible imprisonment and disqualification as a company director.

These costs are compounded by the Fees For Intervention, which covers the expenses of an inspector’s visit and every stage of the following investigation, based on a rate of £129 per hour. Full health and safety investigations are a lengthy process and may add a significant sum of money to the total fine.

Ensuring that your company has rigorous health and safety management in place is essential for avoiding HSE fines. This should include an appointed health and safety officer – which can be internal or external – a health and safety policy which meets all legal and best practice requirements, and which undergoes regular review, written risk assessments of all potentially dangerous activities, recorded and disclosed health and safety training for all employees, development and review of safer working practices, and an accurate record and investigative process for all accidents.

Businesses must also carry out regular health and safety audits of the work environment and systems, including procedures and documentation.


3.  GDPR Fines

Following Brexit, businesses may need to comply with the UK GDPR, DPA (Data Protection Act) 2018, and the EU GDPR.

The maximum fine under the UK GDPR may be up to £17.5 million or 4% of annual global turnover, whichever is the greater sum. In addition, the maximum fine under the EU GDPR may be up to £18 million or 4% of annual global turnover, whichever is the larger amount. Together, these two fines can have a devastating impact on businesses.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) may also take several other remedial actions, including warnings and reprimands, issuing a ban on data processing (temporary or permanent), enforcing correction, restriction or deletion of data, and suspension of data transfers to third-party countries.

The most common causes of GDPR fines are data processing without a sufficient legal basis, failing to ensure information security, non-compliance with the general principles of data processing, and insufficiently meeting the rights of data subjects.

To avoid incurring fines under GDPR, businesses must have a published GDPR-compliant privacy policy, explicitly ask for valid, informed, and unambiguous consent, ensure data security for sensitive information, have a stated legitimate interest for collecting data, and practice data minimisation by regularly checking that data adequately meets your stated purpose, with a clear and relevant link to the aforementioned purpose.

Additionally, any data collected from employees must only be processed under the terms of your ‘legitimate interest’ as defined by the GDPR – and only then when it is strictly necessary.


Protect Your Business By Keeping Compliant

In a challenging business environment characterised by high inflation, war in Europe, the aftershocks of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the lockdown measures that resulted, the last thing businesses need now is to be hit with large additional expenses that can be easily avoided.

Being fined for a breach of regulations is the exact kind of unnecessary penalty that you can avoid by diligently sticking to the guidelines and best practices outlined for your industry. Not only will this prove far more cost-effective in the long run, but it will also protect you against legal consequences being levied against you (and any other limited company directors) personally.

To ensure you’re getting the correct advice, you will likely be best served by speaking with a lawyer who has experience with compliance matters, or with a dedicated compliance consultant.


How To Stay Compliant

As regulations change and are updated all the time, it’s important to have members of your team always staying abreast of the latest developments. Ideally, you would have a dedicated member of staff whose job it is solely to deal with compliance issues.

An additional benefit of having a dedicated member of staff deal with compliance issues is that they will become a specialist in that field, and will be able to navigate some of the more common and demanding compliance challenges, such as discussing any potential issues with regulatory bodies and finding a way to achieve an outcome that is agreeable for you.

If you hire an existing compliance expert to handle these issues for you, then be aware that there are many different areas of expertise that are relevant to compliance – such as legal, finance, logistics, and more. Therefore, be sure to hire an expert with a background in the specific branch of compliance that will be most useful for your business.


Be Compliant – Even If You Don’t Need To Be

It can often be highly beneficial for a business to adopt best practices that are above and beyond its legal responsibilities.

This is because adopting industry-leading codes of conduct can ensure your business is eligible for the most lucrative opportunities, while you will also benefit from a better public image, become a more attractive proposition for talented employees, and enjoy a safer, more efficient workplace. All these factors are sure to help your business thrive despite the challenging economic times that most nations across the world are currently experiencing.

Therefore, if you are considering how to ensure your business has the edge over your competitors in a challenging marketplace, why not invest in your processes and business protocols to guarantee you’re offering as good a service as possible while steering clear of any legal and/or financial penalties?

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