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7 updates tradespeople should look out for in 2021 – and beyond

6-minute read

Sam Bromley

17 December 2020

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If you’re drawing up plans for the next few months, here are seven tradesperson updates that can help get you started in 2021.

1. The government wants to close a loophole on using mobile phones at the wheel

Using your mobile phone for calls or texts while driving has been illegal since 2003. But an outdated loophole means that technically, picking up a mobile and using it to take photos and videos, search for stored music, or play games offline isn’t illegal.

This doesn’t reflect massive leaps in technology over the last 20 years. So it’s welcome that the government is aiming to make roads safer for tradespeople and close this loophole in 2021.

Ultimately the change will mean that picking up your phone for any reason while driving will be illegal. You’ll face a £200 penalty and six points on your licence if caught.

The change will make enforcement easier too – it’s easy for the police to spot phone use, but not easy for them to see what the phone is being used for.

The government’s also proposing an exemption that covers using your mobile for contactless payments when your vehicle is stationary, like at a drive thru.

You can respond to the issue online as part of a government consultation that’s running until 17 January 2021. Update: the consultation is now closed and the government is looking at the feedback. We'll keep you updated as more information is announced.

The RAC head of roads policy, Nicholas Lyes, said: “The closing of this loophole is very welcome and reflects the multitude of ways drivers can use hand-held phones when behind the wheel in 2020.

“We know that the use of hand-held mobile phones at the wheel continues to represent a very real road safety risk, so it’s clear more needs to be done to make this as socially unacceptable as drink-driving.”

Read more about the consultation.

2. A change to paying Self Assessment, if you need support

There’s no uncertainty about Self Assessment – every year, the self-employed need to complete a tax return and pay their tax bill.

The deadline is 31 January. So if you haven’t done yours yet, why not make a resolution to get it out of the way? Our guide explains more about how to complete your Self Assessment tax return.

This year is different in one important way, though. If you think you’ll struggle to pay your tax bill before the 31 January deadline, you can come to a Time to Pay arrangement with HMRC to settle your bill in instalments over the next 12 months.

Time to Pay isn’t a new service. But HMRC has relaxed the rules this year to make it easier to apply for an arrangement online, without needing to call.

You can use the service if you owe up to £30,000. If you owe more, you’ll have to ring HMRC. You need to file your return before the deadline to set up a plan.

If you can pay your bill though, you should, because the service is meant for those in financial difficulty. Interest will also be added to your balance from 1 February, making your bill more expensive.

Read more about HMRC’s Time to Pay service.

Update: HMRC has also announced that it won't issue late payment penalties in February, meaning that if you don't think you can file before the deadline, you won't receive a fine. You still need to pay by 31 January, though. Read more.

3. You can create work placements through the Kickstart work scheme

The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, announced the Kickstart work scheme as part of his ‘plan for jobs’ back in the summer.

It’s designed to help 16-24 year olds who are on Universal Credit and at risk of long-term unemployment develop skills and experience.

Tradespeople can create six-month job placements funded by the Kickstart Scheme, receiving:

  • 100 per cent of the relevant National Minimum Wage for 25 hours a week
  • associated National Insurance contributions
  • minimum automatic enrolment contributions
  • £1,500 per job placement for setup costs, support and training

You can spread the start of the job placements up until the end of December 2021, so it might be an option to explore this year if you’re keen on helping young people develop long-term employability.

The catch is that if you’re creating fewer than 30 placements, you can’t apply for the scheme directly and you’ll need to use a ‘Kickstart gateway’. This will usually be a local authority, charity or trade body.

Update: the government has confirmed that it's removing this requirement from 3 February, opening direct applications up to small businesses. This should make it easier for you to take part. But the government says that using a gateway can still "provide a local connection and the necessary wrap around support". Apply here.

Read more about creating job placements through the Kickstart work scheme.

4. Become a Green Homes Grant-certified tradesperson in 2021

The Green Homes Grant is a voucher scheme available until 31 March 2022 to homeowners who want to make their homes more energy efficient.

These improvements could involve insulating a home to reduce energy use, or installing low-carbon heating. The vouchers cover two-thirds of the cost of eligible improvements, up to a maximum of £5,000.

If you’d like to help customers improve their green credentials in 2021, you can register to be a Green Homes Grant installer.

Keep in mind that there’s a number of eligibility criteria. You need to be:

  • certified to install measures against certain Publicly Available Specification (PAS) standards
  • certified by a body that’s been accredited by the United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS)
  • certified with the Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS), if you install low carbon heat measures like heat pumps
  • a TrustMark-registered business

You can register to be a Green Homes Grant installer here, as well as read more about giving a quote, doing the work and taking payment.

5. Scammers will try to take advantage of the tax deadline

In November, HMRC issued a press release reminding taxpayers to look out for scammers pretending to be from HMRC in the run up to 31 January.

Scammers take advantage of the increased communication from HMRC about Self Assessment, promising taxpayers ‘rebates’ or ‘refunds’ to get them to hand over their personal and financial information.

In the last 12 months, the public has reported more than 846,000 instances of suspicious contact to HMRC. Almost 500,000 of those offered bogus tax rebates.

HMRC says that communication you receive could be a scam if it:

  • is unexpected
  • offers a refund, tax rebate or grant
  • asks for personal information like bank details
  • is threatening
  • tells you to transfer money

You can also remember to ‘stop, challenge and protect’:

  • stop before giving out any personal information or parting with your money. Don’t reply to text messages or open attachments in emails you weren’t expecting
  • challenge requests by refusing them or ignoring them, as criminals will try to rush or panic you
  • protect yourself by forwarding suspicious emails claiming to be from HMRC to [email protected] and texts to 60599 – if you think you’ve been scammed, get in touch with your bank straight away and report it to Action Fraud

Remember you can check your tax information by logging in to your personal tax account, where you can also safely claim a rebate if you’re owed one.

Read more about the increase of scams during the coronavirus crisis – and how to protect yourself.

6. You can claim the third and fourth SEISS grants (if you’re eligible)

If your business is being significantly impacted by coronavirus and is suffering from reduced profits, you might still be able to access the third and fourth Self-employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) payments.

You need to have been eligible for the previous SEISS grants, although you don’t need to have actually claimed them.

The third SEISS grant payment covers November to January and is available until 29 January 2021. It’s worth 80 per cent of your average monthly trading profits, up to a £7,500 cap.

The fourth – and final – payment covers February to April, but there aren’t any details about the level it’ll be set at, or when you can apply.

But SEISS doesn’t help if you were previously excluded from support – for example if you’re newly self-employed, a limited company director, or earn more than £50,000. The campaign group Excluded UK estimates that three million people have been shut out of support.

Other support schemes like the Bounce Back Loan Scheme (BBLS) and Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS) could help and have been extended until 31 January 2021, but these are loans rather than grants. Update: businesses now have until the end of March to apply for the CBILS and BBLS.

You can have a look to see what support you might be eligible for here.

7. There will be a UK Budget in March

The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, delivered a spending review at the end of November, in which he outlined his plans to prioritise jobs, businesses and public services.

The Treasury has also confirmed that there’ll be a full Budget announcement in March. That’s because there needs to be a Budget each financial year – the one planned for the autumn was cancelled in favour of the Winter Economic Plan and a spending review.

The annual Budget is where the government outlines its revenues and spending, and its plans for the future.

The Treasury’s permanent secretary, Tom Scholar, said that by spring, “the chancellor will be setting out the economic strategy that will support the economy as it moves out of the pandemic”.

Update: Rishi Sunak has set the date for the next UK Budget – 3 March. We'll keep you updated with more information as we hear it.

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