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Monthly Archives: May 2016

10 Essential Tips for Starting Your Own Retail Business

Is opening a shop your dream? Do you long for the day you’ll have your own business and meet new customers every day? Be prepared for long hours and months of careful preparation before you can get your store up and running. Once you’re established, though, it’ll be a rewarding enterprise.

Here are our top 10 tips for those starting a retail business:

1. Decide on your budget and research the law

How will you finance your business? Consider whether you’ll need a loan, or funding from a partner or investor. You need to know how much money you have for stock, premises, staff, marketing, and branding. Getting realistic figures for all these areas is important at the start of any business.

Create your business plan and factor all your costs into it. What legal rules do you have to follow? For example, you’ll need public liability insurance if you’re opening a shop, and you’ll need to comply with food safety rules if you’re selling foodstuffs.

2. Do your market research

You can’t decide what you’re going to sell, where you’re going to sell it, and how, until you’ve tested the market. There are various ways of doing this – look at statistics for retailers in your sector and anecdotal evidence from retailers in the places where you’re considering opening.
When it comes to choosing your products, you have to ask the question: is there demand? You may wish to get a market research company to test the water for you. It’s also worth researching potential suppliers carefully for cost and quality.

3. Profile your ideal customers

Creating a profile allows you to be focused in your decision-making. You’ll need to think about where they live, what jobs they do, their income and leisure habits, what their problems are, and how your business can solve them. How do they shop? Do your ideal customers like to browse in store, or do they make most of their choices online?

4. Decide whether you’ll need a physical store or be selling solely online

Most retailers use a mixture of the two approaches. Most stores have online versions where customers can order products. Even without a store on a high street, you’ll need to think about product storage and how you’ll get your products to your customers.

5. Decide on a pricing structure and your terms and conditions of sale

You’ll need to work out the cost per item. That includes raw materials, the cost of processing and packaging, staff costs, storage costs, the cost of power to your shop, the cost of business rates, and other business costs. Once you’ve done that, you can work out the mark-up you’ll need per item to make a profit. Don’t forget you need to draw up your terms and conditions of sale.

6. Set up your website

Decide whether you’ll be writing and designing your own website, or whether you’ll call in a web designer and copywriter to give your site a professional polish. Will your designer buy the domain name and host it for you? Is there after-care in their price?

If your site is an e-commerce one rather than just informational, take a look at some of the best-designed sites with good ratings on review sites and find out who created them. There’s nothing more frustrating to customers than an online shopping cart which doesn’t work.

7. Find your premises

Finding the right location for a shop is vital. You’ll need to look at footfall in the area, the mix of other retailers around it, whether there are competitors close by, the kind of building you’re leasing or buying, the cost of the lease or mortgage, and the business rates. Will your premises need major refurbishment?

8. Decide on your branding and how you’ll deal with customers

This isn’t just about signage or letterheads. Your brand should extend from your shop and website, to your business cards and staff uniforms. How will complaints and queries be dealt with? How will your brand be managed on social media? Will you do that in-house or outsource it?

9. Hire staff

Your staff are the first point of contact for your customers – you need people who will become advocates for your business. Selecting the right people is vital. How will your team blend together? It’s important to ensure you have some staff with prior retail experience. They will help you train those who are new to the sector.

10. Decide how you will market your new business

You should have a marketing budget to ensure your retail business is a success. There are various ways you could spend it – advertising in newspapers, in magazines, or on TV and radio, customer promotions, and marketing on social media. It’s important to have a plan, and to decide whether you need external help from a marketing or social media company.

The hard work starts here! Simply-Docs has a range of customisable, ready-to-use documents which will help any retail start-up control their legal costs. They include customisable website terms and conditions, sale and supply of goods agreements, and internet, e-commerce and website agreements.

For more information about our services, contact our friendly team today.

Has Health & Safety Gone Mad?

When you work for a company or run your own business, you have to adhere to a long list of rules and regulations in the name of health and safety.

In the right hands, such rules are crucial for preventing accident or injury in the workplace. In the wrong hands, however, many view safety legislation as a tool that is used by bosses to help enforce unpopular decisions.

Consequently, the reputation of health and safety in this country has suffered. Here, we take a look at some of the most well-publicised health and safety stories of recent times in a bid to answer the question: has health and safety gone mad?

There’s Something in The Water

In 2011, Fife Today reported that Fife Sports and Leisure Trust introduced rules that forbid swimming instructors from getting in the pool with children they were teaching to swim. Instead, the leisure centre asked their instructors to supervise only from the side of the pool, over concerns they might otherwise miss a child in trouble.

On a similar theme, in 2010, The Daily Mail reported that a father-of-two was told he could only swim with one of his children at Coventry Sports and Leisure Centre. The reason? It was feared that, if he were to swim with both of his children at the same time, they might not receive the required supervision needed to keep them safe.

Has health and safety gone mad?

In the case of the Fife Sports and Leisure Trust, it appears the decision was made because it was deemed that swimming instructors would be able to supervise children more easily if they were stood at the side of the pool. In the case of Coventry Sports and Leisure Centre, the Coventry Sports Trust, which runs the leisure centre in question, claimed to be following national guidelines.

Health and safety around water is obviously a good idea, and teaching children to swim is something that can help prevent them from drowning in youth and later life. On reflection, then, perhaps these two stories are not as ludicrous as they might first appear?

Food for Thought

This one comes from the vault of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and involves a burger.

Picture the scene: a customer is queuing at a burger van and overhears the person in front of them ask the vendor if they could cut a burger in half, as it was for a child. The vendor refuses, replying, “Can’t do that – health and safety. We’re just not allowed to do that.” The customer accepts the excuse and the burger is left in one whole.

Has health and safety gone mad?

Unsurprisingly, the HSE couldn’t find any law that prevented catering professionals from using a knife to cut food. Consequently, it seems that the burger vendor in this story was using health and safety as a convenient shield against doing something that they didn’t want to do.

Staff Banned from Drinking Tea or Coffee

Can you imagine trying to get through a working day without a regular fix of caffeine? As reported by The Independent and many other newspapers, this was the stark reality that medics and staff members at three NHS hospitals in Leicester faced, after they were banned from drinking tea and coffee in public areas in 2014.

Has health and safety gone mad?

The ban generated a significant level of negative press, largely because access to tea and coffee is seen by many to be a given right for every worker. However, in many hospitals, employees are only allowed to consume hot drinks in the staff room for health and safety reason, so the ban would appear to make sense on that level.

What’s more, if you take a closer look at the story, the reality is that the ban was introduced following complaints the consumption of hot drinks gave the impression that staff are not working hard enough.

How the NHS is run in this country is a topic that receives a lot of public scrutiny. As a result, even though the banning of tea and coffee might appear crazy at first, if the hospitals in question were seen to be doing nothing after receiving complaints, would the ramifications have been even worse?

How Much Does It Cost to Change a Lightbulb?

In 2011, after an accident involving a ladder, Stoke-on-Trent City Council introduced a ‘working-at-height’ policy, which essentially banned the use of ladders. According to The Express, the change meant that the council’s bill for scaffolding increased by approximately £1 million in just a year, as workers were continually forced to hire contractors to erect scaffolding just to change a lightbulb.

Has health and safety gone mad?

At first glance, the headline of spending £1 million to change lightbulbs appears to be ludicrous. However, almost a fifth of all falls from height at work are caused by the misuse of ladders. So, if using a ladder to change a lightbulb is deemed dangerous, wouldn’t it be more sensible to use scaffolding instead?

When viewed from this perspective, it makes you think that perhaps some of the newspapers were attracted to the story solely because of the catchy headlines it created.

Final Thoughts

The idea that health and safety has gone mad in this country is a popular one. However, on reflection, it seems that many of the most widespread stories relating to this subject might have been blown out of proportion to create eye-catching headlines.

There are exceptions, of course. Blatant misuses of health and safety law can – and do – occur. However, the creation of most safety laws are done with the best intentions.

It doesn’t matter what sort of business you are; effective health and safety management is essential. It can reduce accidents and losses, decrease absenteeism and help efficiency – all of which, in combination, can help boost your profits.

At Simply-Docs, we provide a huge selection of fully customisable, ready-to-use documents that are ideal for businesses. Our range of health & safety documents include risk assessment forms, fire safety documents, food hygiene paperwork, and many more documents that make health and safety management for businesses much easier.

For more information about how our services can save you money, contact our friendly team today.

What Do Landlords Think About Right To Rent?

According to a recent article in The Guardian, seven in 10 landlords do not understand their obligations under the controversial new ‘right to rent’ rules. Effective as of this February, the new right to rent laws mean that the onus to check tenants’ right to live in England is now placed firmly in the hands of landlords. Announcements concerning implementation of the rules in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are expected at a later date.

Under the new law, landlords that fail to comply and monitor the immigration status of their tenants could face penalties of up to £3,000. So, what do people up and down the country think about the law changes? Read on to find out.

The West Midlands Trial

Before the new law was rolled out across the country, it was trialled in the West Midlands. From 1st December 2014, private landlords in the region were required to check whether prospective tenants had the right to live in the UK before granting them a tenancy.

As a result, landlords were expected to request proof of identity documents, such as a passport, or face the prospect of being fined if their tenants were found to be living in the UK illegally. Within six months of the trial being launched, the first West Midlands-based landlord received a fine of £2,000 for failing to check a tenant’s immigration status.

Speaking to the Property Industry Eye, Phil Stewardson, owner of 135 rental properties in the West Midlands, accused the authorities of using landlords as “free labour” for border control. So, even before the new laws came into full effect, it was clear that at least some landlords were unhappy with the changes.

Are Landlords Doing the Job of Border Control?

Landlords like Phil Stewardson are essentially arguing that the new right to rent law is a thinly veiled attempt by the Government to pass some of the burden for monitoring immigration on to everyday people. And it’s a point of view that has gathered some political support.

Writing about the subject on the Politics Home website, Baroness Hamwee, a Liberal Democrat Peer, had this to say:

“I find it a bit rich that landlords should risk imprisonment for housing an illegal immigrant when it is the Government’s failure in their duty to protect the borders of this country that has resulted in the illegal immigrant being here in the first place.”

On the opposite side of the fence, however, there are landlords who are happy to comply with the new right to rent laws. Supporters of the changes argue that the right to rent checks are quick and easy to perform, and that there is an abundance of supporting documents and Government published literature to help any landlords that are struggling.

Furthermore, the new laws will also make it a lot more difficult for people to stay in the country when they have no right to do so. Plus, they will act as the first line of attack against an increase in criminal landlords that exploit illegal immigrants by renting out unsafe and often overcrowded accommodation.

A Huge and Difficult Market

It’s no secret that the rental market is huge in the UK. In fact, research suggests that, by 2025, there could be more people renting than who have a mortgage in the UK. In part due to the growing size and complexity of the market, there is doubt whether landlords are sufficiently able to carry out checks on tenants’ right to live in the UK.

In an article published by the Financial Times, policy director of the Residential Landlords Association, David Smith, raised concerns about landlords’ lack of expertise verifying documents:

“How familiar are you with a passport of Liechtenstein? Can you spot a forgery? I certainly can’t. But that is what landlords are being asked to do and if they don’t they will be at risk of a financial penalty.”

Some Landlords Could Be Exploited For Profit

In addition to securing the relevant data, the extra costs of performing the initial checks are going to place a significant burden on the shoulders of many landlords. It is entirely feasible that many landlords will now prefer to pay for the services of independent companies to perform tenant checks on their behalf.

A recent article in The Telegraph highlighted that a handful of companies are already charging £100 for bespoke immigration checks in an effort to profit from the law changes. However, the same article warns that certificates from such companies are not official documents, and it is unclear if the Home Office considers these services to be legitimately recognised.

As a result, the only way for landlords to legally escape liability for these checks is to pay a letting agent to do them on their behalf. Therefore, the right to rent laws could force more DIY landlords to hire the services of letting agents, which, in turn, will increase the costs involved in running a rental property.

The Course of Least Resistance

The new laws have also drawn criticism because they could, potentially, increase the chances of some landlords flouting anti-discrimination laws. With the introduction of right to rent, The Telegraph wrote an article stressing that campaigners against the law changes might only “rent to white tenants with British-sounding names” in a bid to avoid red tape.

When you add the prospect of a £3,000 fine into the mix, in theory, the chances of this happening probably increase. Therefore, even sub-consciously, some landlords may take the course of least resistance to ensure they avoid fines and the likelihood of additional Home Office bureaucracy.

Final Thoughts

Are you a landlord? What are your thoughts on the new right to rent laws? Are they a necessary burden or an example of the Government relinquishing its responsibilities? Join us in the comments section below for a discussion.

At Simply-Docs, we provide a wide selection of ready to use property template documents and legal contracts for DIY landlords. For more information, contact one of our expert team today.


When Will the Gender Pay Gap Close?

Technological innovation, accumulation of capital, and productivity are three of the most important factors that determine a country’s long-term economic growth. What underpins all of these, though, is the contribution made by people in the collective form of the labour force.

But what if half of this workforce were not being utilised to their full potential? Or, worse still, they were not being rewarded fairly for an equal contribution?

In reality, this is the situation the world’s economy currently finds itself in. At present, women, who make up approximately half of the global workforce, only earn 77% of the amount that is paid to men and enjoy fewer job benefits.

Here, we take a look at some of the causes behind this gender-based inequality and consider how long it will be before the gender pay gap might close.


Fresh out of university is surely the time when men and women should be paid the same. After all, this is the phase in life when men and women are most likely to compete for the same jobs with just as much work experience and similar grades to one another.

As it turns out, even in their first year of work after higher education, female graduates with similar qualifications and experience earn less than men. In fact, a report recently published by Futuretrack   has revealed that male graduates in the UK earn an average of £24,000 to £26,999, while female graduates earn between £21,000 and £23,999.

On this evidence, it is clear that the gender pay gap starts early. And, unfortunately, it’s a pattern that typically continues, even as both sexes continue to climb up the career ladder.

More men are in top jobs

In an article published by The Guardian, it was revealed that only one in 10 executive directors at the UK’s top companies are female. What’s more, in countries such as France and Germany, the ratio of females in boardroom-level jobs is even worse.

This statistic suggests that finding a way to get more women into better paid jobs would be an obvious way of closing the gender pay gap. Nevertheless, there is strong evidence to suggest, that even when women are in jobs that traditionally pay well, they still earn less than men.

Taking the high paid position of a doctor as an example, there are now more women GPs than men in the UK. In the medical profession as a whole, the split of female to male practitioners is nearly 50-50. Even so, female doctors still earn around 29% less than men, and the gap has only widened since 2004.

More women balance their career with children

A recent report by the International Labour Organisation revealed that women face a ‘motherhood pay gap’. In other words, this means that women are much more likely to take time off work or quit their job to look after their children and will earn less than men as a result.

Furthermore, statistics suggest that mothers earn a lot less than women that don’t have children, and the difference increases with every child a woman has.

In 2015, the UK Government made fundamental changes to paternity leave that gave fathers more flexibility to take time off work after the birth of a child. All the same, in many cases, women are still more likely to clear their work schedule to look after children, which will arguably help prolong the gender pay gap that currently exists.

Women earn less because of discrimination

In the UK, the Equal Pay Act was passed in 1970. This made it illegal for companies to pay men more than women for doing the same job. Over four-and-a-half decades later, a report by the recruitment company Robert Half has revealed that UK women earn, on average, £300,000 less than men over the course of a working life.

Historically, one of the main issues with legally enforcing equal pay is that women have carried the responsibility of filing a complaint if they suspected a man in the same role was being paid more. This, of course, means that women need to prove they are being discriminated against, which, in many cases, has proven difficult.

In a recent bid to counteract this, the government announced new rules that would force companies with more than 250 employees to reveal their gender pay data. Those companies that fail to address the gap will subsequently have their data published in a league table.

Although this is an obvious step in the right direction, the rules are expected to affect only 8,000 employers across the UK, which, hypothetically, means it will only start to scratch the surface of unmasking gender pay discrimination in the UK.

So, when will the gender pay gap close?

The gender pay gap starts from the first day of work and continues all the way to retirement. Between males dominating top jobs, women balancing careers with children, and discrimination, it is clear a lot has to change before the gender pay gap even nears closing.

Because of these factors, if the pay gap continues to close at its current rate, the World Economic Forum has calculated that it will take another 118 years before men and women are paid the same. Or, to put it another way, the best guess for when the gender pay gap will close is 2133.

Have you got an opinion on anything you have read, or on the gender pay gap in general? Then join the conversation in the comments section below.

At Simply-Docs, we provide fully customisable, ready-to-use documents that are ideal for businesses. These include employment documents, health & safety documents and a wide selection of corporate documents that help make running a company a lot easier.

For more information about how our services can save you money, contact our friendly team today.

10 Essential Tips for HMO Landlords


Houses in multiple occupation (HMOs)can be an excellent source of income for the buy-to-let landlord. HMOs tend to yield a higher rent than a home let to a single household. However, owners of HMOs have a heavier management burden and must comply with more legal requirements than other residential landlords.

If you are the owners of a HMO, or are considering adding a HMO to your investment portfolio, here are 10 essential tips to help you.

1. Engage with the local housing authority

Some HMOs need a licence, either because they are large HMOs affected by mandatory licensing or because the local housing authority has introduced additional licensing for certain types of smaller HMO. Check what the rules are in your area.

Also check what standards, rules and regulations apply locally. Each local housing authority will have requirements as to safety, room sizes and facilities.

If you are converting a family home into a HMO, check whether planning permission is required. Generally, no planning permission is needed for a HMO housing 3-6 residents but larger HMOs require a specific planning permission. Take advice from the local authority planning department at an early stage,

2. Obtain or renew your HMO licence

If a licence is required, be sure to obtain one before letting any rooms in your HMO. The local housing authority will carry out an inspection before granting (or refusing to grant) a licence. A fee will be payable. Licences usually last 5 years.

A criminal offence is committed if a landlord does not have a licence for a HMO that should have a licence. A fine of up to £20,000 can be imposed. It is also an offence to allow overcrowding or to breach a condition of the licence.

3. Check that your mortgage permits HMO use

Not all buy-to-let mortgage products are suitable for HMOs. Some standard buy-to-let mortgages will allow “small HMO” use, i.e. 3 or 4 tenants, but owners of larger HMOs will need a specific HMO mortgage product.

Shop around and consider using a broker to source the most suitable product. Lenders tend to offer the best products to experienced property investors.

4. Obtain specialist insurance

Insurance is essential to protect your investment but many insurers do not offer policies for HMOs as they are perceived to be higher risk. As with mortgage products, landlords need to shop around or use a broker.

Ensure that your insurance covers the buildings, any landlord’s contents and loss of rent if the property is damaged or destroyed.

5. Attend to safety & maintenance

HMO landlords have various duties under The Management of Houses in Multiple Occupation (England) Regulations 2006. These are listed below. Landlords should ensure that the property is up to standard before allowing any tenants to occupy.

Landlords must:

• Provide the landlord’s contact details to the occupiers and displaying them in a prominent place in the property
• Take fire safety and other safety measures
• Ensure a supply of water and drainage
• Maintain a supply of gas and electricity and testing gas appliances annually and electrical installations every 5 years
• Maintain common parts, fixtures, fittings and appliances
• Make sure living accommodation is clean at the start of a tenancy
• Provide waste disposal facilities.

6. Monitor safety & maintenance

Landlords need to carry out regular inspections of the HMO to keep the safety and maintenance issues above under review. If tenants report faults, the landlord should respond promptly.

7. Choose tenants carefully

All landlords need to take care when taking on a new tenant. HMO landlords need to be particularly careful. In many cases, HMO tenants are young professionals looking for economical accommodation in a convenient location. However, HMOs can also attract unreliable tenants and tenants with financial problems.

As well as checking on reliability and creditworthiness, Landlords need to consider whether a new tenant will fit in with the other tenants in the HMO. Landlords should seek references and do financial checks. Click here to see our Simply-Docs template reference request letters.

8. Have a written tenancy agreement

Having a written tenancy agreement will ensure that both landlord and tenant know what to expect and will reduce the scope for disagreements during or at the end of the tenancy.
Click here to see the Simply-Docs range of bedsit agreements and other assured shorthold tenancy agreements and here to see our student letting agreements.

9. Keep detailed records

Make sure you keep a written records of any inspections, correspondence and conversations with tenants. This will provide evidence of your actions in the case of a future dispute.

Also keep detailed financial records. These will be essential when it comes to filling in your tax return.

10. Connect and keep up to date

Connect with other local HMO landlords or join an online forum to learn from others and share your experiences of being a HMO landlord. Make sure you know about any planned changes to HMO legislation so you are well prepared.

How can Simply-Docs help?

Simply-Docs has a huge range of template letters, forms and documents in our Residential Landlords folder, including tenancy agreements for HMO and non-HMO properties. Our documents are customisable and easy to edit.

Our new HMOs and Licensing documents help HMO landlords to comply with the HMO Management Regulations.

For more information about our services, please do not hesitate to contact one of our expert team today.

Consultation on Tips and Gratuities

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) has published a consultation document in respect of tips and gratuities responding to a call for evidence, which ran from 1 September 2015 to 10 November 2015.

Why is a consultation taking place?

Since 1 October 2009, employers have been prohibited from using tips, gratuities and cover charges to make up payment of the national minimum wage. But tips and gratuities remain a contentious issue. Recent reports suggest that some companies have allegedly reduced the amount of tips being given to workers in order to fund the national living wage and, last year, there was widespread negative publicity over the deduction of administrative fees of 8-10% from customer tips at Pizza Express and other restaurant chains. This is legal and many employers said the charges were a way of covering the cost of pooling and distributing tips.

What is the consultation aiming to do?

In general terms, the policy objectives of the consultation are to make it clear to customers that payments are voluntary, ensure that workers receive a fair share and to increase transparency to workers and customers as to how the payments are treated. Consultation proposals include making it clear on bills that any service charges are voluntary, prohibiting or limiting employers from charging an administrative fee to workers who receive tips and placing the voluntary Code of Practice on a statutory basis. The voluntary Code of Practice was introduced in 2009 to improve the information available on tips, gratuities and service charges and how they differ from cover charges. If the voluntary Code were put on a statutory basis, it could be taken into account in certain tribunal proceedings.

This consultation will close on 27 June 2016.