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Dog seized to pay tax bill…

It’s always best to keep up to date with your tax affairs. Although most people don’t enjoy paying their taxes, it’s the law and if you don’t pay there can be serious consequences.

Over in Germany reports have emerged that make it fairly clear that you don’t mess with the German authorities when it comes to taxes.

An unnamed lady was behind in paying her taxes.

The authorities sent a debt collector around to collect whatever assets the family had to settle the tax liability.

According to the lady in question, two valuable items were identified.

One was the wheelchair of her paraplegic husband. Now, before even getting into the rights and wrongs of taking a disabled person’s wheelchair to settle debts, luckily for the family it was not an issue as it turned out that it was owned by a local association and was not the property of the family so the debt collectors couldn’t take it.

The authorities though have denied they tried to take the wheelchair and a spokesman said “Mobility aids for the disabled are absolutely exempt from being seized as collateral.”

One item though which was not exempt from being seized was the family pet.

Alas for Edda, the family dog, she was taken by the debt collector.

Edda is a pug and they are a pretty fashionable dog breed at the moment and the debt collector took the dog as settlement for the debt.

Edda was then listed on eBay and was sold to Michaela Jordan, a local police officer for €750 (approx. £650).

There’s a twist in the “tail” though in that the new owner has now sued the local authorities who sold Edda as apparently, she was advertised as being a healthy dog but has required veterinary treatment costing approximately €1,800.

We wish Edda well.

Would you send a selfie of your legs for a bonus?

I’m all for equal rights in the workplace. It doesn’t matter whether you’re male or female. It doesn’t matter what the colour of your skin is or your religious preferences. The only thing that does matter is whether or not you can do your job.

Not everyone shares the same view though and in Russia, aluminium manufacturing company Tatprof is offering a bonus to its female employees if they wear a skirt and makeup.

Oh, and to get the bonus they have to send a selfie of them showing their legs and make up to their (mostly male) bosses.

The bonus is 100 Russian Rubles (approx. £1.25) and it’s been reported that 60 people have so far sent in selfies to get the bonus.

Some may say that there are 2 sides to the argument.

The first, and probably most obvious, is that this is a step backwards in the workplace. A person should be judged by their ability to do their job rather than what their legs and make up look like. It’s 2019 for goodness sake and not the 1950s.

A counter argument though was put forward by Anasasia Kirillova, who works for the company’s department of corporate culture and internal communications who said that “Many women automatically put on trousers, so we hope that [the campaign] will increase our ladies’ awareness, allowing them to feel their femininity and charm when they make the choice of wearing a skirt or dress”.

It seems the message is coming from the top of the company.

According to Ms Kirillova, Tatprof’s male CEO Sergei Rachkov “really wants to maintain the female essence in every female employee of the company, so that young women do not have male haircuts, do not change into trousers, so that they engage themselves in handicraft, project all their warmth into raising children”.

Now, I’m personally not convinced by this counter argument but what about opening up the bonus option to everyone in the company?

What about offering the bonus to men as well as women who send a selfie of themselves wearing a skirt?

Best to take it back…

Most of you have probably had an interview. In fact, some of you may have had a number of interviews but a boss of one of the top companies in Australia has recently disclosed a pretty unusual way of deciding who not to offer a job to.

Trent Innes, who heads up Xero in Australia said that he will greet the person when he or she arrives for the interview and then take them to the kitchen to offer them a drink before heading to the meeting room with the drink. Even if they aren’t tea or coffee drinkers they will generally walk away with a glass of water.

He explained in the Venture Podcast with Lambros Photios that after taking the drink back for the interview “one of the things I’m always looking for at the end of the interview is, does the person doing the interview want to take that empty cup back to the kitchen?”

He explained that what “I was trying to find was what was the lowest level task I could find that regardless of what you did inside the organisation was still super important that would actually really drive a culture of ownership.”

He went on to say, “You can develop skills, you can gain knowledge and experience but it really does come down to attitude, and the attitude that we talk a lot about is the concept of ‘wash your own coffee cup’.”

That’s quite a smart move by Mr Innes as he said that attitude was the most important trait he looked for when hiring people.

He said that “Especially in a fast growth company or a start-up environment or scale up environment – you need people with a really strong growth mindset and that comes back to their attitude.”

So, how many interviewees do you think offered to take their cups back?

Perhaps surprisingly, the number of people who offered to take their cup back to the kitchen was pretty high. According to Mr Innes only 5 to 10 per cent of the interviewees didn’t offer to return their empty coffee cup back to the kitchen.

So there you go. If you’re attending an interview and you go to the kitchen with the boss to get a drink, it’s probably a good idea to offer to take the cup back.

Would you drink this coffee?

Anyone that has studied hard for their exams will almost certainly at one time or another utilised the services of a strong coffee.

Whilst desperately trying to cram that last bit of knowledge into your brain before the exams there is often a temptation to grab a strong coffee late in the night to keep your mind awake.

For years students around the world have been utilising the caffeine in coffee to help get that extra mark or two.

Coffee is said to originate from East Africa where legend has it that a 9th century Ethiopian goat herder by the name of Starbucks Kaldi noticed that after his goats had ate some coffee beans they started bouncing around like teenagers at the local disco.

This started the journey of coffee and associated caffeine hits so loved by students around the world.

Over in Thailand though a new type of coffee has just been put on sale which has, how can I put it, but a pretty unusual processing method.

The key staff involved in the processing function are also unusual as they have massive heads and bodies, weigh on average 4,000 kg and are grey in colour.

Yes, that’s right. The key team members involved in processing coffee are 20 Thai elephants.

The new brew of coffee is “processed” by getting the elephants to eat some coffee beans and then stepping back (in fact stepping way back) and letting the natural digestive juices in their stomachs do the job of “processing” the beans before they are deposited naturally on the ground a day later.

The beans are then handpicked out of the elephant dung by people who probably don’t bite their nails before being dried and then ground into coffee.

The finished coffee is said to have a slight pooey taste smooth flavour without the bitterness of normal coffee and is some of the most expensive coffee in the world selling for nearly £150 per kilo.

It’s certainly an unusual production technique but it’s also for a good cause as 8% of the sales revenue goes towards the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation, a refuge for rescued elephants in Thailand.

Superman helps hackers.

It’s a sign of the times that hackers are constantly on the lookout for weaknesses in people’s computer security systems.

Individuals can go a long way to making things more difficult for the hackers by ensuring they have up to date anti-virus software in place and that their passwords are good passwords.

But what is a good password?

Before answering that, let’s look at some bad passwords.

The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has just released a report on some of the most hacked passwords. They analysed hacked accounts where details were being sold by hackers.

Last year an astonishing 23 million people around the world with the password “123456” were hacked.

You should really hang your head in shame if your password is 123456 as it’s very easy to hack into.

OK, what about the name of your favourite football team as your password. Would that provide you with more protection?

Alas not as football team names are very common passwords.

Roughly 280,000 accounts were breached last year with the password “Liverpool”. 

“Chelsea” and “Man-Utd” passwords were breached 216,000 and 59,000 times respectively.

Using the names of your favourite music artist also isn’t a good idea.

The most popular passwords using the names of music artists are “blink182” and “50cent” (these are probably popular as they satisfy the need to have letters and numbers in a password).

If you’re a fan of superheroes then avoid Superman, which was the most common superhero inspired password.

So, onto good passwords.

According to Ian Levy, the Technical Director of NCSC, “Using hard to guess passwords is a strong first step and we recommend combining three random but memorable words. Be creative and use words memorable to you, so people can’t guess your password.”

There you go.

As easy as 123 or should that be, as easy as “123456”…

Would you stand for this?

Do you work in an office? Do you sit down at your desk most of the working day?

If you do, then it may be a good idea to ensure you stand up and move around a bit during the day.

Recent research has estimated that 1 in 9 deaths can be blamed on sitting down for at least 6 hours a day.

Let’s pause for a moment as that’s a shocking figure!

In the UK alone that would equate to thousands of people dying every year due to lack of movement and the cost to the National Health Service is estimated at £700 million annually.

Research published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health estimated that 17% of diabetes, 5% of heart disease and 8% of lung cancer cases could be avoided with less sitting.

Leonie Heron from Queen’s University Belfast was the lead author of the study and said “You need to put your body under a little bit of stress to maintain a healthy heart and whole system”.

She went on to say that “It suggests that it is bad for our health how our working lives are structured for a lot of people. You can attenuate that risk by being more active in your leisure time, but it’s something employers can look at. Maybe they should be providing opportunities for employees to be active during the day, perhaps making sure people move every hour…or providing opportunities during lunch and coffee breaks.”

My guess is that a lot of you do sit down for at least 6 hours a day working at your computer. It’s probably a good idea therefore to remind yourself to get up and move a bit when you can as it will be good for your health.

Unless, that is of course, you’re getting up to walk out of the office to have a cigarette…

Causing a bit of a stink…

There’s no room in the modern workplace for bullying and intimidating work colleagues.

Companies should have anti bullying practices in place and in most countries around the world there are laws to protect people who are being bullied.

The Oxford dictionary defines bullying as seeking to “harm, intimidate, or coerce someone perceived as vulnerable” but in some situations it’s difficult to decide whether or not an activity is actually bullying.

Over in Australia a worker claimed that he was bullied by a colleague who repeatedly broke wind at him.

David Hingst claimed that his ex-colleague Greg Short would “lift his bum and fart” on him up to 6 times a day.

Mr Hingst didn’t take this well and sued his former employer for A$1.8m (nearly £1m).

Now, let’s pause here for a moment and hold our breath.

Bullying in the workplace is clearly wrong but claiming damages of nearly £1 million when somebody breaks wind in front of you does seem a bit steep.

Mr Hingst was adamant though and last year took his case to the Supreme Court of Victoria.

The Court found that there was no bullying.

Mr Hingst didn’t agree with the decision and appealed against it and last week the appeal was heard by the Court of Appeal.

Mr Hingst reportedly told the Australian Associated Press that “I would be sitting with my face to the wall and he would come into the room, which was small and had no windows. He would fart behind me and walk away. He would do this five or six times a day”.

Mr Short, the alleged perpetrator of this “crime” had said that he may “have done it once or twice” but denied doing it with the intention of distressing or harassing Mr Hingst.

Alas for Mr Hingst, the Court of Appeal rejected his appeal and found there was no bullying.

Mr Hingst though isn’t taking this sitting down and reportedly has said that he plans to appeal to the High Court.

Remind me – what was I going to buy?

Do you wish you had a better memory? Perhaps you do but you can’t remember whether or not you do.

If this is the case then help may be at hand.

University researchers have recently suggested a simple technique which could improve your memory.

Dr Mark Moss from Northumbria University led a research study which found that students studying in a room with the smell of the herb rosemary (in the form of essential oils) achieved 5% to 7% better memory results than students undertaking similar studying in a room without the smell of rosemary.

Dr Moss reported that the sense of smell in humans is highly sensitive and sends messages to the brain which can set off reactions and responses.

In the case of rosemary, the smell could well result in a better memory.

This view isn’t new though as ancient Greek students used to wear garlands of rosemary in their exams and Ophelia, the young noblewoman in Shakespeare’s play Hamlet said “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance.”

So, in conclusion, the next time you are studying hard for an exam it may be an idea to buy some rosemary essential oils to help your memory.

That is of course, if you can remember to buy some in the first place…

(Details of some of the work done by Northumbria University can be found here).

An awkward mistake.

Have you ever sent an email to the wrong person by mistake? What about posting something on social media which, with hindsight you’d wished you hadn’t?

We all make mistakes and it’s not the end of the world but I’ve got a feeling that Magnús Örn Hákonarson will be remembering his recent mistake for a while to come.

Magnús is in charge of his employer’s social media activities and recently what was supposed to be a private message was posted on his employer’s Facebook page.

Magnus works for The Landsbjargar’s Accident Investigation Company in Iceland and he accidentally posted an invite to a party to all the followers of the company. To add to the excitement, this wasn’t a normal party but was an invite to all the followers to take part in a bondage party with a fetish dress code.

The invitation highlighted the dress code as fetish or alternative and included information about safe words, leather masks and whips. Members of the BDSM society Magnus was a member of were able to buy the tickets for 1,000 ISK (£7) whilst non-members had to pay 3,000 ISK (£21).

As soon as he realised his mistake he removed the party invitation from the company’s Facebook page.

Whether or not his colleagues knew about his hobby is by the by. They certainly do now and the nice thing about it is that his employers realised it was a genuine mistake and have been very supportive.

Given his interest in BDSM he might have been slightly disappointed that he wasn’t punished but instead his employers issued a statement saying “There are many people with different backgrounds and interests within the volunteer group. People are engaged in all kinds of sports and hobbies and the rescue team’s board of directors will not distinguish these interests, as long as they are legal.”

All in all, nothing to beat yourself up about.

Room for improvement at the Big 4…

Oh dear. It certainly wasn’t a great performance by the Big 4 when it came to their annual inspections by the Financial Reporting Council (FRC) in the UK.

The quality of the audits performed had decreased and for KPMG in particular, according to the FRC “there has been an unacceptable deterioration in quality”.

The FRC is an independent body who check the quality of the audits undertaken by the 8 largest firms in the UK. Think of it as “auditing the auditors”.

They rate the quality of the audits undertaken using the following scale:

• Good (category 1)
• Limited improvements required (category 2A)
• Improvements required (category 2B)
• Significant improvements required (category 3)

Overall results from the most recent FRC inspections during 2017/18 show that 72% of audits required no more than limited improvements (compared to 78% in 2016/17). Or to put it another way, 28% of the audits reviewed required improvements (category 2B) or significant improvements (category 3).

For KPMG though things were particularly bad. When the FRC looked at their audits within the FTSE 350 (the largest 350 companies on the London stock exchange), they found that 50% required MORE than just limited improvements (compared to 35% in the previous year).

If you take a step back then this really isn’t very good is it. If you went to a restaurant where 50% of the meals served required more than limited improvements you’d be unlikely to go back to that restaurant again and I’m sure that restaurant wouldn’t be in business for much longer.

KPMG are going to face increased scrutiny by the FRC in the next round of inspections. 25% more KPMG audits will be examined over the 2018/19 cycle of work and the implementation of their Audit Quality Plan will be closely monitored.

So what went wrong?

The FRC noted that there were a number of factors. These included a failure to challenge management and show appropriate scepticism across their audits.

Stephen Haddrill, CEO of the FRC, said “At a time when public trust in business and in audit is in the spotlight, the Big 4 must improve the quality of their audits and do so quickly. They must address urgently several factors that are vital to audit, including the level of challenge and scepticism by auditors, in particular in their bank audits. We also expect improvements in group audits and in the audit of pension balances. Firms must strenuously renew their efforts to improve audit quality to meet the legitimate expectation of investors and other stakeholders.”

Whilst the level of quality found within the Big 4 audits fell, the performance of the mid tier companies improved. The FRC inspections on BDO, GT, Mazars and Moore Stephens showed general improvements in the quality of inspected audits.

The FRC’s Audit Quality Review is explained in more detail here and if you’re interested in reading the reports on the individual firms they can be found on the following links:

BDO LLP Public Report 2017/18 (PDF)

Deloitte LLP Public Report 2017/18 (PDF)

Ernst & Young LLP Public Report 2017/18 (PDF)

Grant Thornton LLP Public Report 2017/18 (PDF)

KPMG LLP Public Report 2017/18 (PDF)

Mazars LLP Public Report 2017/18 (PDF)

Moore Stephens LLP Public Report 2017/18 (PDF)

PwC LLP Public Reporting 2017/18 (PDF)