Prospective tax rises and the return of VAT to the old rate of 17.5 per cent may have had an adverse effect on consumer confidence.

Shoppers in the UK who buy goods on the internet from countries outside the EU can now spend more without being liable to customs duty.

UK firms could face additional administrative costs as a result of changes to the EU’s VAT rules.

The post-Christmas surge in shopper activity should not be mistaken for a return to consumer confidence, a research group has warned.

Firms that want to agree an extended timetable for paying their tax bills under the Business Payment Support Service might be faced with more stringent questioning from HM Revenue and Customs.

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