The Need to Knows of Gift-Aid

Gift Aid Logo

The Need to Knows of Gift-Aid

Originally started in 1990, albeit with very different rules, Gift-Aid is a great opportunity for charities to increase their fundraising potential by up to 25%; all that it takes is an eligible donation and express consent from the donor. In this short article we’ll be looking at some of the common pitfalls and top tips to making the most of this initiative.

It must be a donation!

The rules for Gift-Aid are very specific in terms of what constitutes a donation, but in essence, a donation is a voluntary contribution given freely which is surplus to the value of benefits received. For example, a charity dinner charging £50 per head would be ineligible for gift-aid. You could, however claim gift-aid on a £20 suggested donation above a £30 ticket, provided that the £20 was not required, and did not entitle the donor to more than £5 of additional benefits.

When is a donation not a donation?

When is a donation not a donation?

What’s the deal with benefits?

Benefits are small gifts given by the charity in thanks to a donor, and these too have specific rules where Gift-Aid is concerned. For donations up to £100, these cannot exceed 25% of the donation. Up to £1000, they cannot exceed £25, and after £1000, they can’t exceed 5% of the donation, up to a maximum of £2,500.

By this rule, it is generally fine to give certificates detailing what a donation will be spent on, or a box of chocolates for a larger donation where RRP is less than 25% of the donation. The benefit rule excludes things such as school trips from gift-aid eligibility, where suggested donations are spent immediately on benefits such as admission and transport.

Receiving gifts as favours after a donation

Chocolates and certificates are fine, anything bigger could raise questions!

How do charity shops claim then?

In the charity shop scenario, the donation is in the form of items gifted, yet this isn’t eligible for Gift-Aid until the items are monetised. Once sold, charities must confirm with the benefactor that they are happy to donate all or a specific amount of the proceeds before Gift-Aid can be claimed on the remainder. After 3 weeks, if no response is received, it can be assumed that the donation is the full value of the goods sold.

Charities cant claim gift-aid on donated goods until they are sold

Charities cant claim gift-aid on donated goods until they are sold

What about collection boxes?

Collection boxes are a little different, not least because there is no formal declaration given with each donation. In these situations, donations are eligible for the Small Donations Scheme.

The Small Donations Scheme allows up to £2000 of donations not exceeding £20 each to be eligible for 25% gift-aid. For charities which operate a community building such as religious institutions, this figure increases to £8000, allowing a gift-aid claim of up to £2000! Donations claimed through the small donations scheme cannot exceed 10 x of donations which have been declared for.

How are declared donations different?

Declared donations must be from a UK taxpayer, who explicitly states they are happy for the charity to claim the 25% Gift-Aid from the tax they have paid that year. The evidence of these declarations must be kept on record by the charity to support a Gift-Aid claim.

Merlin Tickets booking site example with gift-aid

Your Gift-Aid process at point of sale should inform your customers and present them with the choice to opt-in. You also need to keep record of your customers declarations for audit purposes.

Crucially, the declaration must be on an opt-in basis, rather than opt-out; signifying that the beneficiary has willfully signalled their desire to Gift-Aid their donation. This rule also means that donations cannot be Gift-Aided on behalf of another, such as when donations are pooled from multiple people.

In addition to collecting the additional 25% from each donation for the charity, if the donor is a higher rate tax payer they can also claim back additional tax relief for themselves. Systems such as Merlin 8 can be used to collate statements for such donors to easily include in their tax return.

How does Gift-Aid apply to admissions?

Entry fees are ineligible for Gift-Aid, as these technically constitute a payment for a service. There are however, ways to qualify admission revenue as donations. Adding an optional donation of at least 10% on top of an admission cost can entitle the visitor to gift-aid the entire amount.

For example, if admission to a museum cost £8, but Mr Smith decided to add a 10% donation, he would then pay £8.80, and the museum would be able to claim an additional 25% Gift-Aid on the whole value with Mr Smith’s express consent, totaling £11.

Charity attractions should consider how Gift-Aid will fit into their fundraising strategy

Charity attractions should consider how Gift-Aid will fit into their fundraising strategy

The other method is to allow access for at least one year with an admission ticket. In this case, the entire initial payment can be classed as a donation. Entry must then be granted either at a reduced rate for the whole period, or for free with the exception of up to five days.

What about Memberships?

Memberships can also be used by charitable venues to claim gift-aid, but the memberships must meet certain criteria. As with admissions, the payment cannot be in exchange for services. To qualify, look into other ways to reward your members such as with newsletters and engagement in fundraising and governance activities.


  • Gift Aid must be opt-in, and declarations indicate that the benefactor is happy for the charity to claim 25% from their income tax payments for the current year.
  • The Small Donations Scheme can be used to process a limited number of claims for donations under £20.
  • For gift-aid to be claimed, the donation must be a voluntary contribution, which is not compensated for by way of goods or services.

For more information on Gift-Aid, take a look the website. For software solutions to help you claim Gift-Aid both online and on entry, Contact Merlin.

Digital Strategies for Attractions in 2018

In 2016 the UK soared past Mexico and Germany to become the 6th most visited tourist destination on the planet. Competition has never been fiercer among thousands of historic sites and visitor centres across the country to tap into the growing market of domestic and international visitors.

While national theme parks have always benefited from economies of scale in marketing from newspapers to cereal boxes, smaller less established venues have often had to be more creative in their outreach initiatives. For such attractions, the rise of digital media has been indispensable as a route to market.

Pictured: available offers could be a prerequisite or the last push that leads consumers to visit an attraction.

Evolving over the years from text to photo to virtual reality, digital media has continued to offer innovative means of engaging with an audience. In a 2014 report into the effect of high-quality listings on consumer perceptions, Google found that on average those sites which offered ‘rich’ media listings generated as much as twice the interest as those without.

As we enter 2018, some of the biggest names in tech are now primed to escort us to a new age of experiential marketing. Samsung, Google, Facebook, Playstation and HTC each have their own virtual reality headsets, with Apple rumoured for a 2018 announcement, and there is no shortage of content with bloggers, advertisers and TV shows keen to explore 360 video as a new medium.

Looking to the future, Mark Zuckerberg is aiming for 1 billion users of Facebook’s Oculus, with the intention to create a full virtual reality for users to experience concerts and galleries from the comfort of their own homes. This is all part of his eventual ambition to create an augmented reality where users can share in simulated experiences.

The Cutter & Cutter gallery in L.A has a virtual tour online, which includes exhibit information.

As a more immediate stepping stone, Google has been building a network of thousands of media producers to accelerate the introduction of their virtual tours, an extension of street view. With notable adopters such as English Heritage and National Trust in 2017, virtual tours are poised to help attractions turn interest into excitement as a highly engaging means of conversion.

Such introductions of new technology have a two-fold impact on the way we consume rich information. On the top-side, early adopters can benefit from a first-mover advantage, gaining widespread recognition over their competitors, new technological shifts are always driven by a small number of facilitators and an expanding audience


In addition to technological driven changes, changes in social attitudes have also lead to the emergence of new platforms to promote great experiences. Confidence in online reviews has continued to increase in recent years, with 19% of respondents reporting that they always trust online reviews, and a further 45% having confidence where reviews are corroborated, up from 8% and 40% respectively in 2015.

High numbers of positive visitor reviews indicate a great user experience and demonstrates the venue is reputable and trustworthy.

This increasing reliance and trust is immediately apparent when looking at Trip Advisor’s growth rate. In 2006, Trip Advisor had around 10 million total venue reviews, of which around 34,000 venues were visitor attractions. Ten years and one smartphone boom later, there are now 760,000 visitor attractions listed and 465 million total reviews, with more than 20% year on year growth. This meteoric rise is symptomatic of an increasing reliance on technology to help consumers research and book new experiences.

A similar trend can be seen in the use of voucher codes. Whereas coupons for visitor attractions were once in the form of wrappers and newspaper cut-outs, savvy consumers now scour the web to decide between similar experiences, or reduce the costs of those they would prefer. On average, searches for coupons in the UK have increased 38% year on year for the past 10 years, with search volumes now over 20 times in 2017 what they were in 2007.

What we have and are continuing to see is a veritable explosion in routes to market. Though the mobile boom has passed us, our consumers are still learning and trusting in new methods to plan and research days out. The use of online booking facilities, for example has risen from 10% of museums in 2010, to nearly 30% today.

The sum of these shifts means that Museums and attractions now more than ever must have their finger on the pulse of digital media trends. With each surge in a platforms’ popularity comes a fresh new audience to market to, and the more engaging the content, the more likely this can be translated to footfall from excited new visitors, each keen to share their experiences.




6 Tips to Successfully Utilise Word of Mouth Marketing

Word of mouth is consistently hailed as the No.1 way to increase sales. Neilsen reports that 84% of people are likely to listen to the recommendations of their friends and family, and 70% would follow online opinions. Put it simply, people trust people more than brands!

So how do we tap into this? In this blog post we’ll be investigating some of the key ways to harness social media to turn our customers from attendees to ambassadors.

6: Appeal to Groups by Appealing to Individuals

Chances are, if a group of friends all decide at once to visit your event or attraction, there was one ringleader who has painstakingly organised the outing. That ringleader is our champion and we should do what we can to make their life easier!

Try using services such as Groupon to package multiple tickets with discounts built in. This both encourages our champion to find the qualifying number of friends to make use of the deal, and simplifies the booking process by condensing it into a single transaction.

5: Offer Referral Discounts

Giving our customers a direct financial incentive can be a great way to effectively market to the decision makers within our groups. Offering a fraction of the admission cost as a referral bonus for example means our champions are rewarded for loyalty and advocacy, with the potential to even earn a profit for attending!

A great advantage to this method is that as named referees begin to repeat, we can start to identify our key influencers, and even target them with special offers for future events.

4: Social Media Giveaways

There’s a reason why Facebook and twitter are constantly full of “like & share” posts, they generally work! “Like and share to win a free iPad” will go down in history as one of the most overused phrases of the 2010’s.

Beware however of the common pitfall of gaining a large following and never engaging; 79% of people say their primary reason for liking a Facebook page is to get discounts, but few of these will actually purchase anything.

The smart way to hold competitions is to create a tantalising experience which is closely aligned with your existing events. For example, try creating an exclusive VIP experience for your competition winners with special perks and a free bottle of Prosecco!

3: Create an Online Identity and Own it

While it’s unlikely that a tweet will make someone drop what they’re doing and come to your event, hashtags on Twitter are a great way to tie together a compelling story from multiple sources of what your event is about.

Start early, share your preparation process, encourage your guests to share their experiences and engage with them. If each tweet is a thread, by the end of your event you should have a rich tapestry to drive recognition and future attendance.

2: Go live!

Live streaming is the most recent trend in social media and drives some of the highest engagement of any medium. Facebook’s execution of this is fantastic, as comments and likes appear in real-time, delivering a unique snapshot of public opinion.

Twitter too, now comes standard with a live-streaming service. The allure of a live show is something first recognised with Big Brother years ago, and has scarcely dulled. Take extra precaution with your production values and this could be a great shared experience to draw a new crowd!

1: Get Creative

The No.1 consideration when attempting to gain traction in social media is to do something unique! Create a spectacle that people will want to share and you could find yourself in the centre of an exponential maelstrom of engagement.

No amount of incentive can compete with a genuine human need to share something brilliant, so try to keep in mind that our first objective is not to bribe our guests into call-to-actions, but to inspire them to say they were there.


Merlin Software Granted 2017 Rising Star and Great User Experience Awards for Event Management Software

We’re privileged to announce that a leading business software review site has granted Merlin Software two industry recognitions. FinancesOnline, which has reviewed over three thousand business solutions to date, awarded us with 2017 Great User Experience and Rising Star for our solution’s intuitive UI and solid user base experience. The awards are given to top solutions in their niche.

Finances online has reviewed thousands of business software packages online here.


The Great User Experience Award for top event management software recognizes business solutions that are simple to set up and use but feature powerful tools. Our event management software has all the essential standard functionalities, plus unique elements like wristband entry and our EPOS and retail platform integration. These give our users a wide range of tools to manage their events more efficiently.

Our software received commendation in particular for its versatility. The standalone web portal excels in meeting the needs of small businesses, offering a highly affordable platform for selling event and admission tickets, whilst keeping marketing data in-house and payments up-front. Merlin 8 on the other hand delivers a considerable range of enhanced business applications, functioning as a fully integrated EPOS, stock management and reporting package with membership controls and gift-aid features.

The Rising Star Award was attributed to Merlin Online, as a newly launched service with great potential to meet the ticketing needs of event managers. Merlin Online stood out for offering fantastic value and flexibility, with full telephone customer support and the availability of hardware packages to benefit queue management and reporting.

3 things you should be prepared for in 2018

Okay it’s now October, we’re now officially in Christmas-aisle season (not to be confused with the actual festive season, which starts December 1st). With any luck, the summer has been kind and those of us in the business of outdoor events can now start to concentrate on next year.

Grab a coffee, take a well earned break and let’s go through a few of the major considerations as we approach 2018.


Data protection is back in a big way

The more ominous sounding GDPR, or General Data Protection Regulation is on its way and will be in effect from May next year. This means some major changes in how we can collect and deal with customer data.

This update in essence will widen the definitions of what constitutes data, to include IP addresses and cookies, and improve consumer rights by offering the right to be forgotten and requiring clear opt-in consent.


Fee ya later!

As of the 13th January 2018, all credit and debit card fee’s will be shelved. You read that right, they will be illegalised, outlawed, scrapped, binned, thrown and dusted. They are scheduled to be jettisoned, evicted, dismissed, expelled, dropped, abandoned and ejected from the UK. And this is good and bad news!

Firstly, we can expect a short-term rise in small transactions under £5, which usually generate card usage fees of around 50p per transaction. Secondly, we may likely see many PDQ operators change and increase their pricing structure to deal with the loss in revenues.

Our advice – use this time to reevaluate your PDQ contract and move from fixed to variable commission where average transactions are £10 or less. 


The B word

Since June 2016 we’ve seen record inbound tourism, which may have a little to do with the 12% sterling devaluation. Since this point, we’ve seen massive fluctuations whenever the B-word is mentioned, as people choose to invest in Sterling, or the other B-word – Bitcoin.

This has been great news for tourism and hospitality throughout the holiday season, and while rates are low we can expect the continued surge in visits and staycations to continue. As we progress towards Michel Barnier’s October 2018 wrap-up date we will see how investors and speculators fancy our chances out on our own!

Is there something else we’ve missed? What is your business worried about the most next year?

Questions in the comments!

Top Summer Tips for Visitor Attractions!

With summer coming up, visitor attractions are going to be extremely busy. Schools are out, students have graduated and families will be taking a well deserved break. But with all this chaos, how can you keep your customers happy at this busy time of the year?

Check out Merlinsoft’s top tips for summer!

Visitor Data
Being able to capture your customers’ data when they visit is an integral part of keeping customers happy. It will not only help your business to grow but having the ability to analyse areas where more attention is needed makes it easier. It is necessary to keep in contact with your customers, especially existing customers. You can recover email addresses so that you can send in offers, promotions, upcoming events and much more. Keeping in regular contact with your customers is important and can help to increase numbers. Being able to gather data from your tickets and memberships means you can create happy customers and improve your business.

Nowadays, people prefer to book online. They like to be able to order in advance so as to not have to wait in long queues. If you are able to give your customers this option it means that again, your customers are happier and it also means that you are increasing your secondary spend. More money can then be pumped around your attraction for the well being of your customers. Online gives more options to your customers, and that’s giving them what they want. Options. You are able to retrieve data from this as well, and see how your online sales match up to your in-house ones. Give your customers an incentive to book online, it may be that it is 10% cheaper, or they receive an extra feature within the attraction.

Being able to queue bust is an important factor when it comes to visitor attractions. You want to make sure your customers are not always waiting in lines to get in and out. Having mobile options will help this. Being able to use tablets and phones to scan and redeem tickets means cutting down time. Customers are more than happy to use their mobile phones for tickets or print off their e-tickets which are sent to them directly when they book online. This saves time on printing and makes it easier to separate queues and cut down. Using tablets means that your employees can walk around helping your customers when they arrive and being able to use the system at the same time. It’s convenient.

Marketing is an essential part in making sure your customers are returning time and time again. It can be done in several ways, but being subtle about it can be difficult. You don’t want to be hounding your customers so that they get annoyed. Having the options to be able to promote events on the bottom of receipts, on the back of tickets and an extra parts in emails. This is something they may not think they see consciously but in reality it is there when they think about events and dates. It also acts as a reminder and helps to cut down marketing emails everyday, and many people choose to opt out of this option.

Kiosks provide a quick and easy way for customers to buy tickets without the need for queueing too long. Visitors are able to purchase their own tickets without the need of a member of staff, which is very useful at busy periods. Not only this, but it comes with fully integrated ticket printing facilities and a chip and pin for instant payments. Having this option, provides more staff to be in other busy areas and offers ease of convenience to your customers when they like to pay on the day.

Merlinsoft Ltd are able to help you provide all of the above to your customers and more. Merlin is constantly evolving and provides an integrated solution for online ticketing and venue management. Call us for more information on 01226 294413 or email

Cyber Security


On Friday, 12th May 2017 a global cyber-attack hit 150 countries including the UK. 47 NHS organisations were affected in England and 13 in Scotland, creating widespread chaos and confusion.

This recent event has made people question their own cyber security measures and whether they are able to prevent such attacks. It is useful to take precautions when storing important data on your systems, no matter how small or big.

Below are some simple and easy tips you can do to protect your machines from any future viruses.


Every piece of software you use will have some security issues, it’s inevitable. Windows, Chrome, Firefox, Adobe, Internet Explorer and so on. A lot of these operating systems and programs have automatic updates which is recommended you leave these on. From a security perspective, keeping your computer up-to-date will keep it safe from online threats. I understand that updates can be very annoying, however, for the sake of protecting your data I think it is a worthy compromise.

Antivirus and Anti-Malware

It doesn’t matter which one you have, you must use it regardless. Windows Defender, which is a built in firewall for Windows is a perfect, free and simple program to use. Anti-Malware programs can help to assist with the antivirus and are also recommended. When set up properly, these firewalls protect your computer files from being scanned.


You need to make sure you are using strong passwords. This is vital, people nowadays use the same passwords for everything, which makes it very easy for anyone to hack into your systems and get a hold of your data. You need to have a separate password for everything, you also need to make sure your password isn’t obvious. A good password will have a combination of letters, numbers and special characters. This doesn’t just go for accounts etc. this means passwords to your laptop, computer and phone. Last but not least, always change your passwords on a regular basis.


Be well aware of phishing emails, even from people you know. They may have a virus themselves. Never click on a link in an email, if you want to investigate further, copy and paste the link into notepad and examine the address. If the email states that it is “” however the actual link address says “”. This is suspicious, and you should not open it.

Downloads and Pop-Ups

Any programs or software you download must be done from a well-known, trustworthy site. For example, if you need to download Adobe Flash, go to the official Adobe website and download it from there. Do not click on any other advertisements or banners saying that they can be downloaded. Always stick to those that are secure. The same goes for pop-ups; do not click on any that request you to download any programs you think you may already have. You might get a pop-up from a website asking you to update google chrome, do not click on this. Double check on your google chrome browser settings for updates, and update it from there.


You should be backing up your data on a regular basis. Monthly back-ups are a good idea, even if it means doing this on an external hard drive or USB. It is easier to retrieve the data if lost or stolen. Keep this back-up of data separate from your computer or laptop, just in case anything is taken. You may already know this, but you must never leave your laptop/phone/tablet unattended in public. It is so easy for someone to get a hold of it. At most, they have your expensive laptop (if you have followed all the protocols above they shouldn’t be able to hack your password). Although, if you leave it logged on, you have literally given the public access to your private, personal data. Please BE AWARE.

How much do you know about Merlinsoft?

You may know us as a company that provides products and services, but how much do you really know about what we do, what we can do and who we are.

Did you know?

Merlinsoft is a family run business whose core values stem from respecting one another. We work in a warm and friendly environment which means that the work we do can be done comfortably and efficiently. We value our employees just as much as our customers.

Did you know?

Merlinsoft is built up of over 30 years of retail experience! We have teams of retail professionals who are dedicated to enhancing Merlin®. Our Sales Director has written a formal publication (‘You don’t get many drugs for a cauliflower’) which covers all aspects of a retail business and how to thrive and survive in an ever changing industry. You can buy this here:

Did you know?

Merlinsoft Ltd produced the very first EPOS touch screen retail terminal in 1995 which could be wall mounted. This product won international acclaim as well as awards from Barnsley Chamber of Commerce and the Millennium Awards programme for Innovation.

Did you know?

Merlinsoft is international! We have customers in Oman and Spain. Being able to branch out into a wider market has helped us to expand our company immensely.

Did you know?

We update the software on a regular basis for our customers so that there are more functions and features available. Customer requests helps us to move forward within the competitive market and we have come a long way since the original Merlin®.

Did you know?

We at Merlinsoft have been creating step-by-step user guides to help our customers become comfortable in using the software. We want to make sure that our customers are getting the most out of their system. We even take on requests! If you feel like you need a guide on a certain aspect of Merlin®, please do tell us.


Merlinsoft Newsletters!


Starting in February 2017, we have launched a monthly newsletter for all our customers. Packed with updates, events, tips and exclusives. These newsletters will inform our customers on our activities, help you to understand the software better and also gain as much support as you can.

Our newsletter will be informing you of the newest upgrades to our software, what’s in the new releases and what we are working on for the future. Subscribing to our mailing list will enable you to receive these monthly updates and access all the information required.

We’ll also be introducing our new webinars; aimed at giving free, informative and interactive discussions to our Merlin customers to ensure you get the most from your EPOS, Back Office, Online and Charity system. Each Webinar will be on a specific topic or theme and can be registered in advance using our own ticketing platform.

In addition to this, we have been busy creating online user guides and videos to help you get the most out of your system. these are located here and we’ll be adding more regularly. If you have any requests then let us know and we’ll create a guide for you.

In the newsletter we’ll be listing all our next major events including the Business Showcase at the Doncaster Racecourse on the 16th February 2017 and the Museum and Heritage Exhibition in London on the 17th and 18th May 2017. Both exhibitions involve great networking opportunities, exposure and means to showcase the company. If you’d like to book a time slot with us to have some personal one on one time and a run through of the Merlin system then book here:

We’ll also be showcasing our customers each month. If you have any news, special events or just want a bit of free promo, then let us know and e-mail us with some copy and any images you’d like to use and we’ll publish you on our blog and in our newsletter. Email to be featured.

7 Key Impacts of Brexit on the Retail Sector


On Friday, 24th June 2016 the U.K. had voted for Britain to exit the European Union and in many ways this was met with great disbelief. The impact of this decision created uncertainty amongst everyone within and outside of the U.K. Since the vote, there has been many plans about where this will lead us and what the government should do.

One of the main areas that will be affected by Brexit is the Retail industry. It not only depends on consumers from within the country but also many more from outside. So, how has it affected this sector?

Below is a list of 7 key impacts that all retail companies will be facing in the near future.

  1. Fragile Consumer Confidence

    After the vote, political uncertainty resulted in the dampening of consumer confidence. Consumer confidence is considered the 1“driver of the retail sector’s fortunes” and that the “psychology of the consumer is critical”. Without the consumer, there is no business. It’s as simple as that.

  1. Business Plans

    This sense of uncertainty also leads to the fact that companies are unable to make concrete business plans for the future. They are reliant on the government to sort issues before they can take any sort of action.

  1. Import Costs

    A lot of retailers tend to buy most of their goods overseas, paying in dollars and thus resulting in a higher risk. These retailers will be severely impacted by increased import costs due to the devaluation of the pound.

  1. Exchange Rates

    Due to the costs of goods purchased overseas rising, this means that there will be less favourable exchange rates. This then creates the decision whereby retailers must either increase their prices to consumers to create a more competitive environment or absorb the loss into margins. This is increasingly difficult for those smaller retailers.

  1. Labour Supply

    Due to the restraining of migration, the retail sector would be short on supply of labour. Even though the retail sector does not depend upon cheap labour, it does however look for specialists in the European market. These restrictions would result in a limited supply of the talent pool.

  1. Positive Opportunities

    There are a few positives to come out of this; most of which come from consumers. One of these is that consumers will always continue to shop, there is a need for it. The exit of the European Union may encourage consumers of the importance of provenance. Furthermore, there will be an increase in demand of online international customers who seek and take advantage of the weak pound.

The UK exit was “…slow to emerge and probably less dramatic than we have been led to believe in the heat of the Project Fear..” (Martin Hayward)

1 Martin Hayward – Hayward Strategy and Futures