HMRC wake-up call for self-assessment tax returnsNo excuses for missing the 31 January deadline

03 January 2014

alarm clock

HMRC has warned it will take a hard line with taxpayers who miss the 31 January deadline for completing an online self-assessment tax return.

It warned taxpayers who complete a self-assessment return that it will accept no excuses for missing the deadline at the end of the month. 

And it reinforced the point by publishing some of the more absurd, and unsuccessful, excuses it received for late returns. These included the death of a pet goldfish, a 'run-in' with a cow and being too busy.

Automatic fines for late tax returns 

HMRC director general of personal tax, Ruth Owen said: 'There will always be unforeseen events that mean a taxpayer could not file their tax return on time. However, your pet goldfish passing away isn’t one of them.

'If you haven’t yet sent your 2012 to 2013 tax return to HMRC, you need to do it online and pay the tax you owe by the end of January. With all the help and advice available, there’s no excuse not to'. 

Tax return deadlines 

There are very few excuses that HMRC will accept for late filing. These include a life-threatening illness or the recent death of a partner. 

A common reason for missing the tax return deadline is having to wait for a missing figure. Rather than let this hold things up, you should submit an estimated figure, and make it clear the figure is an estimate. You can let HMRC have a revised one later if necessary.

If you fail to submit a return in time to meet the deadline, HMRC will issue a £100 fine. This applies, even where you have no tax to pay.

Online tax returns - how to register

If you haven’t submitted an online tax return before, you need to register in advance.

  • To register, visit the HMRC website. Click on the ‘self-assessment’ option under the 'do it online’ heading. If you’re a new user, click on the ‘register’ button, then select ‘individual’, followed by ‘self assessment’.
  • You’ll need to set up a user ID and password and then receive an activation code by post, which allows you to file online. The code can take up to seven days to arrive, so you need to make sure you register well in advance.
  • Once you have received an activation code, you must activate your online HRMC account within 28 days.

If you need help filling out a tax returns, our qualified experts on the Which? Money Helpline can guide you through it. 

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