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Christmas countdown for tax returns looms

Online self-assessment due on 31 January 2012

Last year, 845 people filed an online tax return on Xmas Day and 2,408 on Boxing Day  

The deadline for self-assessment tax returns  is 31 January 2012. You need to register in advance to file online, so don’t leave it too late or you’ll face get a £100 fine.

Tax return deadlines

Self-assessment tax returns are completed by around nine million taxpayers each year. In the past, the majority were paper forms, completed in longhand and posted back to HMRC. For 2009-10, 78% of tax returns were filed online – a total number of 6,907,410 and a 7% increase on the previous year. Online

 returns offer several advantages- the most obvious being an extended deadline, three months later than that of 31 October which applies to paper returns. For 2010-11 tax returns the online deadline is 31 January 2012.   

If you expect to owe HMRC less than £2,000, you can apply to have this collected via PAYE. This is done by adjusting your tax code for the next year. HMRC will only do this if you submit your online return by 30 December.   

Registering to file online

To complete a tax return online, you first need to register as a user of online government services and enrol for self assessment. You will then be sent an activation code through the post. HMRC says this ‘usually arrives within seven working days’. 

When the code arrives, you need to log on to the HMRC website and activate your account. For the initial registration, you’ll need your unique taxpayer reference (UTR) number and your National Insurance number or postcode. 

If you don’t know your UTR, or can’t find it on any correspondence you have been sent by HMRC, you have to contact the Self Assessment Helpline (0845 60 55 999) and ask for this to be sent to you by post.

Penalty for late tax returns     

If you miss the 31 January deadline, HMRC will impose a £100 fixed fine, even if you turn out to have less than this to pay in tax. Additional penalties are charged for further delays. 

Which? tax expert, Ian Robinson, says: ‘Making an online tax return should be a straightforward process for most people. It gives you three months longer and means you get an instant acknowledgement from HMRC that they have received your declaration. 

‘Meeting the 31 January deadline can be difficult if you leave things to the last minute. If you’re filing online for the first time, it’s important to leave time for the activation code to come by post. 

‘If you decide to have a go over Christmas, don’t forget that HMRC’s telephone helpline closes on Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day. It’s open for the rest of the year, so keep the number to had in case you run into any difficulties.’ 

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