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‘My wife is seeing aliens’: the weirdest excuses to HMRC for late tax returns

The tax return deadline is just 10 days away

Your self-assessment tax return is due on 31 January, with an automatic £100 fine for submitting late – but some people will use any excuse to avoid doing their taxes.

HMRC has published the five most imaginative excuses for not submitting self-assessment tax returns on time last year, as well as the most questionable expenses claims.

Ahead of the upcoming deadline, Which? dives into the weird and wonderful world of tax returns and explains how to avoid a fine.

Submit your tax return online with Which?

Use our jargon-free online tax calculator to send your return direct to HMRC

Aliens and vertigo – top five excuses for late submissions

You might have the best intentions for submitting your tax return on time, but sometimes things get in the way – an alien sighting, for example.

And while you can try to appeal against a late fine from HMRC, there’s no guarantee you’ll succeed.

Excuses HMRC received last year include:

  1. I couldn’t file my return on time as my wife has been seeing aliens and won’t let me enter the house
  2. I’ve been far too busy touring the country with my one-man play
  3. My ex-wife left my tax return upstairs, but I suffer from vertigo and can’t go upstairs to retrieve it
  4. My business doesn’t really do anything
  5. I spilt coffee on it

Needless to say, all of the above excuses were rejected.

Fines for late submissions

If you fail to submit your tax return by the 31 January deadline, HMRC can hit you with an automatic £100 fine.

But that isn’t the end of it. HMRC has an escalating fine structure, meaning the later you submit, the more you’ll have to pay. If your return is more than 12 months late, you could be fined up to 100% of the tax owing – effectively doubling your bill.

Here’s how HMRC’s late fees work:

Bear in mind that the deadline for paper returns for the 2016-2017 tax year was 31 October 2017. If you submit a paper return now, it will be considered late – even if it arrives before the deadline for online submissions, which is 31 January 2018.

Appealing a fine for late submission

Occasionally something unexpected happens that prevents even the most organised taxpayer from filing their return on time. In recognition of that, HMRC can choose to waive the penalty if you can provide a ‘reasonable excuse’.

Generally, this must be ‘something unexpected or outside your control’ that stopped you meeting your obligations. Examples include:

  • death of a partner
  • unexpected hospital stay
  • computer failure
  • fire preventing completion or postage

But each case will be considered on its own merits, so it’s best to submit on time if at all possible.

Most optimistic expenses claims

As part of your tax return, you can claim back reasonable expenses incurred from earning your income – but what some people count as a ‘reasonable expense’ may surprise you.

Expenses claimed last year include:

  1. ‘A three-piece suite for my partner to sit on when I’m doing my accounts’
  2. Birthday drinks at a Glasgow nightclub
  3. Vet fees for a rabbit
  4. Hotel room service – for candles and prosecco
  5. £4.50 for sausage and chips meal expenses for 250 days

HMRC did not approve any of these expenses claims.

What expenses can you claim on your tax return?

As a general rule, the costs of earning money can be deducted from your taxable income, lowering your tax bill. But what you can claim will depend on the source of your income and your individual circumstances.

If you have deductions of more than £2,500 (or otherwise qualify for self-assessment), you can claim expenses on your tax return.

Generally, you’d be able to claim costs incurred during a business trip including travel, accommodation, food and drink. You can also claim for repairing or replacing work uniforms (though not the original cost of buying one) and some workers can claim a flat-rate allowance. In addition, you might be able to claim the fees for professional membership bodies.

If you’re self-employed you can claim for expenses related to running your business. This might include costs like work travel, bills on your business premises and employee salaries. If you make a loss, you can carry this forward to the next year and deduct it from your profit.

If you’re a landlord, you can claim back the costs of running your rental property, including utility bills, buildings insurance and cleaning fees for communal areas. You can also deduct the cost of your mortgage interest – although this relief is being phased out and replaced with a 20% tax credit.

There may be other circumstances where you can claim back allowable expenses. You can read more on how to claim in our guide to self-assessment.

Which? also offers an easy-to-use, jargon-free tax calculator which allows you to tot up your expenses, work out your bill and, for a small fee, submit directly to HMRC.

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