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17 Jan 2020

'My dog ate the post... again': HMRC reveals the decade's worst excuses for late tax returns

Find out what counts as a 'reasonable excuse' for filing late

As the 31 January tax return deadline looms, some people's circumstances will mean they'll genuinely struggle to file their self-assessment on time. But others will report much stranger setbacks, as HMRC's list of the worst excuses for late submissions shows.

The self-assessment deadline for tax returns covering income for the 2018-19 tax year is midnight on 31 January; submitting just a day late could result in a £100 fine.

One taxpayer - rather like a child who hasn't done their homework - tried to counter the fine by claiming their dog had eaten the post. They even claimed this wasn't the first time the pooch had pounced on the post.

And like most teachers, HMRC didn't accept the excuse, along with many others released ahead of this year's upcoming deadline.

Here, we reveal some of those other terrible reasons for filing late, and what to do if you really can't meet the tax return deadline.

HMRC's worst excuses for late submissions

With the deadline just two weeks away, many will be rushing to get their tax return ready to submit on time - unless, that is, one of their pets decided to eat a vital piece of post from HMRC.

Over the past decade, HMRC received some particularly bad excuses for missing the tax return deadline. In reverse order of strangeness:

  • 'I was up a mountain in Wales, and couldn't find a post box or get an internet signal'
  • 'My dog ate the post... again'
  • 'My hamster ate my post'
  • 'I've been cruising round the world in my yacht, and only picking up post when I'm on dry land'
  • A DJ was too busy with a party lifestyle - spinning the deck... in a bowls club
  • 'My mother-in-law is a witch and put a curse on me'.

In case you were wondering, HMRC didn't accept any of these excuses.

What is the penalty for a late tax return?

HMRC must receive your online tax return by midnight on 31 January. If you miss the deadline, you could automatically be charged £100 - even if you're just a day late.

The penalties can increase, the later you are. The charges are outlined below:

Late payment charges

If you miss the 31 January deadline for submitting your return, you'll also miss the tax payment deadline - it's also 31 January.

Late payment fines will be charged in addition to what you owe for submitting late.

You'll be charged interest (currently 3.25%) from 31 January. If you still haven't paid after 30 days, you'll be charged an extra 5% of the tax due.

After six months there will be a further 5% charge, and then after 12 months there's an additional 5% charge.

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What does HMRC count as a reasonable excuse?

Some people do, of course, have genuine reasons for missing the tax return deadline.

If this is the case, you can appeal against HMRC's fines, as long as you have a 'reasonable excuse'.

HMRC has said it will consider cancelling late penalties if any of the following interfered with the filing process:

  • the death of a partner or family member
  • serious illness
  • fire, flood or theft
  • computer failure or issues with HMRC's online services.

There's a full list of reasonable excuses on the HMRC website, though each appeal will be decided on a case-by-case basis.

You can also find a list of excuses that definitely won't be accepted, such as your payment failing because you didn't have enough money, or you found HMRC's system too difficult to use.

HMRC's most dubious expenses claims of the decade

Some people may be able to offset some work-related expenses to reduce their tax bill - but some are more work-related than others.

HMRC has seen many questionable expenses claims over the past 10 years, with the most dubious being:

  • Caravan rental for the Easter weekend
  • Claiming £4.50 for sausages and chips meal expenses for 250 days
  • A music subscription 'so I can listen to music while I work'
  • Pet food for a Shih Tzu 'guard dog'.

These were also all rejected by HMRC.

What expenses can you claim on your tax return?

The expenses system is in place to make sure people aren't penalised for investing in things such as their business or a property they let.

Instead, allowable expenses provide a way for the money you spend to reduce your tax bill.

This works by taking your expenses away from your annual profit, meaning you're taxed on a reduced portion of your income.

Self-employed workers and small business owners

If you use business premises, you can claim the costs of heating, lighting and general maintenance; those who work from home can claim a proportion of these costs.

It's also possible to claim for things such as computers and other equipment necessary for your work - like stationery.

If you have employees, their salaries and your employer's National Insurance Contributions (NICs) can be deducted from your profits.


Landlords can generally claim the expenses of running and maintaining their property, including things such as buildings insurance, cleaning fees for communal areas and letting agents fees.

For the 2018-19 tax year, landlords can claim 50% of their mortgage tax relief - however, this expense allowance is being phased out and will no longer be available by April 2020.

File your 2018-19 tax return with Which?

For an easy-to-use, jargon-free way to file your tax return this year, try the Which? tax calculator.

You can tot up your tax bill, get tips on how to make savings and submit your return direct to HMRC with Which?.