HMRC has just released this year’s top ten chart of the worst excuses for missing the January 31st online tax return deadline. As you’d imagine, all of these failed to secure a successful appeal. If you’re going to be late this year you’d better dream up something a lot better than this sad little lot, or you will get a fine!

  1. My pet dog ate my tax return… and all the reminders
  2. I was up a mountain in Wales, and couldn’t find a post box or get an internet signal
  3. I fell in with the wrong crowd
  4. I’ve been travelling the world, trying to escape from a foreign intelligence agency
  5. Barack Obama is in charge of my finances
  6. I’ve been busy looking after a flock of escaped parrots and some fox cubs
  7. A work colleague borrowed my tax return, to photocopy it, and didn’t give it back
  8. I live in a camper van in a supermarket car park
  9. My girlfriend’s pregnant
  10. I was in Australia

Yes, the self-assessment form is still a nightmare. Yes, it’s still far from simple, nowhere near straightforward. But you’re not helpless. If you’re lost in space doing it yourself, even if you’re half way around the world, all you need to do is hand over lock, stock and barrel to an accountant via the wonderful interweb and they’ll do it for you in no time. There’s really no excuse for leaving it so long you get fined.

What excuses does HMRC accept for late tax return submissions?

If you miss the 31st January deadline you can appeal to HMRC and try to sidestep the penalties. But you need a rock solid, cast iron excuse. In other words a ‘reasonable’ excuse. But what does ‘reasonable’ mean?

It’s when something completely unexpected or out of your control happens. For example a loved one dies just before your return or payment is due, or you’re admitted to hospital, or your computer dies while you were about to do it. You might also be forgiven your sins if the HMRC website packs up, there’s a fire or serious postal delays.

Which reasons just don’t wash? 

Excuses like bounced cheques, insufficient funds, difficulty using the online system or not getting a reminder letter don’t work. The deadline for 2013/14 paper returns was 31st October 31, which mean if you haven’t done yours yet the online system is the only way to beat the clock. You need to be registered for HMRC Online Services and because the special HMRC Activation Code takes as long as ten days to arrive by post, you’re already cutting it very fine.

HMRC penalties for late tax returns and payments

HMRC hands out an automatic fixed penalty of £100 for late returns. If it’s 3 months late they start charging £10 a day for up to 90 days, that’s as much as £900 of your money wasted. After six months they charge either a 5% penalty of the tax owing or £300, whichever is higher. Which means, worst case scenario, you’ll owe the tax man an extra £1,300 if you’re six months late.

If you’re more than 12 months late you’re in even hotter water, having to pay HMRC a whopping penalty of 200% of the tax you owe, plus 3% daily interest. Ouch.

Need help?

For help filing your return and registering for online filing, visit the HMRC website or call the Self Assessment helpline on 0300 200 3310.