The letter asking me to complete my tax return arrived in June last year. And, like many people, I have ignored it until December. But December brought Christmas with it, so there was no time to do it. Then it was New Year’s Eve, which is really no time to be working on your taxes. Then it was 1st January and all my resolutions started, which all took priority. Then it was our new house… The list truly is endless.
If you’re being asked to complete a tax return for the first time, the task can be daunting. I remember staring to panic this time last year. I’d never done anything like this before (never needed to) and it was the 10th already when I remembered I needed an activation code, which could take 10 working days to arrive. So I asked for one and, thankfully, it arrived a few days later.
At first glance, the form looks hyper-complicated. And if you have lots of different sources of income, I am sure it is. I had a few, one of which was from self-employment, which is where things can get messy. You see, as a PAYE employee, all my taxes are calculated and paid for me, without any of my input. I simply enter the information from my P45/ P60 into the form and take any measly interest my accounts pay me into account. Done.
But if you’re self-employed, which I had been during the previous tax year, you have to keep your accounts in top shape. Mine weren’t difficult; the business had collapsed before it had properly started, so all I had to account for were the losses I made. But if you have both income and outgoings and no money to pay an accountant, your filing skills will become more important than ever in your life. Make sure you have a page for each of your separate transactions, in chronological order. Then make sure you have a summary page, which keeps meticulous track of everything you have done. If you do that throughout the year, doing your taxes is a doddle (even if you leave it until the last minute), if you don’t, I strongly suggest hiring someone to find all those receipts for you.
HMRC are very helpful, in general. Once you get past that dreadful answering machine, designed to ‘help you out’ (but in reality driving you crazy by purposely misunderstanding everything you say until you shout at it a good few times), the people you speak to at the end of the line will do whatever they can to ensure that you get it right. It’s in their interest, too – less paperwork to fill in, after all. We all like less paperwork.
I would advise you, though, to not attempt to fill in your tax return on 31st January and expect anyone to be able to help you. Last year, people were unable to file their return as the website collapsed under the number of people wanting to file their returns at one. I’ve left it pretty late again this year, but I am confident that I can speak to someone over the next few days if I need to.
HMRC are not unreasonable, no matter what people say. They don’t try to catch you out. I have had a number of reminders to do my return since the beginning of January, including text messages and emails. Even emails to offer advice sessions (presumably to lessen the strain on the telephone system). But you cannot expect the system to work for you if you leave it until the deadline date.
So, if you’ve still got your return to do, do it now. Once it’s done, you have a few months’ respite before thinking about another one.