UK: Get Down To Brass Tax: Six Ways To Sail Through Self-Assessment

Last Updated: 2 February 2015
Article by Donald Campbell

Most Read Contributor in UK, August 2017

Tax doesn't have to be taxing. So goes the Revenue's homonymic advertising slogan. As January 31 fast approaches –the last chance to get your self-assessment forms submitted on time – I'm sure some people don't particularly agree with that statement.

It should be true if you take the right steps, though. For many, self-assessment forms won't even cross their minds until the start of the New Year, which can result in a last minute rush. Last year 550,000 returns were filed on deadline day – 21,000 in the last hour!

While stress is bad enough, what's even more avoidable is the 750,000 submissions that were filed late in 2014. As a result, each of them incurred a fine of £100, whether or not the tax due had been paid.

To avoid dealing with the stress of submitting on the day, or even receiving a fine for being late, we've come up with a six-step plan for making sure you don't invoke the ire of the taxman:

1) Do you have tax to pay?

Even if a return has not been issued by HMRC, it's up to you to notify the Revenue that you have tax to pay. Once you've done that, you will need to register for self-assessment and file a return. Technically, notification of chargeability needs to be completed by October 5 following the tax year, and there are penalties for late notification. However, if the tax is paid by January 31 2015 there is no penalty for late notification.

Remember, if you are self-employed, receive rental income, have untaxed income such as bank interest, or have made capital gains over the annual exemption of £10,900 for 2013/14, then you may have extra tax to pay.

2) Register to pay early

If you do need to register, give yourself plenty of time. It takes seven working days to get an activation code, which you must then activate, from HMRC and up to 21 if you are abroad. You can then set up your account online through a dedicated website, which generates a Unique Tax Reference for you. However, registration for online filing is a separate process.

Once an account has been activated, most returns can be filed online which is reasonably straightforward using HMRC software. However in some cases, particularly for those with income from partnerships, trusts, or estates, separate software is required. These returns can be filed on paper, but only up to October 31 in the previous year.

3) Have paperwork to hand

Remember to get all the relevant information together before you start to work on the return, covering not only income but also any claims for deductions. This could be revenue from self-employment or rental income, pension contributions other than regular deductions from employers, Gift Aid contributions, and anything else eligible. Provisional figures can be used for these expenses, but it's important to provide the final costs as soon as possible.  Also bear in mind that HMRC can charge penalties when returns are amended if the original return is considered to have been filed 'carelessly'. This can be widely interpreted by HMRC.

4) Do you receive child benefit?

Others affected are those who have received child benefit where the higher earner in a couple has an income of over £50,000. This needs to be clawed back through the self-assessment system. If this person has income of over £60,000, the full child benefit will have to be returned. Couples in this position might wish to notify HMRC that they do not wish to receive child benefit in the first place. That way you can avoid the complication of a clawback altogether. 

5) Remember the deadline to amend

For those who filed 2012/13 returns, the deadline to amend these documents is January 31 2015. If any provisional figures were included, or any mistakes were made, these should be corrected by this date.

6) Higher rate tax papers and Gift Aid

Finally, for those higher rate taxpayers who make charitable contributions under Gift Aid, remember that contributions made in 2014/15 can be carried back to 2013/14 to get the higher rate relief (which must be claimed in the tax return) earlier. However, this only applies to contributions made before January 31 2015 and the date the 2013/14 return is filed.  Someone considering a large donation might like to ensure that this is made before the return is filed so that higher rate tax relief can be claimed a year earlier than would otherwise have been the case.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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