'Proving' that a tax return has been submitted. By Rebecca Benneyworth | AccountingWEB

'Proving' that a tax return has been submitted. By Rebecca Benneyworth

Rebecca Benneyworth finds that the solution to this issue, was around all the time, she just needed pointing in the right direction.

Ever since HMRC withdrew the practice of providing receipts for hand delivered returns several years ago, practitioners have regularly had to run the gauntlet of an argument about returns hand delivered to a tax office very near the 31 January deadline.


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Corporation Tax Online

Anonymous | | Permalink

I have no objection to HMRC rejecting a return but I have every objection to them actually deleting a return. which leaves a taxpayer in an impossible position,

Additionally in my case they had acknowledged the return with a printed form and if the case had gone before the General Commissioners the tribunal would have made mincemeat of the Inspector.

Clearly the software used by HMRC for online returns is totally deficient.

When there is a fault

Anonymous | | Permalink

I submitted one tax return back in May. Because of a fault at their end the submission was not acknowledged until August. I wonder when they will view the enquiry window as closed.

Filing PAYE Annual P35's Online

AnonymousUser | | Permalink

Continuing with the online filing debate, earlier this year I was informed by one of my clients that he had received a substantial fine for failing to file his 2004-05 Annual Employers P35 by the appropriate date, namely 19 May 2005.

Since I was his agent at that time, I went back through my government gateway e-mail archive file, found the filing receipt with his respective PAYE scheme number, and also the confirmation e-mail from HMRC that he had received his £200 online filing rebate, for filing his return on time.

I posted these printouts with an accompanying letter to the relevent employers tax office, asking them why he had been fined, and more importantly why, if the tax office had not received his return, had they given him an online filing rebate of £200 - needless to say I am still awaiting an answer.

daveforbes's picture

email is not suffiient proof

daveforbes | | Permalink

As mentioned by Kathlyn and myself, the email is not sufficient by itself, what you need is the digitally signed sumbission response.

As for the CT return, this is a different issue. The return has got through the gateway passing all the data checks and a success response received. It has then been forwarded to the district where a human has looked at it and said the attached accounts are no good and been rejected. I have come across this situation a couple of times.

A more rare but even worse situation I have come across is where the return has gone through the gateway with a success response and then somewhere between the gateway and the district the return was blocked by over-enthusiastic HMRC anti-virus software taking a dislike to the attachments. Nothing but a success notification until some months later the penalty notice arrived at the clients. This was the first that our customer (the accountant) knew about it. The penalty was soon removed and normality returned. (This was a few years back now and we have had no reported repeats).

They even deny an on line reciept

tom2another | | Permalink

A client of ours recieved penalties for late filing, so we wrote, advising of it being filed over the internet and attaching a copy of the acknowledging email. The lady in the Kent area appeals office has written back saying that its not on their computer, and a check on the website confirms its not there. But instead of appologising that thier equipement has fouled up, she is now insisting that we file a duplicate return complete with live signature, and is quite aggresive about it. We have today written with a hard copy of the electronic confirmation issued at the time of submission, and suggested an appology might be more in order, and if they cannot recover the return ( which shows a massive £4 refund due) then at thier expense we might send them a photocopy of the original. We wait and see, but it was the tone of the letter we found most objectionable. Customer service -- I don't think so.


AnonymousUser | | Permalink

The point I was trying to make is that *IF* a tax return is flawed HMRC has the authority to reject it. That point of principle holds true whether a return is filed by paper or online. I appreciate that in your opinion the return was not flawed, and that may or may not be the case. But it is certainly unreasonable for HMRC to reject the return *and* fail to notify the taxpayer of that act until such time as penalties are raised. In this regard the (entirely reasonable) procedure in the case of a paper return would be to return the deficient return to the taxpayer or agent as applicable. I don't think it should be necessary for them to email back to you the failed online submission, but some form of notification is in order.

Given that there may arise a dispute over whether as a question of fact the filed return is deficient or whether, alternatively, a reasonable Inspector should have accepted it, it does seem preemptive to delete the file as such a dispute could in theory be ruled in favour of the taxpayer. However if it is ultimately accepted (or decided) that the original submission was defective as HMRC contends, then deletion of the file would not appear to cause any damage, provided of course that notification of deletion is in some way communicated promptly to the taxpayer.

PS on the broadband issue I do not think that 1.5Mb speed is by itself a hindrance to online filing. I suspect that some other factor is afoot.

Camera phone

hiu612 | | Permalink

A few years ago the tax offices encountered huge numbers of 'punters' photographing themselves passing their returns over the counter. Maybe not that easy to prove the date the return was submitted, but proof of delivery nonetheless.

daveforbes's picture

broadband speed

daveforbes | | Permalink

Broadband speed won't affect things. If the HMRC website is running slowly it will do so whatever your connection speed. That said commercial software works off line and only connects for the few seconds it takes to transmit.

You would not expect a tradesman to use poor quality tools because they were cheap or given away !

David Forbes
Forbes Computer Systems Ltd

redsq01's picture

Insufferable Arrogance of The Filth

redsq01 | | Permalink

"While the policy decision to cease giving receipts was completely understandable "

Why was it? Understandable only if the HMRC in its insufferable arrogance assumes it is completely unaccountable for its own incompetence.

Not unlike the unbearable gits at the British High Commission in Canberra who took ten days (ten days!!) to log the receipt of a passport application. Fortunately I had proof of postal delivery and was able to persuade them of the error of their ways.

In short the only way to prove that you have lodged your return is to find it abandoned on some rubbish tip (on paper) or to save it when it arrives attached to a spammer's email who has bought the USB (electronic)


Anonymous | | Permalink

Extraordinary to destroy the return, but you nevertheless do need to file full accounts, and so techically your submission is insufficient if you do not provide all that you are saying you are.

All the same, when you consider that a phone call might have alerted you to this, it is a shame that so many resouces were wasted in making you compliant in the end.

Corporation Tax Online

Anonymous | | Permalink

Can I make it clear that I use broadband and there was no doubt that HMRC had received the return because they issued a printed notice of receipt.

The issue is that they effectively and subsequently tore up the return - and it would not have mattered whether they had or had not told me - which they did not.

I repeat - this is a fundamental point of principle which has not been tested to my knowledge at the General Commissioners or Courts and which needs to be resolved between HMRC and the profession.

Recorded delivery

AnonymousUser | | Permalink

As Niall says - recorded delivery is the way to go. Or is it?

I have always sent important letters by recorded delivery, but lately when using the Post Office 'Track and Trace' system for confirmation I seem to end up with a message telling me that 'there is a technical problem with the number entered'. No matter how many times I enter the correct number - I still get the same message. Hmm.

BB Speed

mikewhit | | Permalink

I am supposed to have 8mb but 1.5Mb is more like it.

Can also depend on your ADSL box and wiring - make sure the ADSL box is connected to the 'master phone socket' via an ADSL filter and all your phone/fax extensions are using the ADSL filters at the wall socket too.

Some ADSL boxes seem to get better speeds too - our original DLINK box got 6.5 meg but our current Belkin WiFi box gets only 4 meg.

You can sometimes ask BT to regrade your phone line (I think - look this up !) which corrects the ADSL settings over a few days.

Recent case?

AnonymousUser | | Permalink

I can't remember where I read it but there was a case recently reported (so must have been spc or high court) of an appellant who successfully challenged HMRC's allegation that a return (I think it was a repair in this case) was delivered late. The presiding authority decided on the balance of evidence that the return had probably been delivered on time. If you have to go to law to get that ruling, it does somewhat give the lie (in my opinion) to any suggestion by HMRC that they are taking a "reasonable" line. [Edit - oh bum! Rebecca gave the link to the case above - Ransom]

To Robert Greenly - I have not yet had a CT online submission rejected, but if that were to happen I would expect some notification of its deletion. Are you saying that they deleted it but did not inform you of that act? If you file by paper and they don't like it they send it back to you, they don't shred it.

Use recorded delivery

Niallaslen | | Permalink

One month before the deadline I always without exception use Recorded delivery for tax returns. It has proved to be a lifesaver at least 15 times in the past three years when HMRC inform me they have not received the tax return therefore my Client is due them £100 etc etc. A quick letter enclosing a copy of the Recorded delivery receipt and more importantly the name of the recipient and the date/time of receipt seems to work miracles. Suddenly the return is 'Found' and the penalty cancelled.

However I would like to go online but do not have a reliable broadband connection up here in the rural NE of Scotland. I am supposed to have 8mb but 1.5Mb is more like it. I have one client for whom I go online and it gets very frustrating sending a file only to have it interrupted just near the end and you have to resend and resend and resend...You get the picture. So it looks likely I will have to use paper returns until BT upgrades the exchange from copper wire to Fibre optic some time in 2024.

Corporation Tax Online

Anonymous | | Permalink

For the first time I filed my corporation tax return online in March 2008 rather than submit it through my tax accountant. I received a printed acknowledgement shortly afterwards.

In June I received a notice of penalty for failure to submit a return. I queried this with HMRC and was told that the return had been deleted because 'it was unacceptable because it contained abbreviated accounts' -a statement I considered to be both untrue and contrary to agreed procedures.

Later I received another penalty notice which I appealed to the General Commissioners. In October I received a letter from the Inspector saying that although she considered the penalty to be justified on this occasion she was withdrawing it.

There is a fundamental point of principle here as to whether HMRC has the right to delete returns it does not like.


AnonymousUser | | Permalink

Typical of Government departments generally - pass the buck (workload) and avoid accepting responsibilty for anything.

RebeccaBenneyworth's picture


RebeccaBenneyworth | | Permalink

Thanks for your comment KO. That is a very scary twist on this topic!

All readers please note that HMRC has reiterated the guidance on this topic as of Friday! They are also issuing a reminder to staff about accepting reasonable evidence that the return was filed on time - Nichola has reiterated what the professional bodies suggested back in 2005 to 2006 when this originally kicked off. However, it is also worth noting that you don't have to do this - the message is have some sort of audit trail.

If only to stop KO coming after you......!
By the way I also file 100% online - but this issue is still a crucial one.

See also guidance posted up on What's new today about late filing after 31 October and impact on penalties / enquiry window. Eminently reasonable in my view.

Advisor responsibility?

AnonymousUser | | Permalink

I have a friend who's recently received a huge fine because his 05/06 return (accroding the hmrc) wasn't received despite my friend signing and sending his return to his accountant in plenty of time and his accountant probably sending it on time. He says he received no warnings in the interim.

His accountant is saying he should accept the revenue's settlement offer of fines reduced to £3k. However I think my friend should push his accountant to push hmrc to have all the fines waived, and if my accountant has no audit trail to convince the revenue the return was in fact submitted on time, then the accountant should bear the cost.

Any thoughts?

daveforbes's picture

xml response has the legal weight

daveforbes | | Permalink

Kathlyn is correct when filing electronically, it is the xml response (which is digitally signed) that has the legal weight. It cannot be forged nor doctored without invalidating the digital signature. Email notifications, listings on the HMRC site etc are on about a par with a verbal exchange over the telephone.

Electronic receipt

kathiegadd | | Permalink

Like David Forbes we file online. We receive an electronic receipt in the form of an XML file which includes a unique digital validation reference. We also get a government gateway email confirmation but do not rely on this as, even though it is dated etc, it is not considered by HMRC to be evidence of filing on time.

Not Neccessarily

Anonymous | | Permalink

There are still a lot of old style Draconian Dragons (now called Managers) in many offices and you will find the general instruction to the coal face is that even a proof of posting / audit trail is irrelevant - it is the date of reciept that matters (i.e. the date we stamped it as rec'd.) which is nothing to do with logging delays. In some larger offices the date stamp will remain on 31st January for several weeks, because there isn't enough window or floor space to keep them in seperate piles, but in other offices it will change at 6:00pm on the dot!

proof of posting

SSoulsby | | Permalink

i suppose that i am pretty average in that i have posted returns 'thru the door' at 11.59pm 1st january and clients have been penalised.

on appeal all penalties have been waived because, i believe, hmrc have no clue when they received the returns.

i have had two returns in the same envelope: one received on time, the other not. a cheque sent with the return, the cheque received the return not.

Stoanulus's picture

Online submissions

Stoanulus | | Permalink

I have a case where the return was filed on-line on 17th July 2008 and the normal e-mail receipt issued (albeit timed by GMT rather than BST), However, this particular return showed up on the HMRC website as 'not received' until very recently when it was changed to 'received on 15th October.

The online services helpdesk refused to change the date on their systems, saying it was not possible.

God help us if an enquiry is opened between 18th July and 15th October 2009.

It only goes to show that even the online systems are not infallible.

Online best but not always possible

AnonymousUser | | Permalink

I agree that agents would be better to submit online (I do myself where I can) but as Rebecca's article illustrates, this is not always possible, so how should HMRC and agents deal with evidencing date of receipt in these cases?

Keep the evidence

Anonymous | | Permalink

I recently had such a case heard before the General Commissioners. All the evidence (including data provided by the Royal Mail) pointed to delivery by 31 January but the tax return itself was date-stamped 1 February. Whilst we were of the view that, on the balance of probabilities, the return was delivered on time, HMRC refused to acknowledge any possibility that the return had been stamped on the day after its actual delivery. The case concerned the legality of the subsequent enquiry into the return (and the adjustments proposed in the closure notice) and, so, the amount at stake was quite considerable.

In the end, we won the case on the substantive points, so the General Commissioners decided not to make any ruling on the date of delivery. I was therefore rather pleased to see the subsequent decision in Ransom (referred to by Rebecca above) which highlights the intransigence of some HMRC officers and the need for taxpayers to stick to their guns in such cases.

Whilst e-filing might be the solution for many taxpayers, there will still be cases which will turn on the date of delivery of a paper return. Therefore, my advice is to keep as much evidence as you possibly can so that you can prove your case in due course. That might not be enough for some HMRC officers. Fortunately, however, the new tax tribunal will be staffed by an independent judiciary.

daveforbes's picture

File Electronically

daveforbes | | Permalink

Lodge electronically and you get a digitally signed receipt not only confirming delivery but confirming it passes HMRC data checks including a full liability confirmation.

Use 3rd party software and all those receipts will be filed away neatly (you can even ask for the receipt retrospectively if necessary.


BirdnCo's picture

Tax Return receipts

BirdnCo | | Permalink

I file all SA returns online and very often get a receipt sent through the post!!

Pete Bird

HMRC's latest guidance

Anonymous | | Permalink

"In order to satisfy the requirement for 'reasonable evidence' to be held by the agent, the professional bodies recommend the following:

* that each batch of returns to be hand delivered to HMRC should be accompanied by a list, date stamped for the relevant date of delivery, and listing the name and the Unique Taxpayer Reference of each return in the batch
* that each entry on the list should be checked back to the returns by a senior member of staff (for example, a manager), and this individual should sign the list to indicate that this has been done
* that in all firms other than sole practitioners, each list should then be checked and countersigned by, for example, a Partner
* that a sole practitioner should mark the items clearly as having been checked, and sign to this effect
* that a copy of the list (signed and dated) should be retained in case of subsequent problems
* that a copy of the signed and countersigned list should also be attached to each batch of Returns handed in at HMRC Enquiry Centres

HMRC is happy to reconfirm our previous message via the Working Together Steering Group that the 'audit trail' generated above will normally be accepted as 'reasonable' evidence of delivery.

Members should also be aware that Royal Mail offers an online 'Track and Trace' facility with its special and recorded delivery services. HMRC recommends that returns be filed by Internet, as this enables electronic receipts to be issued automatically."


HMRC need to do their bit as well

AnonymousUser | | Permalink

If only HMRC would take more (or even 'reasonable') care to log the correct date of receipt for returns, having to prove date of receipt would not cause the extra work it does. I have been told about sacks of 31 January and subsequent mail in HMRC offices which, after the deadline had passed, no one made any attempt to log onto the system using the correct date of receipt, even when it was known.

Surely it would not be too much to ask for HMRC to educate staff and take a bit more care to alleviate the problems which will inevitable follow, especially given the extra work it causes them (as well as agents) if the date of receipt is entered incorrectly. The extra work it causes HMRC is a cost to all taxpayers, not just those directly affected.

In my view the cost of employing a temp (or temps) in each receiving office to date stamp the returns in front of the person delivering them would seem to me to be a good investment compared with the costs of dealing with the appeals. If there was a query, HMRC could be asked to produce a copy of the date stamped front page. However, ideally it should not get to this because the return should be input with the date already stamped on it. Of course this suggestion doesn't cover returns posted or put through the door of the tax office after it has closed but might be a start.

I never have understood the difficulty attached to getting the date of receipt logged correctly; it seems all too simple to me even where there are thousands of returns involved. My view is that the relevant HMRC staff don't really care because it's not going to be their problem to sort out later.