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HMRC suspends late filing tax penalties until 28 February

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In an eleventh hour U-turn, HMRC bowed to pressure from professional bodies and waived late filing penalties on tax returns as long as the taxpayer can file their return online by 28 February.

25th Jan 2021
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With days left before 31 January, HMRC’s chief executive Jim Harra effectively extended the tax return deadline after conceding that the tax department will not charge late filing penalties for late online tax returns submitted by 28 February. 

Harra said this move will “give [taxpayers] the breathing space they need to complete and file their returns, without worrying about receiving a penalty”.

“We want to encourage as many people as possible to file their return on time, so we can calculate their tax bill and help them if they can’t pay it straight away. But we recognise the immense pressure that many people are facing in these unprecedented times and it has become increasingly clear that some people will not be able to file their return by 31 January,” said HMRC’s Harra. 

HMRC’s late filing penalties backtrack arrived after more than 8.9m people filed their tax returns, leaving another 3m still to file. While the number is still high, it is on track with the number of tax returns left to file at the same time last year

In the announcement, Harra said HMRC can “reasonably assume [that] most of these people will have a valid reason for filing late, caused by the pandemic”.

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Replies (50)

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By norstar
25th Jan 2021 16:01

Unacceptable. Unsupportive. Unappreciative.

This is the low point in my relationship with HMRC over 22 years.

Jim Harra wrote to the ACCA on 18th December saying there was no current intention to suspend penalties.

We have worked mornings, afternoons, evenings and Saturdays to get our clients done on time.

Now this.

A kick in the teeth.

No respect for the profession. No respect for the people who make things tick and support both the taxpayer and HMRC.

I'm just so deflated. Not quite sure how it goes from here.

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Replying to norstar:
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By John Wheeley
26th Jan 2021 10:16

That is a very strongly worded post, surely taxpayers and accountants have had ten months to get the work done. Why is it left to the final few weeks?

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Replying to John Wheeley:
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By johnjenkins
26th Jan 2021 10:12

The filing dates are 6/4/20 to 31/1/21. So any date between those times are ok regardless of first or last.
So we have 12 months work to do in 10 plus all the added benefits that covid have brought. Companies House extended their deadline by 3 months so it would seem natural that the tax return filing date should have been extended to 31st March. You're always going to get those that leave things to the last minute. The extension would not be for them but for those that are struggling to meet the deadline, be it us or clients. Don't forget this is a one off.

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Replying to John Wheeley:
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By emebristol
26th Jan 2021 10:35

There is always work to do in January. All accountants have clients who leave it to the last minute, regardless of the amount of prompting. We then try our best to file their returns on time, even with only days' notice, and pretty much always manage it. Then this year suddenly we find ourselves at home with a full time job still to do and two children to home school (for example) - of course there is extra pressure! Leaving the announcement until 5 days before is less than helpful.

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Replying to John Wheeley:
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By norstar
26th Jan 2021 10:44

Hi John, it's a fair point, however as others have said, we offer a service to clients from all walks of life and the filing window is from 6/4 to 31/1. There are many reasons why people file in January - some good, some bad. Some clients genuinely can't do it earlier, having to wait for info to arrive from overseas, companies, trusts etc who aren't as organised. As an example, I have a pensioner client who receives income from a Trust. The accountants dealing with it only ever provide info in the last few days of January. Not the client's fault. Not ours.

The problem with this issue now is that HMRC categorically ruled out extending the deadline in a letter from Jim Harra on 18th December. We have had it explained to us the various reasons why even if they wanted to, it wasn't feasible (systems integration etc etc).

We went into the peak season slightly behind because we have 500 clients and we have provided a huge amount of help and support to them for the various COVID schemes etc, and because HMRC have been unable to in their state of meltdown. I was quoted in the press about this.

When HMRC confirmed they would not extend the SA deadline, we have worked our backsides off taking no breaks and working Saturdays, Christmas period etc to leave no-one behind. I have turned away new business and deferred other work to prioritise the deadline.

So yes, when HMRC suddenly u-turn with four days to go, having told us otherwise on 18th December, apparently because it suits them as they realised (what we told them) that they would get potentially 100s of thousands of appeals come flooding in, I feel it is a kick in the teeth. A betrayal. A lack of respect.

I'd like to word that post stronger in reality, but it would be reported.

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By pauld
25th Jan 2021 16:17

I guess this is for HMRC's benefit rather than tardy taxpayers. Now they wont have to allocate resources to deal with appeals against late filing penalties citing the pandemic as a reason. Its of no real benefit to accountants accept having to no longer having make appeals on behalf of clients who always bring in their information late, well until March anyway.

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Replying to pauld:
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By johnjenkins
26th Jan 2021 09:50

Not forgetting the fact that many agents could well have submitted estimated returns to beat the deadline knowing full well HMRC's version of reasonable excuse is a lot different to ours. What a missed opportunity for HMRC to start mending fences with the Accountancy profession.

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By LukeS
25th Jan 2021 16:25

All this does is encourage the usual last minute crowd (nothing to do with Covid) to be last minute at a later date

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Replying to LukeS:
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By johnjenkins
26th Jan 2021 09:52

Those usual suspects have nothing to do with the REAL problems some are having with covid.

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Sparkly Orange
By Sparkly
25th Jan 2021 16:28

Agree, it's of no real benefit to us now at this stage in the season. Clients still have to make the correct payment on time or they will have to pay interest. There is still no news or detail on SEISS Grant no 4 and no guarantee that those that don't have their 2019/20 Tax Returns submitted, on or before 31st January, will somehow be excluded. HMRC at the moment seems to be a story a two halves, they did a fantastic job of getting the claims systems set up for both JRS and SEISS, in short time scales, yet they can't answer the phone, or respond to letters. This seems like a move to try and prevent HMRC from being even more overwhelmed than they are already are than offering us any kind of a break!

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By LukeS
25th Jan 2021 16:31

Also, I'm not sure you can credit the professional bodies having any sway in this.

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Replying to LukeS:
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By Paul Crowley
25th Jan 2021 17:36

Agree

Either pushed by Government

OR a realisation that they could not cope with the promises make on Multi Appeals

But now no need to agree any appeal. Surely 28 days is enough to file?

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By Calculatorboy
25th Jan 2021 16:38

This is purely self serving behaviour by hmrc , so they can avoid doing any actual work ... such as dealing with the mountain of appeals,

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By jon_griffey
25th Jan 2021 17:07

I think that HMRC have done the right thing in making a late announcement. If they had made the announcement a month ago then last minute clients would have just taken another month and we would have had another rush of tax returns at the end of February, so I would rather take the pain now. We need February free, not only to take a breather but to prepare for Reverse Charge for Construction, which is another round of time consuming chaos coming in 1 March.

Also HMRC have not extended the 31 January deadline. They have just said that they will be waiving late filing penalties. The taxpayer will still have defaulted on their tax obligations, which is not great if they want to claim on fee protection insurance.

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Replying to jon_griffey:
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By johnjenkins
26th Jan 2021 10:19

You've totally missed the point, Jon,
The extension would be for agents and clients who are genuinely suffering because of covid. Yes of course there are some out there that have planned to perfection but most of us have experienced some sort of problem caused by covid and therefore delays. HMRC have only done this to save face and not to have to deal with reasonable excuse appeals.

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By fawltybasil2575
25th Jan 2021 17:38

@ Richard.

Your supposed link to the "response to the professional bodies last week" is NOT a link to that response at all, BUT to a previous article by YOU on 20 January 2021.

That 20 January 2021 article supposedly includes a link to Jim Harra's letter of 18 January 2021, BUT actually is instead a link to Mr. Harra's earlier letter of 18 DECEMBER 2020.

This is a link to the ICAEW guidance on 19 January 2021 (which includes a link to the CORRECT letter from Jim Harra of 18 January 2021):-

https://www.icaew.com/insights/tax-news/2021/jan-2021/hmrc-stands-firm-o...

Your errors, with respect of course, do not reflect the seriousness of the matter, namely that it was only SEVEN days ago (on 18 JANUARY 2021) that Jim Harra rejected (for the second time) the representations of the accountancy bodies, requesting an EFFECTIVE extension (albeit I take the point of the previous eminent poster, that the new announcement is strictly a statement that Penalties will not be imposed for submission in February 2021) of the 31 January 2021 deadline.

Regardless of one's views, in principle, of the last-minute announcement, one has to express bewilderment at the clear lack of liaison between the politicians and HMRC.

I suspect some highly-charged arguments in the last seven days (Jim Harra stated on 18 January 2021 that Penalty Notices would be issued if Returns were not submitted by 31 January 2021, which would require Appeals to be submitted - the announcement today states to the contrary that no Penalty Notices will be issued for submissions in February 2021).

The "no Penalties for submission in February 2021" announcement is NOT of course restricted to "affected by Coronavirus" cases.

Whether filing in February 2021 will affect other matters, only time will tell (as members have stated above, one could conceivably find adverse impact on, eg, SEISS claims).

Basil.

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Replying to fawltybasil2575:
John Stokdyk, AccountingWEB head of insight
By John Stokdyk
25th Jan 2021 17:57

Thanks for pointing out the confusion over the links to Jim Harra's letters, Basil. Last week's article has been corrected to point to the 18 Jan letter. It shows a good eye for detail, as apart from "January" instead of "December", it's not that easy to tell them apart.

The points you make about the seriousness of the policy smokescreen are very apt. So much effort could have been saved if HMRC had listened to constructive advice from people on the front line rather than spending so much time thinking about behaviour management and trying to hold their policy line.

But as others have already suggested, that has become the de facto approach to policy formulation under this government.

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By ireallyshouldknowthisbut
25th Jan 2021 18:34

Hmm some very odd responses there.

Whilst HMRC could have handled this better, had they announced this 4th Jan it would have meant all the time pressure on client would have evaporated making accountant's jobs much harder.

Indeed once this goes public - and i am not telling my hand sitters - it will mean the hand sitters do nothing again, and I am still waiting for signatures, or payment or something pathetic.

I am afraid practices who have been working through Xmas, through weekends and pulling late night every night would not be doing anything different had this been announced 4 weeks ago, it would just have been shunted forward 4 weeks.

For many "crazy Jans" are normal behaviour, and it is little surprise to me when accounting practices are planned to work mad hours in Jan in a normal year, that when we have an exceptional one, some will face real problems. The issue to me lie in enabling poor client behaviours, and normalising late delivery of returns with the expectation that accountants will just work late to get it done. This is a structural practice issue. Howling at HMRC wont solve it.

we have seen in other years when people "post their returns" showing what % get done each month, many like us have a smooth run all year, but many don't even seem to do any in earnest until November. None of that is luck, its structural.

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Replying to ireallyshouldknowthisbut:
By Duggimon
26th Jan 2021 08:51

I've been doing 13-14 hours a day, every day, mostly on jobs for which I've had the records for two months or more. January is always busy for us but never unmanageable, it's the additional work a the start of the tax year that's pushed everything back and I'm having to apologise to clients that the returns need reviewed and approved in a rush.

13-14 hours a day every day for a month is really demolishing me but I'm nearly done now, just in time to learn I could have had my weekends off all along had Jim Harra not been a [***].

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Replying to Duggimon:
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By bosclibby
26th Jan 2021 10:19

It's not just me then

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Should Be Working ... not playing with the car
By should_be_working
25th Jan 2021 19:58

I'm in two minds on this one. My first reaction was "FFS! Been busting a gut - more than usual given the disruption we've had in 2020 - now they do this? They might as well have not bothered."

Now it's more like "Whatever, it's nearly over regardless. I've only a few stragglers left and I'm STILL going to enjoy a calm February catching up on the mundane stuff. Frankly, it makes no difference to me, they might as well have not bothered."

Either way, I agree it's a ham-fisted move by HMRC and is more to do with their own internal convenience and pressures than a genuine favour to taxpayers (from the people that brought you the 'savings allowance', 'dividend allowance', 'property income allowance', etc, etc)

And either way this year I'm DEFINITELY REALLY ABSOLUTELY going to get the clients organised a lot earlier. (Now where have I heard that before...?)

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By Refs1
25th Jan 2021 20:30

I think it is the right decision, even though it is at the 11th hour so to speak.

We have around 80 to file in 4 days, half of which are out for approval. Being a small practice of 7 of us, when 2 staff ring in ill this morning it relieve a lot of pressures. Added with family pressures that occurred only today it is the right decision for me.

Some of the issues are our fault, some clients fault and many failure of the system either HMRC not replying to letters or banks, solicitors or similar far slower this year due to working from home.

Last year was far worse, that was definitely poor management by us. This year learnt a lot of lessons. I could see us having to file some estimated tax returns more than normal to meet the deadline. I appreciate some accountants don’t believe in filing estimated tax returns, but even HMRC went on local radio and recommended this was the route even if clients did not have everything available.

So I for one, happy with this decision.

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By mkowl
26th Jan 2021 08:46

Like many I will crack on with as many as possible, prioritise the self employed as my 6th sense says SEISS 4 might just be open to 19/20 tax filers. I won't be wasting energy on the tyrekickers saying that, the clients we always help but don't particularly like. I checked my list yesterday of "to do" with the depressing familiarity of the usual suspects that could have been from any of the last 5 years.

Got my numbers down purely because lets be honest its not like I have been jealous of everyone else having fun

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By OrmeGoat
26th Jan 2021 08:56

Nimesh Shah from Blick Rothenberg is still urging self employed individuals to file by 31 January as they “risk being excluded from future government support” and “there could be other consequences in relation to their tax affairs”.

Would Nimesh like to expand?

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By Jimess
26th Jan 2021 09:09

It's a halfway house measure - I am thankful for the respite of late filing penalties - it would not have been a good use of Februarys time. However there is still the issue of the payment deadline so the pressure really is still on as you still need to do tax calculations to provide clients with estimates of tax to pay before 31 January - and of course the clients that have deferred the 31 July payment on account are facing much higher tax payments in January and some seeking to spread the tax payments so we have to get the returns done for those clients. I appreciate the gesture of the late filing penalties respite, but the whole kit and caboodle needed to be considered, not just one aspect, as it still does not ease the work pressure for us. Perhaps if HMRC had given this some real thought at it's earlier stages - and actually entered into discussions with practitioners instead of making lofty decisions based on HMRC's own statistics, a more useful measure could have been brought in, but as one poster has already mentioned, HMRC have been woefully disappointing for a long time now. We will never get back the long hours we have put in so far, and unlike civil servants who can claim overtime for additional work done, we cannot charge our clients overtime for work carried out after hours. Some clients who bring their books in late could be charged at a premium rate, but this has not been the reason for work pressures this year - it has been on our shoulders because we have spent so much time helping clients with the Covid lockdown measures that our normal work schedules were pushed off the rails - so we are working many many more hours for no additional benefit - and this is the case for so many general accountancy practices. Had HMRC offered some positive help earlier a lot of extremely long hours, the worry, the extreme fatigue and the feelings of helplessness against the mountain of work faced could have been eased enormously - not to mention the additional time costs we have had to absorb. So thank you for making our February a little easier, but unfortunately as far as January goes, for us it is too little, too late.

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By colinstewart
26th Jan 2021 09:57

I suppose we are now going to have to be grateful to our professional bodies for fighting 'tooth and nail' to support us in 'this difficult time' - bit bloomin' late now, all of ours are filed - ditto Norstar - worked flat out to do it - because like most of us - we have standards!

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By Gillian Black
26th Jan 2021 10:09

I think it's a disgrace, extending the SA deadline at such short notice when the panic is just about over. I don't think HMRC realises the pressure they are putting on us accountants and book-keepers. I have struggled to complete and submit these tax returns and I am more or less finished. Except for two clients' whose information is still not in, but they're off the hook!! It's too little too late HMRC!!

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By Software Seeker
26th Jan 2021 10:07

So, I get some records in today. The pressure is off. I've got another month to turn-around. So I plan to get it done next week.

It gets done and submitted next week. No penalty. Great.

The week after next, HMRC announces that SEISS#4 is open to those who filed their 2019/20 Tax Returns on time. My client doesn't qualify because he was a week late.

I get sued by my client for missing the filing deadline. But at least he didn't get a late-filing penalty.

Thanks.

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Replying to Software Seeker:
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By OrmeGoat
26th Jan 2021 12:24

How do you know what HMRC are announcing next week?

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Replying to OrmeGoat:
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By johnjenkins
26th Jan 2021 12:51

HMRC have not extended the deadline, only waived the penalty so it's not rocket science to work out what they will do to save money.

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Replying to OrmeGoat:
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By Software Seeker
26th Jan 2021 16:12

OrmeGoat wrote:

How do you know what HMRC are announcing next week?

Good point. Nonetheless, the Return could have been turned around in the final week, but it wasn't because the gas was turned down a little.

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Replying to Software Seeker:
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By Andy Reeves
26th Jan 2021 15:27

If a client is going to sue you for not turning round their accounts and tax return in less than a week, you need to seriously review your engagement letters, and also consider whether that is the sort of client you need! Our engagement letters require all of the information by 30 September, although of course we do complete returns on time for those who deliver later, and normally work on a six week turn round..

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Replying to Andy Reeves:
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By johnjenkins
26th Jan 2021 15:41

I think the comment was made "tongue in cheek".

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Replying to johnjenkins:
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By Software Seeker
26th Jan 2021 16:16

johnjenkins wrote:

I think the comment was made "tongue in cheek".

Part-TIC, part-hypothetical.

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Replying to Andy Reeves:
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By Software Seeker
26th Jan 2021 16:14

Andy Reeves wrote:

If a client is going to sue you for not turning round their accounts and tax return in less than a week, you need to seriously review your engagement letters, and also consider whether that is the sort of client you need! Our engagement letters require all of the information by 30 September, although of course we do complete returns on time for those who deliver later, and normally work on a six week turn round..

It was more of a hypothetical statement, rather than an actual example. But it's not hard to see the scenario playing out in practice.

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By gillianf3815
26th Jan 2021 10:26

I think it's a disgrace, extending the SA deadline at such short notice when the panic is just about over. I don't think HMRC realises the pressure they are putting on us accountants and book-keepers. I have struggled to complete and submit these tax returns and I am more or less finished. Except for two clients' whose information is still not in, but they're off the hook!! So this type of client is encouraged to continue to provide late information. It's too little too late, once again, HMRC!! Thank you for the support!!

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Replying to gillianf3815:
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By Andy Reeves
26th Jan 2021 15:28

Then dump "this type of client". You allowing them to do this every year will not change them.

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By Cathro
26th Jan 2021 11:11

I have other plans for February as I am sure many of my colleagues do. I intend to take a few days off (normally that would be a trip to The Hague to watch my daughters compete in Intershoot. Given the ongoing pandemic I intend instead to read a book or two and binge watch some TV by a roaring fire and maybe even have a drink or three after a very long dry January). After those precious few days respite I have several sets of company accounts to finalise and file that have been waiting half done since before Christmas, plus half a dozen sizeable VAT returns (a popular quarter end for my clients for some reason), the normal monthly payroll (with of course added furlough claims) and lots of post tax season filing and archiving to do (Electronic and paper, which offers a strange sense of satisfaction that a tax year has been wrapped up and boxed away). I will not be finding time in my busy February schedule to complete late tax returns, those clients that I have left are always late no matter when I start asking for their information and how I ask and frankly I'm a bit cross that they wont now get a fine because it might just have taught them a lesson.

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By ralan
26th Jan 2021 12:15

Sorry but I do not know why all this hand wringing and moaning at HMRC is going on we have known they are useless at organising for years yet they came up with the Furlough scheme etc in no time at all.

Gone are the days when we had the direct line to local Inspectors who we were on Christian name terms with and they sorted things out very quickly.

HMRC said they would not extend the 31 Jan deadline so why didn't you just get on with it and push your clients for the accounts and information to file the Tax Returns online on time

We started chasing in May 2020 and up to Christmas had the usual dozen or so who were always late but we had anticipated this as usual.

I have 3 tax returns due back in, all promised before our imposed deadline of 28 Jan, I do not work Fridays or weekends which they all know, and the 2 who have told me they cannot meet the deadline to let me have their records as they are so pulled out with work that the measly £100 penalty does not bother them, in fact theirs will be filed by the end of Feb so no problem now.

Suggest you sort yourselves out if you have so many not ready to file, your to office management seems poor when you have known the 31 Jan deadline has been around for years.

Yes HMRC are a dead loss with their services at the moment, held on for 25 mins last week for Agent Help Line but the lady I spoke to sorted it in no time, I have spoken to her on a number of occasions since November and her dog keeps interrupting the conversation but she never gets fazed.

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Replying to ralan:
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By Barbara G
26th Jan 2021 13:44

"Suggest you sort yourselves out if you have so many not ready to file, your to office management seems poor when you have known the 31 Jan deadline has been around for years"

The above comment seems a wee bit unfair. Perhaps you didn't have very many weekly and monthly payrolls furloughing on and off since March, or junior staff working from home needing micro-managing, or staff numbers down due to maternity leave, or newly qualified staff moving to better fields, or inability to train new staff due to social distancing, or your staff infected by coronavirus meaning you had to close your offices. January this year is different to those gone before for accountants. I don't do SA, but am pleased for those accountants who have been given a bit more lee-way. January has traditionally been busy for accountants for as many years as I can remember. To suggest it's down to bad management doesn't seem right.

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By Linda1964
26th Jan 2021 14:12

So HMRC in their wisdom decide on the 25th January to extend the filing date for 1 month.

After Accountant's workload have massively increased due to furlough, grants, loans, advising clients, furloughed staff due to schools being off/sick etc. I would just like to say thank you to doing this on deadline week, when all the bloody hard work has been done. I love how accountancy bodies argued back in November 2020 for an extension yet they declined.

HMRC have changed their turnaround time from 6 weeks to 4 months due to workload. PATHETIC

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Replying to Linda1964:
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By johnjenkins
26th Jan 2021 14:22

Linda, HMRC haven't extended the deadline. You still have to submit by 31st Jan. All they have done is to waive penalties if returns are submitted during February.

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Replying to johnjenkins:
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By Linda1964
26th Jan 2021 15:07

Hi John, To the taxpayer that means that it has been extended (you only have to pay the tax by 31st Jan),

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Replying to Linda1964:
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By johnjenkins
26th Jan 2021 15:40

You're quite right. The problems will occur when, in the future, there is a need for the 2020 tax return to have been submitted on time.

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Replying to johnjenkins:
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By Linda1964
26th Jan 2021 15:46

I was wondering whether HMRC were counting on that!

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Replying to Linda1964:
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By johnjenkins
26th Jan 2021 16:52

Most Definitely.

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Replying to johnjenkins:
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By Jimess
27th Jan 2021 10:25

To the general public the perception is that HMRC have extended the filing deadline as this is what some of the popular press are giving out. One of my clients refused to accept that it was just the penalty waiver yesterday after reading about it in the press and I had to e-mail the HMRC notice I had received to convince my client otherwise. So as far as the general public are concerned HMRC are giving a concession on the filing deadline as that is what they are reading in the news. We now have to battle with misconceptions about what the penalties concession actually means for clients.

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Replying to Jimess:
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By johnjenkins
27th Jan 2021 10:48

It will be interesting to see if HMRC base the fourth payment on 2020 profit and that the return was sent in on time. Perhaps Martin Lewis (de-facto Anne Dodds) might be able to tell us from his mate in the treasury.

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By Linda1964
26th Jan 2021 14:13

So HMRC in their wisdom decide on the 25th January to extend the filing date for 1 month.

After Accountant's workload have massively increased due to furlough, grants, loans, advising clients, furloughed staff due to schools being off/sick etc. I would just like to say thank you to doing this on deadline week, when all the bloody hard work has been done. I love how accountancy bodies argued back in November 2020 for an extension yet they declined.

HMRC have changed their turnaround time from 6 weeks to 4 months due to workload. PATHETIC

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By bondss
27th Jan 2021 14:21

The slow response on making a decision by HMRC on the 31st deadline is in line with the various slow paced decisions made by the government in response to the pandemic.

Had this decision been made at the appropriate time (before Christmas) it would have enable us to plan the month of January in a way which ensured that our staff are not putting themselves in danger and are able to work from home. We could have staggered the days that staff attended office etc.

As it is we are now finished!

I feel I should be more annoyed!

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