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Tax return deadline looms as 45% still need to file

Time is ticking for 5.4 million taxpayers who have until 31 January to complete their tax return, as HMRC reports filing rates tracking at a similar level as last year despite Covid disruptions. 

5th Jan 2021
Editor AccountingWEB
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Self assessment
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HMRC has received 6.6 million tax returns as of 4 January 2021, leaving 45% of the 12.1m tax returns to be filed this year. 

The majority of these tax returns (93%) have been submitted online, continuing a trend which has seen only 450,000 returns filed on paper (7% of total filed) as of 4 January. 

Many of these taxpayers chose to strike their return off their to-do list over the Christmas period. 

More than 2,700 taxpayers used Christmas Day as an excuse to catch up with their paperwork and file their self assessment tax return, while 18,000 started the New Year off by filing their return on 1 January 2021. 

Comparatively, the number of tax returns filed are currently tracking at the same levels as this time last year despite the ongoing Covid restrictions and upheaval. On 31 December 2019, HMRC had received 6.3 million SA returns – which was 54% of the total 11.7 m returns. 

“In what was a very difficult year for many, we are grateful to the 55% of our customers who have already submitted their returns,” said Karl Khan, HMRC’s interim director general for customer services.

“HMRC is ready to offer support to those who are yet to file their returns or are worried about paying their tax bill, but they must act now so we can help before the deadline.”

Christmas filing

HMRC reported that the peak time for completing tax returns on 25 December was between 2pm and 2.59pm when 214 returns were filed before the Queen’s speech. 

This Christmas Day number tax return number trails 2019’s 3,003 festive filers. However, the number of tax returns completed was down across the board between 24 and 26 December when compared to 2019. 

Christmas Eve saw the biggest number of tax returns filed over the three day period, but the 20,200 tax returns were still down on last year’s 22,035. 

Boxing Day also saw taxpayers squeeze in their tax returns between grabbing a bargain at the virtual sales. In total, 8,500 tax returns were filed, with the peak between 3pm and 3.59pm bringing in 858 returns. Again, this was a decrease on Boxing Day in 2019 when 9,254 were filed. 

The 31,400 returns filed over the Christmas period will have made a small dent in the outstanding 5.4 million returns left to submit before the 31 January. 

HMRC is encouraging as many taxpayers as possible to complete their 2019 to 2020 returns by 31 January. Once the self assessment has been completed, the taxpayer can set up a payment plan if they can’t pay in full to spread the cost of their tax liabilities, up to the value of £30,000. 

No extension

But any hope of an extension for those behind on schedule to accommodate the extra Covid workload was dashed in late December when HMRC’s chief executive Jim Harra rejected calls from the accountancy bodies. 

Harra didn’t want to “complicate the message by sending a blanket signal that it’s OK to file late”, especially with filing rates “holding up well”. 

Some AccountingWEB members agree with Harra, having “bored clients” during the first lockdown in the spring of 2020 that “sent in stuff much earlier”.

“There's no excuse whatsoever, you've had nine months,” said Marlinman. “Most of my clients got their figures to me much quicker than usual while stuck at home with nothing else to do during the first lockdown.

The lower number of returns filed this Christmas compared to last year could be a sign that others are in the same situation as AccountingWEB member bettybobbymeggie, who is ahead on last year and said in November that they may “may actually be able to afford Christmas this year”. 

However, news of the national lockdown and the need to support Covid hit clients will add further pressure to those falling behind in previous years. 

“Let's get the deadlines extended and put pressure on recalcitrant clients to get their records together,” argued AccountingWEB member Red1960. “Do you really have the time to deal with all of these appeals in writing and then months chasing them up because they haven't been dealt with by HMRC because they can't be bothered? 

“Are your clients going to want to pay for that or will it be easier and simpler to simply extend the deadline?”

How are your piles of tax returns holding up compared to last year? Are you ahead of 2020 or has the Covid workload put your plans back several weeks?

Replies (19)

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By CMCC
05th Jan 2021 17:03

Certainly no sign of any relaxation of the rules at the moment then...

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RLI
By lionofludesch
05th Jan 2021 18:29

So is it 45% or 55% ?

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By norstar
06th Jan 2021 10:57

We're holding steady on filing numbers out of the 600 we file each year - but only because my staff worked their a***s off non stop since March 2020 and I worked over Christmas. Now Rishi has introduced more measures this week, we're being inundated with queries on top of the tax returns.

I've written to my clients and told them that I will file a provisional return based on 2019 if I don't have info in by 11th Jan. I'm not killing myself for them or HMRC but I'm also not going to store up trouble by relying on HMRC granting penalty appeals if the deadline is missed. I don't trust them and they can't open a letter within two months as it is right now. I also think it will increase risk of enquiry.

Had two letters from them yesterday - one dated November in response to my letter in Jan 2020, another dated December from my letter in March. None of our loss claims have been processed in 9 months. Sod them and their 31st Jan deadline. Why should I put myself through this just because clients don't cooperate and HMRC rely on us to do half their (unpaid) work for them which sets us back?! Then give us no support when it comes to the crunch.

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Replying to norstar:
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By Southwestbeancounter
07th Jan 2021 18:52

Spot on!

Actually I like your provisional return idea - I usually try to make them as accurate as possible but sod that this year - my mental and physical health comes first!!

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Replying to norstar:
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By Andy Reeves
08th Jan 2021 09:52

I trust you will be asking clients to approve these “provisional” returns before you submit them?

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Replying to Andy Reeves:
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By norstar
08th Jan 2021 19:25

I don't file a darn thing without my clients seeing and approving it after an explanation.

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By [email protected]
06th Jan 2021 11:10

So Accountants are immune to covid then? We have to deal with furlough ssp covid reclaims vat changes eat out grants loans and lockdowns not to mention emails hmrc essays worried clients all hours. Surely an extension would not hurt ! We have had little or no time to cope with changes and had to put work on back burner to keep clients afloat that was more important then ticking box. If clients fold they wont get any money! Ontop of this waiting for auth.codes delayed in xmas post and hours waiting on hmrc phone lines! We are normal human beings not robots! Work with us !!!!!

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Replying to [email protected]:
RLI
By lionofludesch
08th Jan 2021 10:01

suebks-AT-hotmail.co.uk wrote:

So Accountants are immune to covid then?

I can definitively confirm that they are not.

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Jennifer Adams
By Jennifer Adams
06th Jan 2021 17:49

With you 100% norstar!

Re ringing HMRC - I'm not bothering until Feb.

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Tornado
By Tornado
07th Jan 2021 00:36

I think the answer here is to do the best we can but I am sure that HMRC will announce a cancellation of late filing penalties a few days before the 31st January 2021 for perhaps a period of up to three months. To me this is inevitable as HMRC simply do not have the resources to deal with tens of thousands or perhaps hundreds of thousands of appeals as they are struggling at the moment to deal with day to day matters.

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Replying to Tornado:
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By Southwestbeancounter
07th Jan 2021 18:54

Let's hope you're right Tornado!

It does make sense as that way they have the power to make everyone think they're not cancelling them automatically so everyone works their backsides off to meet the deadline and that way as few as possible are submitted late.

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By johnjenkins
08th Jan 2021 09:39

I think the reason the tax return figures are roughly the same as last year is that a lot of Agents are doing what I and other posters are doing and that is putting in estimated (provisional) figures on the return. HMRC should be able to tell us how many returns have the "estimated figures" box ticked or is that another too complicated task for Jimbo.

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Replying to johnjenkins:
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By lionofludesch
08th Jan 2021 10:00

Do folk really estimate tax return figures and file them with a month still to go ?

What a weird thing to do !

Maybe in the light of SEISS issues earlier this year, it could be wise to overestimate your profits. You never know when that might come in useful ........

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Replying to lionofludesch:
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By johnjenkins
08th Jan 2021 10:30

I posted my feelings on a previous thread but I will repeat them. This is a one off and Jimbo has said that if the tax returns are in late HMRC will accept covid as a reasonable excuse to appeal the penalty.
Jimbo has also said that if you tell HMRC that your return will be in late because of...…………… they can set a flag so that a penalty is not issued yet he refuses to extend the late filing penalty until the end of March or February even.. Are you still with me on this one? I do not trust HMRC one iota. There are clients of many agents that will not be able to file by 31st Jan due to covid (in one way shape or form) so in order to avoid a penalty, appeal and possibly FTT it is easier (on this one occasion) to estimate, then put real figures in when available. I call that common sense not weird.

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Replying to johnjenkins:
RLI
By lionofludesch
08th Jan 2021 10:48

johnjenkins wrote:
I call that common sense not weird.

No - I still don't get it. I wouldn't file a provisional return a month before I needed to file.

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Replying to lionofludesch:
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By johnjenkins
08th Jan 2021 13:45

Agents work in different ways. I took a pragmatic view, discussed the situation with clients, and came to the conclusion that it would be better to put estimates (provisional) figures for those that, through covid, might not be able to meet the deadline. What I have done negates any last minute rush and possible errors on both sides. I do not trust HMRC to say covid will be treated as a valid excuse for late filing. Nor do I think that, if the deadline was to be extended or penalties automatically waived, clients would take advantage. I don't have those sort of clients. So I called being weird, common sensical and flexible. Don't forget this is a one off.

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Replying to johnjenkins:
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By monksview
08th Jan 2021 10:05

I have occasionally had to use the estimated box in the past but I couldn't see it on there this year, which page is it on? (Of course I may just be going blind with the amount of slogging of guts that has been going on)

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Replying to monksview:
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By lionofludesch
08th Jan 2021 10:16

monksview wrote:

I have occasionally had to use the estimated box in the past but I couldn't see it on there this year, which page is it on? (Of course I may just be going blind with the amount of slogging of guts that has been going on)

Page 8, box 20. But the real question is where does it appear in your software package ?

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Replying to lionofludesch:
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By monksview
08th Jan 2021 10:22

Doh! I knew it was there somewhere. I just have to click my software over to view the tax return pages rather than the simple version and there it is. Thank you. I have a feeling it may come in useful this year.

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