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Three million tax returns left to submit

HMRC has revealed that over three million tax returns need to be completed before the 31 January deadline, as accountants make the final push towards the finish line.

27th Jan 2020
Editor AccountingWEB
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HMRC's duck campaign

With the self assessment deadline looming, figures released from HMRC last Friday shows that three million tax returns still need to be filed.

HMRC started 2020 with five million tax returns still outstanding. Although two million have since been filed, that still leaves a considerable amount of returns for accountants to shovel in the last remaining days of January.

In recent years, AccountingWEB has seen readers attempt to ease the annual burden through charging for late delivery of accounts and shifting the majority of its tax work to earlier in the year. But the 17.4% of returns still remaining demonstrates that the January rush and recalcitrant clients are still causing accountants long working days and sleepless nights at the start of the year.

SA submission figures obtained by Informi illustrate the extent of the last-minute taxpayers, with the needle only moving in December when one million tax returns were submitted, which accounts for 8.6% of the annual total. HMRC even reported that 3,003 festive filers added their name to Santa’s ‘nice list’ by submitting their return on Christmas day.

In comparison, the quieter springtime months do little to dent the 11.7 million SA returns due at the start of the tax year.

Only 489,920 tax returns were filed in April last year (4.2% of the annual total), 556,192 filed in May and 548,528 in June. It was only in July when there was a slight uptick with 648,197 returns (5.5% of total) submitted, but that summer tax return fervour drifted off again in August when the total submitted fell back to 486,750 (4.2%).

But from October self assessment season cranks into action with 633,197 (5.4% of the annual total) individuals and that ascent continues into November with 748,218 submissions.  

It’s too late to change course this year, but accountants in a race against time may wish to use the statistics to reboot their self assessment schedule next year and take advantage of those quieter months.

As seen every year on AccountingWEB, having good intentions in February is one thing, but backing that up is another story. Those that succeed in this endeavour strike when the self assessment pain is still raw. As reader mkowl outlined last year: “Having decided that doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is a classic sign of madness, then instigated some major changes… [I’ve] recruited a specific tax person who will start on the list in April, rather than me getting to November and I've done just 10% of returns… Work smarter not harder is my new ethos.”   

For this tax return season, many of the remaining three million won’t meet the deadline. Last tax year, according to HMRC figures, approximately 750,000 people missed the 31 January deadline making them liable for an immediate £100 fine.

“Regardless of whether you or an accountant are preparing the tax return, leaving it to the last minute inevitably means that things are done in a rush and, even with the best will in the world, mistakes can be made, which gives HMRC further opportunities to charge penalties,” said BDO's Dawn Register, a partner in tax dispute resolution.  

“Maximise your chances of getting it right and avoid the 11th hour wherever possible.”

But history suggests that the usual story will strike again next year. For further proof, this time last year HMRC revealed that 3,524,798 tax returns remained to be filed – anybody else getting a case of déjà vu?

How has this January compared to previous tax return seasons? Do you expect to have everything filed well before deadline day or will you be pulling an all-nighter?

Replies (12)

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By claudialowe
27th Jan 2020 16:35

And only 7 of them belong to my clients - yay! One thinks that it is still far too early to bring me their paperwork, well they can go whistle Dixie, the others will all be filed in time, including the one that has been given a 5 week extension :-)

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By James Green
27th Jan 2020 17:34

Feeling very smug this year - all done today :-)

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By Tim Vane
27th Jan 2020 17:40

Why does this article assume that accountants will be submitting these 3 million returns? I think it is much more likely that the vast majority are un represented taxpayers who are leaving it until the last minute.

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Replying to Tim Vane:
By ireallyshouldknowthisbut
27th Jan 2020 18:22

Well quite. We filed (or at least prepared) around 300 before Xmas and have done 15 or so in Jan.

I now have 9 out for signature or payment, and 7 not complete, but deliberately so as they did not come in until Jan so I want them to get a squeaky backside, albeit all are very quick returns, I could do all 7 in under a day.

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By Usergnome
27th Jan 2020 19:54

“ With the self assessment deadline looming, figures released from HMRC last Friday shows that three million tax returns still need to be filed.

HMRC started 2020 with five million tax returns still outstanding. Although two million have since been filed, that still leaves a considerable amount of returns for accountants to shovel in the last remaining days of January.”

Say what you want about HMRC but that is impeccable maths.

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By Cloudcounter
28th Jan 2020 08:51

Not exactly news, is it?

I haven't checked but this could be a straight cut and paste from the article posted this time last year, and the year before, and the year before . . . . . .

Nothing changes

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By Husbandofstinky
28th Jan 2020 10:50

'Sleepless nights'

Err No.

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By David Gordon FCCA
28th Jan 2020 12:08

It is only the most straight forward of returns which may be prepared April, May June. 31st March year end clients will not have their stuff ready for at least three or four months.

Further I have noticed at least one practice which "Stores" all its approved returns in a bundle. It then undertakes a major filing exercise in January.

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Replying to David Gordon FCCA:
By Roland195
28th Jan 2020 17:12

I know a practice like this too - will store every single SA return to file at a chosen point mid January with the rationale that this limits the enquiry risk by filing them alongside millions of others while not raising a red flag by filing on the 31st.

They possibly misunderstand how the enquiry window works but aside from what it is they feel the need to hide, you can only imagine how stressful this is for the staff and the clients trying to make online payments.

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By Tom 7000
28th Jan 2020 16:38

246 left....

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By Vaughan Blake1
28th Jan 2020 17:13

What bugs me is that the media is full of tax return preparation stories as though doing your tax return in the last week of January is the norm. Maybe it is for the journalists who write these articles.

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By North East Accountant
28th Jan 2020 17:44

Just think what fun we'll all have when HMRC introduce MTD for everyone and then move from quarterly to monthly to real time filing with daily deadlines across your entire client base.

We'll look back oh so fondly at the once per annum January rush.

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