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Witch's curse spells tax return trouble

24th Jan 2019
Practice Editor AccountingWEB
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Halloween Witch Holds Her Broom Standing In Front Of Full Moon
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“My mother-in-law is a witch and put a curse on me,” topped HMRC’s list of bizarre excuses for failing to submit self assessment tax returns on time.

Many AccountingWEB members may wish they were able to cast a spell on wayward clients, rendering them easily accessible and prompt with information. But while accountants are used to the “double, double toil and trouble” that January brings, not many can actually claim to have seen witchcraft used during the busy season.

The same can’t be said for one tardy taxpayer, who claimed to HMRC that their broomstick-bothering mother-in-law had "put a curse" on them.

It’s not unusual for an excuse from the occult or the supernatural to top HMRC’s outlandish excuse list. Last year’s late return clunker featured a taxpayer’s claim that they couldn’t file their return on time because their wife has been seeing aliens and won’t let them enter the house.

HMRC’s list from the past year also included someone who missed the deadline because they were too short to reach the post box, and someone who was just too busy because their “first maid left, my second maid stole from me, and my third maid was very slow to learn”.

Other taxpayers blamed junior members of staff, stopping short of saying they should have gone to Specsavers, and a broken boiler.

Looking back over previous year’s version of this list can become a surreal experience, where you will find fingers pointed at a dog eating tax returns (and the subsequent reminders), car crashes caused by a wasp and a hungry rodent. But arguably this year’s Elphaba-inspired excuse is the strangest yet.

Here are some of the strangest from the past year:

  1. My mother-in-law is a witch and put a curse on me
  2. I’m too short to reach the post box
  3. I was just too busy – my first maid left, my second maid stole from me, and my third maid was very slow to learn
  4. Our junior member of staff registered our client in self assessment by mistake because they were not wearing their glasses
  5. My boiler had broken and my fingers were too cold to type

As well as the dark arts-inspired tax return excuses, HMRC also revealed the dubious expense claims it’s received. While this year’s crop includes unconvincing items like extra woolly underwear, nothing compares to last year’s claim of £4.50 for sausage and chips meal expenses for 250 days.

Here the most questionable expense claims:

  1. A carpenter claiming £900 for a 55-inch TV and sound bar to help him price his jobs
  2. £40 on extra woolly underwear, for five years
  3. £756 for pet dog insurance
  4. A music subscription to listen at work
  5. A family holiday to Nigeria

HMRC publishes this list every January to raise awareness of the January 31 self assessment deadline. Penalties for late tax returns start at an initial £100 fixed penalty and after three months increases to £10 per day, up to a maximum of £900.

The tax authority declined all the excuses listed in the top five because they were untrue or not good enough, but those that are able to provide a reasonable excuse before the deadline can avoid a penalty.

Responding to the list, HMRC director general of customer services Angela MacDonald said: “We want to make it as simple as possible for our customers to do their tax returns and the majority make the effort to do theirs right and on time. But each year we still come across some poor excuses and expenses.”

However, some AccountingWEB members have received premature penalties this month thanks to an HMRC computer glitch.

HMRC is not the only department to compile these bizarre excuses. In a late accounts excuse that could have been ripped from a Mills and Boon novel, Companies House in September last year revealed how one late filer found their wife in the bath with their accountant.

Although, AccountingWEB regular Glenn Martin was quick to quip: “Was the accountant in the bath trying to get the accounts signed though?”

Replies (4)

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Chris M
By mr. mischief
24th Jan 2019 10:48

They should also have a top 5 list of:

"Bizarre drivel and legally inaccurate claptrap spouted by HMRC staff on the phone and in person."

Mmm. On second thoughts, it should be a top 50 because narrowing it down to just 5 would be a big stretch.

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By cbp99
24th Jan 2019 14:05

No doubt HMRC, transparent and fair-minded organisation that it is, will follow up with a list of excuses for its own multiple errors.

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By Justin Bryant
24th Jan 2019 14:47

This is hardly surprising, as people often say to me "witch is the best excuse to avoid a tax penalty".

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By Karen Watson
26th Jan 2019 09:54

Among "dodgy expenses" I disallowed in the course of my career were a child's train set and an, er, vibrating bed (!)
(And no: it was NOT, as our hero brazenly improvised, a builder's "whacker plate"...)

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