Your Money: With a little help from your friend the taxman

Don't despair if the thought of that tax form makes your blood freeze, for help is available - and what's more, it's free
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Indy Lifestyle Online
SUMMER'S OVER and it's time to dig out the dreaded tax form that you filed away for safe-keeping in April.

Many individual tax payers who have been sent a self-assessment form probably do not realise that if they send off their completed details by 30 September, the Inland Revenue will take responsibility for calculating their tax liabil-ity and do all the hard work for them.

The end of September is also the deadline to return forms for people who want the tax office to collect up to pounds 1,000 of tax due through their PAYE code next year, rather than paying it all in one go as a lump sum. In April, the Inland Revenue issued tax returns to 8.5m people, mostly the self-employed, company directors and people who pay tax at 40 per cent. If you received one, you have until 31 January 2000 to complete it and send it back. But if you fill it in correctly and return it to your tax office by the earlier deadline, you could save a lot of time and, potentially, money.

John Whiting, a tax partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, says: "The really basic piece of advice is to treat the form like an exam paper - but one in which you have to get 100 per cent. Make certain that you read the questions thoroughly and refer to the notes."

The main difficulty is simply gathering all the necessary information relating to your income, expenses and out-goings. Those choosing to delay filling in the form until January should take care to request this information early to avoid missing the deadline because of low staffing or IT problems over the Millennium.

On income, employees must look out their P60 and P11D, which your employer will have given you over the summer. If you are retired or unemployed, remember that pensions and benefits are taxable, except for child benefit. You will need to get the P60 equivalent from your pension scheme, or details of any benefits that you have received.

The self-employed will need to provide the most data. And if you have investments, you need to accumulate all the dividend vouchers and interest certificates from your bank or building society. You must also give information on property, including income from letting, outgoings for maintenance and proceeds from sales.

If you want help completing your form, the Inland Revenue provides a free service. At 300 information centres, staff will go through the form with you face to face, or you can phone any tax office. The Revenue also has a special, local-rate helpline for evenings and weekends when tax offices are closed.

Taxpayers can ring 0645 000444 for advice

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