Consumer Rights: Time's running out to keep the taxman off your back

The deadline for filing your 2012-13 return is midnight on 31 January, otherwise you'll be fined

My prediction for 2014 is that you'll face a hefty fine if your self-assessment tax return for 2012-13 isn't submitted, online, by midnight on 31 January.

One of the press releases that landed in my email inbox this week was from Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) and for once it made quite entertaining reading. It was a list of the top 10 reasons people give for sending in their tax return late. Imagine trying to persuade the taxman not to fine you because "my pet goldfish died". Sorry. It just isn't going to work.

If you have some income or earnings for 2012-2013, that haven't been taxed under the Pay As You Earn system, and you need to submit a self-assessment form, bite the bullet and get on with it.

If you didn't send in a paper self-assessment return by 31 October you must submit it online, and pay any tax you owe, by the end of this month. There are a few exceptions and the Revenue will accept reasonable excuses, but it rarely extends the deadline and "my wife wouldn't give me my mail" doesn't qualify as a reasonable excuse.

There's plenty of help and advice available from HMRC at www.hmrc.gov.uk/sa or call the self-assessment helpline on 0300 200 3310 (8am to 8pm, Monday to Friday, and 8am to 4pm on Saturdays).

Daunting as the task is, gather all your income and earnings information together with all those tax-deductible outgoings and receipts and get calculating. The form you've been sent by HMRC isn't as complicated as it looks and filing online is fairly straightforward. You don't have to fill the whole of the online form in one go. You can go off and check facts and figures and come back to it without starting again at the beginning.

However, if you haven't filed a return online before there are registration procedures to go through, you'll need a activation code which can take a few days to arrive, and it's great if you have time to ring for help if you get stuck. You can take a look at the online tax demonstrator on the HMRC website before you start.

HMRC recommends you register by 21 January at the latest as it can take seven days before the activation code reaches you.

HMRC expects almost 11 million people to file a self-assessment tax return for the 12 months April 2012–April 2013.

If you don't file your tax return by midnight on the 31 January, you will face an automatic £100 penalty – even if you don't owe any money. If your tax return is three months late HMRC will start charging you an additional £10 a day for up to 90 days. If you still haven't sent the return in after six months you'll be charged 5 per cent of what you owe or £300 – whichever is higher. If you do that you could be facing a bill for at least £1,300 – even if you don't owe any tax or on top of the tax you should have paid. If you still don't sort yourself out and are 12 months late another 5 per cent penalty or £300 will be added to what you owe.

As well as those penalties for not submitting your return there is interest to pay on any tax that isn't paid on time.

Whether you submitted your form by paper before 31 October or do it online by 31 January, any tax owed for 2012-13 has to be paid by 31 January 2014. You may also have to pay some on account for 2013-14 with a second payment due in July 2014.

If you're late with your payments HMRC will charge interest at 3 per cent a day with further charges if the money is still unpaid by the 2 March, or is six months or 12 months late. You could end up paying more in penalties and interest charges than you owe in the first place all because you couldn't face the paperwork.

If you haven't been send a self-assessment form but think you should fill one in, or you've been asked to fill one in but you don't think you need to, check now. And if your goldfish dies or you have "a run-in with a cow" which a farmer used as an excuse for filing late, dry your eyes and get on with it as the taxman's sympathy is fast running out.

*

Q: My daughter was in a car accident a few months ago. A passing pedestrian told her he saw what happened and would act as an eyewitness. The other driver accepted it was his fault and said he would get her car fixed. He asked her not to approach her insurance company as it would mean problems for his insurance. However, my daughter decided to inform her insurer. The other driver contacted her and threatened to claim against her if she persisted. This is exactly what happened. He even came up with an "eyewitness" to support his claim. My daughter's insurance company says it will be difficult to prove her version so they are dropping the claim. The guilty party is telling lies and getting away scot free! What can you advise?

A: Your daughter did the right thing as in an accident you must inform your insurance company, even if there's no damage, no one is hurt, and it wasn't your fault. Make sure her insurer is aware the other driver fabricated the "second witness". Put your case in writing with a letter from the real eyewitness. If the insurance company sticks to its decision contact the Financial Ombudsman Service (financial-ombusdman.org.uk). If it can't help and your daughter has lost out financially, she could consider suing the other driver using the small-claims procedure in the county court.

moneyagonyaunt.com

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