This year, the taxman won't be so patient

Usually you're allowed to be late with your tax return. Not this time, says Clifford German
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The Independent Online
I don't want to frighten you, and the new customer-friendly taxman says he doesn't want to frighten you either, while accountants do have a vested interest in stampeding you into their offices, begging for their help in filling in tax forms to avoid the unspeakable penalties for submitting accounts that are late, incomplete or just plain wrong.

But it is worth listening to advice to get your tax forms in on time this year, to avoid the possibility of a fine, or worse - a full-scale investigation into your tax affairs.

Tax forms are traditionally sent out at the start of the new tax year in April, with instructions to return them within 30 days. But the taxman recognises that it is not always possible to get together all the necessary information on interest payable, dividends received or accounts due or receivable within that time.

At worst, you might have been sent an interim assessment some time in the autumn, which would be higher than the eventual bill, and been obliged to file a hasty notice of appeal.

This year, however, there is greater urgency, because as part of the switch to self-assesment the taxman wants to be in a position to calculate and levy by the end of January 1997 any extra tax due on the average of last year's actual and the current year's forecast income.

This will not lead to double taxation, the taxman insists, although it may well permanently accelerate the taxman's cashflow. Simply to get this average calculated in time to send out demands "in the autumn of 1996" as promised, however, the Inland Revenue is demanding that anyone who has a new source of income or capital gains to declare must in future get the return back to the inspector within six months of the start of the tax year. Since 5 October this year is a Saturday, forms must be returned by 4 October to avoid the risk of an interest charge, a penalty for late returns, or an investigation, which will be tedious and time-consuming at best.

This applies to the self-employed and also to anyone who is employed but has to fill in an annual tax return because he or she has additional earnings, dividends or even an expense claim on which a tax rebate is due. Anyone whose financial circumstances have not changed has a little more leeway, until the end of October, but that is not too far away.

The message is clear. If you have already received a tax form, the time to start filling it out is now, especially if you will need to get statements from banks or building societies before you can complete it. If you have not received a form and you do have taxable income to declare, including dividends and earnings that have been taxed at source, you should write to the tax office before 5 October and ask for a form. Once received, you have 30 days to complete it.

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