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ajoling by Moira sees fewer late payers

Tax deadline reminders from the former television newsreader, Moira Stewart, whose own financial affairs have attracted media interest, were so effective that the taxman raked in £55m less in late fines this year than last, HMRC admitted yesterday.

The Revenue is sending out 850,000 letters demanding the payment of £100 penalties for late returns over the next fortnight, which is 550,000 fewer than the same time last year.

Although the deadline for filing self-assessment tax returns online was 31 January, this year the taxman opted not to issue penalties to those who sent in their returns up to two days late, because Civil Service workers went on strike at HMRC call centres on the deadline day.

A new penalty scheme means those whose tax returns are more than three months late will be charged an additional £10 penalty for each day it remains outstanding, up to a maximum of 90 days.

HMRC spokesman Stephen Banyard said: "People who receive a penalty should send in their return, appeal if they think they have a reasonable excuse, or contact us if they think they shouldn't have been in Self Assessment."