Get your skates on: the tax deadline is upon us

Millions have left their self-assessment return to the last minute. Melanie Bien shows how to fill in the form and avoid a fine of at least £100
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The Independent Online

If you received a phone call from the Inland Revenue last week reminding you of the impending deadline for sub- mitting your self-assessment tax return, then you are just one of the millions of people who have not yet got round to filling it in.

But with less than a week to go until the deadline, there is no time to lose if you haven't submitted that form for the financial year 6 April 2002 to 5 April 2003. Those who are required to file a self-assessment return - people with earnings that have not been taxed at source - must do so by 31 January, and pay any outstanding tax they owe, or face an automatic £100 fine.

After this cut-off point has come and gone, further penalties and interest are incurred. The Revenue is now threatening to impose an additional fine of £60 a day for persistent late offenders.

The deadline this year falls on a Saturday, when many local tax offices will be closed. Relying on pushing the form through the door may not be a good idea, either, as a spokesman for the Revenue points out that many offices don't have postboxes.

It would therefore be wise to consider Friday as the final day for submitting your form and the tax you owe, just to be on the safe side. But this leaves you with only five days to get it done.

That's possible, although you will probably have to do the legwork yourself rather than use an accountant, most of whom will be rushed off their feet this week trying to submit forms in time for the clients who are already on their books.

It is also too late to apply to file online, as it takes the Revenue a couple of days to process your details and provide you with the registration number you need. But it is worth making a mental note to register online for next year. It is a straightforward process and saves time because the tax you owe is calculated automatically.

However, if you haven't filed your 2002-03 return, that should be your priority. If you haven't received a self-assessment form but think you need one, contact the Revenue now. The helpline (see below) is open today, and every day this week, from 8am until 8pm. You can also pick up a form from your local tax office to save time waiting on the postal system.

In the meantime, start gathering together all the paperwork you need to fill in your return: your P60 or P45, bank statements and bills. Under normal circumstances, if any of the information you require were missing, you would order a replacement copy to work out the tax you owe. But it is too late to do this if you want to meet Saturday's deadline.

If you can't accurately calculate what you owe, you will have to give an estimate, though the Revenue points out that you must take great care; if you underpay, you will incur interest. If you are stuck, contact your local tax office or call the helpline for advice on your calculations. There is always someone at the end of the line to point you in the right direction

Filling out the form itself shouldn't take longer than an afternoon, unless your tax affairs are extremely complicated. Arm yourself with a calculator and pencil (in case you make mistakes) and get on with it.

Post your form no later than Thursday to make sure it beats the deadline. If you are delivering it to your local Revenue office by hand, do so before Saturday and get it date-stamped to prove you've filed your return, and paid the tax due, on time.

The Inland Revenue helpline is open 8am to 8pm, seven days a week, 0845 900 0444.

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