Money: Money Talk: Pay up front or pay the price

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The Independent Online
A whopping 300,000 self-assessment tax forms have been returned to sender because of omissions or serious mistakes, the Inland Revenue says. A million more people have made errors that the Revenue has been able to put right.

The taxman's somewhat predictable verdict on these numbers was "better than expected" given, it says, that 5 million people have actually filled in their returns and that this has been the first year of wrestling with the new forms.

Well, maybe. But the really worrying statistic in my book is this: at least 3 million other people due to send in new-style returns have still not done so. Many of the no-shows are self-employed with more complicated tax affairs and potentially bigger liabilities.

These 3 million only have until 31 January to file if they are to avoid automatic fines starting at pounds 100 and interest on unpaid tax. Given that filling in the tax returns will in most cases mean a fair-sized paper chase, there is no time to lose.

It is also important to emphasise that 31 January is more than an administrative deadline: it's also the date when unpaid tax for these returns, whether filed or not, is required. So if you've got a liability, start collecting your savings and work out what you are likely to owe. With returns filed since September the Revenue will not necessarily get you a bill in time for payment by 31 January. But even if it doesn't, you are still required to pay what you owe or face interest penalties.

So even if you don't get your bill, send off what you think you owe anyway - and err on the pessimistic side. That is to say, assuming you can afford it, over-rather than underestimate your liability. If you overpay you'll get a rebate. Underpay, and you face being charged interest on what you have failed to pay.

As feared, Gordon Brown's "green" Budget last week shed no light on the Government's murky plans for PEPs, Tessas and pensions, and capital gains and inheritance tax. And this from an administration that waffles on about the importance of financial stability: someone should tell the Chancellor how important certainty is for savers, too.

Mr Brown did offer one potential sop on PEPs: he confirmed that a consultation paper on the proposed Individual Savings Accounts (ISAs) will be published on Tuesday. The hope is this will finally tell us what will happen to existing PEPs when ISAs are introduced. But I fear "consultation" means just that and the Government will avoid committing itself for a few more months.