Four weeks for millions of taxpayers to avoid £100 fine

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The Independent Online

HM Customs & Revenue will today launch a last-ditch attempt to reduce the number of taxpayers filing their annual tax returns late.

The Government agency is to step up a television and press advertising campaign to persuade millions of taxpayers not to miss the 31 January deadline for filing their 2004-05 tax year returns.

The Revenue is also in the process of individually telephoning about 350,000 taxpayers who have yet to file their returns.

The campaign represents a concerted attempt to reduce the number of taxpayers who miss the annual filing deadline.

Despite an automatic £100 fine for anyone filing their tax return after 31 January - plus interest charges on tax paid late - the number of people who miss the deadline has stubbornly remained at around 10 per cent over the past five years. Last year, more than 900,000 of the 9.8 million taxpayers who received returns failed to get their forms in to the Revenue before the deadline.

"It's been a remarkably constant number in recent years - there does seem to be a hard core of taxpayers who are determined not to file their returns on time, even though they end up incurring a penalty," a spokesman for the Revenue said.

"There will be an upsurge in advertising and campaigning over the coming weeks in order to try and get that number down."

This year, the Revenue is particularly keen to encourage people to use its internet-based filing facility, after significant increases in the number of returns filed online last year.

There is some evidence that this approach is working. By 16 December, the Revenue had received more than 900,000 returns over the internet, a 30 per cent increase on the same time last year.

However, a significant majority of taxpayers leave filing their return until the last minute. Around 38 per cent of all returns filed last year were received in January, even though the forms are sent out in the previous April. The Revenue has tried to reduce the number of people required to complete tax returns by exempting those with straightforward affairs from the system. However, the number of taxpayers covered by self assessment has continued to rise, because of an increase in the number of higher-rate taxpayers, who usually need to complete a form. Last year's total of 9.8 million taxpayers who were sent returns was 300,000 up on the previous year.

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