PEPS: The Final Countdown: I'm late! (But not too late)

You want a PEP but you've left it till the last minute. Don't worry, all is not lost. By Guy Dennis
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The Independent Online
This year there is a coincidence that may have important implications if you are planning to invest in a PEP, but are susceptible to leaving things until the last minute. The last day of the tax year, and thus the final deadline if you want a PEP, is 5 April. Which is also Easter Monday and, being so, is preceded by Easter Sunday and Good Friday, complete with postal disruptions and closed offices. Thinking ahead will clearly be important in the next few weeks.

The investment industry is already doing so. In any normal year there are always hundreds of thousands of investors who leave their PEP applications until the deadline is looming. Last year, Perpetual had 8,000 applications on the very last day. And investment companies expect this year to be busier than ever, as people use their last chance to get a PEP.

Jo Roddan, public relations manager at Fidelity, says: "We think that sales are going to continue right up to the final hour." Consequently the company is keeping its offices open until 8pm over the weekend, and until midnight on Easter Monday to receive applications.

But as a private investor faced with the looming Easter deadline, what should you do? First, check when the deadline is for your preferred PEP. Although the Government's official deadline for the completion of all PEP applications is midnight on Easter Monday, in practical terms deadlines may be earlier.

Many large investment companies are staying open throughout the weekend and right up until midnight on the final day, like Fidelity, but others are responding to the Easter deadline by simply moving their own PEP deadlines forward. For example, SG Asset Management is imposing a deadline of noon on Thursday 1 April. In the past, people have applied for a PEP unaware that they have missed an early deadline, only to find out after the end of the tax year and too late to find an alternative, so beware.

Also, if you plan to use a discount PEP broker or apply via a financial adviser, your deadline may be earlier, so you need to check. In both cases the intermediary will have to turn your form around, adding time to the application process, and they may be closed for Easter even if the PEP providers are not.

Paul Penny, managing director of Financial Discounts Direct, the discount PEP broker, says: "Because they are coming through us, there is an extra day in the chain." He advises customers to ensure that their applications arrive at the company by 1 April, even though it will be open over the bank holiday weekend.

Getting your application form in at the beginning of this week also means there will be time to correct any mistakes. Roger Cornick, deputy chairman of Perpetual, says: "We normally cope with most issues, but if you haven't got the money in by midnight [on 5 April], which of course would be the case if you haven't signed your cheque, then you are in trouble. You've lost your opportunity."

By leaving plenty of time, you also avoid having to deal with the limited Easter postal service. On Good Friday there will be a limited collection service, and although there will be a normal postal service on Easter Saturday, there will be no deliveries or collections on Easter Monday.

The Post Office recommend that all PEP applications be sent by special delivery on Wednesday 31 March at the latest. This does need to be taken into account, although some investment companies and financial advisers are planning to hire couriers, and organising special services, for those lacking alacrity.

If you want a PEP and have still not applied by Easter Monday, despite all the advice to apply early, it is not necessarily too late. For example, Perpetual will have at least 13 collection points, all around the country, open until noon on Easter Monday. However, you will still have to get your form to one of them.

It is also worth bearing in mind that if you already have a PEP for this tax year, and just want to top it up, you may be able to do so over the phone or internet using a debit card like Switch or Delta. And many companies' phone lines are open until midnight on Easter Monday.

But the best advice is still to sort out your application or top-up early on: procrastination is the thief of PEPs.

`The Independent' has produced a free last-minute Guide to PEPs. The 28-page guide, written by Nic Cicutti, this paper's personal finance editor, discusses whether PEP investments might suit your needs, how to compare between them, what the tax benefits are - and aren't - and what their rules are.

If you are considering investing in a last-minute PEP, this guide, sponsored by Scottish Widows Fund Management, is the one for you. Call 0345 678910 to obtain your free copy.