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Personal Finance: A guide to the tax web

TAXPAYERS covered by self-assessment, mainly the self-employed, or those with several sources of investment income, have until the end of this month to send in their returns if they want the Revenue to work out their tax.

The ultimate deadline for returns from the 1997-98 tax year is 31 January, but leaving it until then means calculating the tax due and sending the money with the return. There are heavy penalties for mistakes.

Tax return service The Tax Team has launched a web site that aims to help taxpayers with self-assessment. It gives on-line quotes for The Tax Team's fixed-fee service.

Employed taxpayers click on a series of options about their tax affairs, including whether they have a company car or other benefits, investment income, income from property or from overseas. The web site then determines whether they will need the basic, standard or premium service - or a tailored solution. For most people the standard service at pounds 175 (including VAT) should be enough.

For the self-employed, there is no questionnaire as The Tax Team bases its fees on turnover, at pounds 300 to pounds 500, plus VAT.

If you want to fill in your own return, the web site gives some help and information for free. The company produces a series of tax fact sheets that can be ordered free from the site and arrive through the normal post.

There are also on-line tax tips for the tax return. Here, advisers point out areas on the form that trip up taxpayers, or might attract unwelcome Revenue attention.

The Inland Revenue itself has its own highly developed, and useful self- assessment web pages. The site starts with a cute animated graphic of Hector the Inspector, the character behind the Revenue's self-assessment publicity. Behind the cartoon pictures, there is practically all the official information that anyone would need on self-assessment, including the forms themselves and all the supplementary pages.

This is quite a long list. Visitors to the site can download the forms and guides, and print them out, as long as they have Adobe Acrobat document reader software. This is also available from the site.

Other features of the Revenue site - organised into dog-eared manila folders in a government issue grey filing cabinet - include a step-by- step guide to tackling the tax return, and a timetable with all the key dates for self-assessment.

The Revenue publishes a list of common mistakes to avoid, such as not completing all the boxes and not signing the form.

The Revenue maintains that self-assessment need not be difficult if you are organised and file papers throughout the year. To that end the web pages include a guide on record keeping, explaining the papers taxpayers need to keep, and for how long.

Contacts: Inland Revenue, www.inlandrevenue.gov.uk; Tax Team, www.thetaxteam.co.uk