Sober up for the tax return

After "buy the turkey" and "wrap Aunt Ethel's slippers", everyone should put fill in the tax return on their list of things to do this Christmas.

At this time of year, the last thing anyone wants to think about is something as sobering as a tax return. But the deadline for sending back those forms is looming, especially if you take into account the inevitable delays over the extended holiday period.

Taxpayers have until 31 January to file returns for the tax year 1998- 1999 and to pay any tax owed or face an automatic pounds 100 fine. To avoid a fine, an estimated five million taxpayers need to get moving to ensure that they get everything back to the Inland Revenue in good time.

Even if you cannot face filling out the return until after the Christmas holiday, you should ensure at least that you have the correct forms from the Inland Revenue. Don't take it for granted that it will have sent you the right ones either. Check all the pages are there - as well as the core eight-page document, you will need separate pages for employment, self-employment, or property you may be letting. If anything is missing, contact the Revenue at once.

To fill out your return you also need to gather together information about your financial circumstances. This includes bank and building society statements, any dividend vouchers you may have, your P60 or P45, payslips and details of any redundancy payments.

You will also need a record of expenses incurred while carrying out your business, backed up with receipts. These are not sent in with your tax return but you do need to keep them safe for your personal records.

If it all looks too much like hard work, now is the time to consult a professional. Ideally, get a recommendation from a friend or colleague and agree how much it is going to cost you in advance.

Help the Aged can also call on the services of a number of tax experts who will fill in your tax return. The service costs pounds 75 for fairly straightforward returns; more if your tax situation is complicated. All profits go to the charity.

Contacts: www.inlandrevenue.gov.uk; Help the Aged, 0800 056 5535.

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