Money: Four million face the penalty as DIY tax deadline elapses

More than half of the eight million taxpayers who received self-assessment forms had not returned them by today's deadline. Glenda Cooper, Consumer Affairs Correspondent, on the penalties facing those who are late.

Today is the deadline for filling in the new-style tax return. The Inland Revenue said yesterday that while it was expecting an influx of forms today as people ran to meet the deadline, there were still likely to be less than half successfully returned. Initial projections had set the figure at 4.8 million.

Of the 3.7 million who had returned their forms last week, four out of 10 have had some error and 6 per cent of them have had to be returned to taxpayers.

The forms were sent out earlier this year to people who have earnings where the full amount of tax is not deducted at source, including the self-employed and most higher rate taxpayers. The IR says the scheme amounts to a "simplification" of the previous procedure.

But Chris Maddock, a senior tax manager at Moores Rowland, a firm of chartered accountants, describes the form as a "very daunting" document. "Undoubtedly a lot of people will have woken up in the last week to get their form done by the deadline. If they did it by today then they will only have to enter details of their income and won't have to fill in their tax calculations so an awful lot of people will try to get it in this week.

"But when they actually come to the form it's quite daunting. The Revenue put an awful lot of effort into consultation to make it as straightforward as possible but the experience of most people is that it's very complicated, particularly for those who are self-employed."

Today's deadline means the Inland Revenue will guarantee to calculate your tax bill in time for 31 January, which is the main payment date under the system.

No financial penalty will be incurred by taxpayers for failing to get their form but it opens them up to the risk of having to pay interest on what they owe unless they work out their tax bill themselves.

However if you fail to get the form in by 31 January next year there is an automatic pounds 100 fine and you will be charged interest at 9.5 per cent on any owed tax not paid by then.

While the Revenue had stressed people would not need tax advisers and accountants, Mr Maddock said he believed many accountants had been picking up business. "The document stresses the penalties of not getting it in on time and it makes people think they've got to get it right, so although the Revenue say that there's no need for more accountants I can't say that they may be correct."

For those who have left posting the envelope until the last moment, the Post Office was reassuring. A spokesman said yesterday that they were confident the system would be able to cope if large numbers of forms were sent in the post. "No special provision has been made," he said. "We deal with 72 million items of post per day and the system is designed to cope with considerable fluctuations."

A form of torture

Of 25 million taxpayers, around 8 million have been sent the self- assessment tax forms. It mainly applies to the self-employed and most higher-rate taxpayers.

The Inland Revenue projected 4.8 million forms to be returned by 30 September.

Four out of 10 forms contain some error and 6 per cent have had to be returned to taxpayers

Today is the first deadline if you want the Inland Revenue to guarantee to calculate your tax for you by 31 January.

The second deadline is 31 January next year. If your form is not returned by then there is an automatic pounds 100 fine and you will be charged interest at 9.5 per cent on any owed tax not paid by then.

The Revenue's tax return helpline is open between 4.30pm and 10pm on weekdays, 8am to 10pm at weekends. Call 0645 000444.

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