The Inland Revenue has left taxpayers unable to file returns over the internet for the second time in barely a week after its website was again taken offline.
The Inland Revenue admitted the site had been down since 6.00am yesterday and would not be back up until midnight tonight. A spokesman said the site had been taken down for regular maintenance work and apologised for any inconvenience. The deadline for self-assessment tax returns is less than 30 days away and those who fail to meet the deadline will be fined £100 plus interest.
It is the second time in just over a week that the Revenue has had to suspend its online operation for maintenance work. The spokesman insisted there was nothing unusual about this. But since The Independent on Sunday revelations of the first incident - at Christmas, when the site crashed days before another self-assessment deadline - readers have contacted the IoS cataloguing a raft of errors.
John Guy, a sixth form college principal, who lives in Camberley, said yesterday he had now spent a week trying to file his accounts. "I tried earlier this week to go online but the system was not working. So I put aside this weekend to do it - and it's not something I enjoy - only to find that it is offline again and will be until midnight Sunday - so it's a wasted weekend," he said.
"I then asked whether the deadline was going to be put back in light of this. They said no, as they have taken the view that the returns should have been done earlier."
One Apple Macintosh user, Colin Gibson, who designs websites for a living, said: "I spent all last weekend trying to submit tax returns online but was unable to get onto any of the relevant pages.
"A lot of people are going to go beyond the self-assessment deadline through no fault of their own."
And reader Trevor Jones was told just before Christmas there had been a problem with Macs for around six weeks and that he had to submit paper returns.
The spokesman admitted the Revenue knew of the problem and insisted only a "very small percentage" were affected. He did not know when it would be fixed.
But despite the encouragement to taxpayers to go electronic, the hiccoughs are not new. Richard Makin thought he had filed his tax returns online in November 2002, only for the Inland Revenue to fine him for failure to file. He was later informed the figures had been lost. The returns eventually turned up several months later before, he claims, being lost again.
"I would advise the Inland Revenue to hire a few schoolkids who know about running a website, not the clowns they have now," he said.
Another reader's returns were also lost after being filed online. Neil Turnbull added that the Revenue handled the matter "very badly".
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