Each year in the run-up to the Self Assessment filing deadline, HMRC publish their annual 'Top 10 worst excuses for late tax returns'.  

If you are late in filing your Self Assessment tax return you may avoid the £100 late filing penalty if you have a reasonable excuse for late filing.  

In January 2016, HMRC published the following excuses, all of which were used in unsuccessful appeals against penalties for late 2013-14 returns.

  1. My tax papers were left in the shed and the rat ate them.
  2. I’m not a paperwork orientated person – I always relied on my sister to complete my returns but we have now fallen out.
  3. My accountant has been ill.
  4. My dog ate my tax return.
  5. I will be abroad on deadline day with no internet access so will be unable to file.
  6. My laptop broke, so did my washing machine.
  7. My niece had moved in – she made the house so untidy I could not find my log in details to complete my return online.
  8. My husband ran over my laptop.
  9. I had an argument with my wife and went to Italy for five years.
  10. I had a cold which took a long time to go.

HMRC’s Director General of Personal Tax, Ruth Owen, said, “Untidy family members and hungry pets are very unlikely* to be accepted as a legitimate excuse for completing your tax return late."

"We understand that life can be unpredictable and for those customers who have a genuine excuse for missing the 31 January deadline, such as the flooding, help is on hand. My advice would be to contact us through our helplines or online, as soon as possible. But for those who are trying to play the system, while the rest of us do the right thing, the message is clear: submit your tax return online by 31 January or face a fine. We’re here to help people in genuine distress, but not to act as a free lender to people who can’t meet their responsibilities to pay their tax."

Late filing penalties

Penalties for the late filing of Self Assessment Tax Returns are as follows:

  • An initial £100 fixed penalty, which applies even if there is no tax to pay, or if the tax due is paid on time.
  • After three months, additional daily penalties of £10 per day, up to a maximum of £900.
  • After six months, a further penalty of 5% of the tax due or £300, whichever is greater.
  • After 12 months, another 5% or £300 charge, whichever is greater.

Tax due is also payable by 31 January, with penalties for late payment of 5% of the tax unpaid at 30 days, six months and 12 months.

Never filed online under Self Assessment?

  • To send an online tax return, you must be registered for HMRC Online Services.
    • To register for HMRC Online Services go to the HMRC website and follow the on-screen instructions. You will need to go online and set up a Government Gateway account first and then you can log in.
    • Despite making taxpayers file online HMRC's first contact with you will be to send you an Activation Code by post. This may take days to arrive.
      • Waiting for an activation code is not viewed as a reasonable excuse for late filing either.
  • HMRC's Self Assessment helpline is 0300 200 3310.

* HMRC's view of what constitutes a reasonable excuse for late filing may not be the same as the tax tribunal's. For top tips on making a successful late filing penalty see How to appeal a tax penalty.

Useful guides on this topic

Penalties: Late Filing
Late returns can be subject to a mix of fixed and tax geared penalties. What penalties apply for late filing? Which penalty will apply and when? 

Appeals: Grounds for Appeal Toolkit
What grounds are there to appeal a tax penalty? How can you word a tax appeal? Can you appeal HMRC errors? What is a reasonable excuse?

Grounds for Appeal: Reasonable excuse
What is considered to be a 'reasonable excuse' when a taxpayer makes an appeal against a tax compliance failure?

How to appeal an HMRC decision
What type of decision can you appeal? What are your different options when you disagree with HMRC? What are the key steps in making an appeal?

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