Tax & admin · 30 January 2017

Going to miss the self-assessment deadline? Find out the excuses you will need

It is advisable to demonstrate that you have made some effort to overcome the problems you have reported
The self-assessment deadline is approaching fast, which means time is ticking on if you’re one of the millions of small business owners that still hasn’t filed their tax return.

UK business owners must submit their self-assessment tax return to HMRC by midnight on 31 January or face an automatic penalty of 100 for late filing. But for the million or so people that HMRC estimates fail to file their tax returns in time each year, is there any way of avoiding a fine?

Here Emily Coltman, chief accountant to cloud accounting software provider FreeAgent, looks at some of the reasons that HMRC will accept for late filing.

Do you have a reasonable? excuse for missing the self-assessment deadline?

HMRC will only accept what itdeems to be reasonable excuses? as valid reasons for missing the self-assessment deadline.

According to its criteria, this is when some unforeseeable or unusual event beyond your control has prevented you from filing your return on time.

HMRC highlights potential occasions such as the following as examples:

  • When there’s a failure in the HMRC computer system that prevents you from filing
  • When your computer breaks down just before or during the preparation of your online return
  • When you contract a serious illness, disability or serious mental health condition that makes you incapable of filing your tax return
  • When you have registered for HMRC Online Services but didn’t get your Activation Code in time to submit your tax return before the deadline
  • When important documents are lost through theft, fire, flood or similar circumstances and can’t be replaced before the self-assessment deadline. In these instances, HMRC will usually judge on a case by case basis and make a decision on whether they are reasonable excuses or not
Anything aside from these reasons is unlikely to be considered especially if it’s an excuse that is clearly your problem rather than an unforeseen technical, medical or geographical circumstance.

That means you won’t be able to use something like my dog ate my tax return? or my wife helps me with my tax return, but she had a headache for ten days? as a valid reason for not filing your return (both of which were genuine excuses that people tried to give to HMRC last year).

Youll need to prove your circumstances

If you believe that you have a reasonable excuse like the ones above, remember that HMRC will only accept them if they actually prevented you from filing your return on time when you otherwise would have done. HMRC is unlikely to be lenient if it believes that you are at fault for missing the deadline.

it’s therefore advisable to not only show proof of your situation to them, but also demonstrate that you have made some effort to overcome the problems.

HMRC will review each case on merit to decide whether it is a reasonable? excuse or not, so it is up to you to explain your case and put yourself in the best light as possible.

If you arent sure whether you have a valid reason for missing the deadline, speak to your accountant and get their advice or contact HMRC directly to explain your circumstances.

Just be prepared for the bad news that your excuse isnt considered reasonable by HMRC, and have 100 ready to pay the fine as soon as possible, so you don’t face any additional penalties down the line.

Remember you still have to file



Emily Coltman is chief accountant to FreeAgent, provider of cloud accounting software for freelancers, micro businesses and accountants. She is passionate about helping the owners of small and growing businesses to escape their ?fear of the numbers? and she translates small business finance and tax into practical common sense speak.