Tax & admin · 30 January 2018

Taxpayers urged to challenge HMRC penalty for late submissions

HMRC issues an instant £100 fine as soon as the midnight deadline is missed

Taxpayers who miss the 31 January self-assessment deadline have been advised to consider whether they have a legitimate case to challenge HMRC’s late submission penalty.

The tax office recently reiterated its penalties for late submissions, and those who miss Wednesday’s midnight deadline will automatically receive a £100 fine. Even if no tax is owed, filings must still be submitted.

However, the Low Incomes Tax Reform Group (LITRG) has urged taxpayers unlikely to meet the deadline to consider whether their own circumstances may constitute a “reasonable excuse”.

A reasonable excuse would need to involve something out of the taxpayer’s control, such as an unexpected hospital stay or severe weather disruptions. If a reasonable excuse is approved by HMRC, the individual must still file a submission as soon as the excuse has ceased.

HMRC excuses


Revealed: HMRC’s worst self-assessment excuses

Here are some of the most fanciful self-assessment excuses received following last year’s 31 January deadline, all of which were rejected by HMRC.


An online SA370 appeal form is available from GOV.UK which may be submitted with a late tax return. HMRC will then review the penalty decision, but crucially is not the final arbiter of any disputes between taxpayers. A tax tribunal may be called to hear appeals against HMRC’s decision.

Reminding taxpayers of the process, Robin Williamson, LITRG technical director, said: “It is important that people are aware of their rights as well as their obligations, and are not alarmed unduly if contacted by HMRC.

“There is a danger that people may feel panicked by penalty notices from the tax office and just pay financial sanctions for filing self-assessment forms late, without considering that there may be a legitimate reason for their delay in filing that may make them eligible for special treatment.”

What constitutes a reasonable excuse?

To help taxpayers understand whether their circumstances could be considered out of their own control, LITRG outlined general guidance for reasonable excuses.

  1. Your partner or another close relative died shortly before the tax return or payment deadline
  2. You had an unexpected stay in hospital that prevented you from dealing with your tax affairs
  3. You had a serious or life-threatening illness
  4. Your computer or software failed just before or while you were preparing your online return
  5. Service issues with HMRC online services
  6. A fire, flood or theft prevented you from completing your tax return
  7. Postal delays that you could not have predicted

Williamson added: “If someone who is charged a penalty for inaccuracy in their return believes their mistake was not careless as defined by HMRC, but an honest mistake despite taking reasonable care, then they should contest the penalty notice.

“As with challenging a late filing penalty on grounds of reasonable excuse, they can ask for their case to be reviewed by a different officer from the one who made the decision and/or have their appeal heard by an independent tax tribunal.”

On 31 January 2017, 840,000 people missed the midnight deadline and risked facing the £100 HMRC penalty.

If you have filed your tax return but still need to pay it off to HMRC, our helpful payment guide explains every option

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Praseeda Nair is the editorial director of Business Advice, and its sister publication for growing businesses, Real Business. She's an impassioned advocate for women in leadership, and likes to profile business owners, advisors and experts in the field of entrepreneurship and management.

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