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Please excuse me

Some of the more unusual reasons for late filing of tax returns

For those of us who are less organised, perhaps prone to procrastination or always leave things to the last minute, we nevertheless have to turn our attention to the annual task of filling in our Self Assessment tax return and ensuring it gets to HMRC by 31st January to avoid a late filing penalty. Sometimes, however, there are valid reasons for not being able to file a tax return on time but an individual must be able to prove that they have a ‘reasonable excuse’ to avoid the £100 fine.

What is a reasonable excuse?

‘Reasonable excuse’ is not defined by legislation but the following may constitute such for the purposes of a late filed tax return:

  • your partner or another close relative died shortly before the tax return or payment deadline
  • you had an unexpected stay in hospital that prevented you from dealing with your tax affairs
  • you had a serious or life threatening illness
  • your computer or software failed just before or while you were preparing your online return
  • services issues with HMRC online services
  • a fire, flood or theft prevented you from completing your tax return
  • postal delays that you couldn’t have predicted
  • disability

Not a reasonable excuse

The following won’t be accepted as a reasonable excuse:

  • you relied on someone else to file your return and they didn’t
  • you found the HMRC online system too difficult to use
  • you didn’t get a reminder from HMRC
  • you made a mistake on your tax return

Some folk however attempt to stretch the boundaries of ‘reasonable excuse’ and some of the most recent frivolous and amusing excuses include:

  1. “My tax return was on my yacht……which caught fire.”
  2. “A wasp in my car caused me to have an accident and my tax return, which was inside, was destroyed.”
  3. “My wife helps me with my tax return, but she had a headache for ten days.”
  4. “My dog ate my tax return……and all of the reminders.”
  5. “I couldn’t complete my tax return, because my husband left me and took our accountant with him. I am currently trying to find a new accountant.”
  6. “My child scribbled all over the tax return, so I wasn’t able to send it back.”
  7. “I work for myself, but a colleague borrowed my tax return to photocopy it and lost it.”
  8. “My husband told me the deadline was 31st March.”
  9. “The postman doesn’t deliver to my house.”

All of these were used in unsuccessful appeals against late filing penalties.

Ruth Owen, HMRC Director General of Customer Services, said:

“Blaming the postman, arguing with family members and pesky insects – it’s easy to see that some excuses for not completing a tax return on time can be more questionable than others. Luckily, it’s only a small minority who chance their arm.”

For those of you who are still to file their 2016 tax return, don’t leave it to the last minute as another excuse that also failed was, “my internet connection failed.” This does appear a little curious when some of the acceptable reasonable excuses are associated with technological failure. On that note, I must get on with my own return!

By Andy Vessey

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