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Tax return deadlines and penalties

There are some key dates each year when you must send in your tax return and make payments. It's important you are aware of these dates. If you miss them you may have to pay interest and penalties. This guide is about the penalties introduced by HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) on 6 April 2011.

Do you need to fill in a tax return?

HMRC will contact you, usually in April, if they think you need to fill in a tax return.

You'll receive a letter which explains when you'll need to send your return back. If you have previously sent your return on paper, you'll receive a paper tax return.

If HMRC hasn’t contacted you, but you think you may need to complete a tax return, please follow the link below to check.

If HMRC asks you to complete a tax return, but you don't think you need to, it's important you let HMRC know as soon as possible. If you don't, you may have to pay a penalty.

Deadlines for sending in your tax return

31 October: all paper returns

If you send a paper tax return, it must reach HMRC by midnight on 31 October.

You only have longer than this if you received the letter, telling you to send a tax return, after 31 July. In this case you'll have three months from the date you received that letter.

31 January: online returns

Your online tax return must reach HMRC by midnight on 31 January.

You only have longer than this if you received the letter, telling you to send a tax return, after 31 October. In this case you'll have three months from the date you received that letter.

There's an earlier deadline of 30 December if you want HMRC to collect any tax you owe through your tax code. You now can ask for this if you owe less than £3,000. Please show this clearly on your tax return. HMRC will try to collect the tax due through your code, but they can't always do so.

Penalties if you miss the tax return deadline

If you miss the deadline, the longer you delay, the more you'll have to pay. So it's important to send your tax return to HMRC as soon as you can.

Penalties for missing the tax return deadline

Length of delay Penalty you will have to pay 
1 day late A fixed penalty of £100. This applies even if you have no tax to pay or have paid the tax you owe.
3 months late £10 for each following day - up to a 90 day maximum £900. This is as well as the fixed penalty above.
6 months late £300 or 5% of the tax due, whichever is the higher. This is as well as the penalties above.
12 months late £300 or 5% of the tax due, whichever is the higher. In serious cases you may be asked to pay up to 100% of the tax due instead. These are as well as the penalties above.

Example

Mrs A's tax return is due on 31 January 2012 but HMRC don't receive it until 5 August 2012.

It is over six months late so she will have to pay all of the following:

  • £100 fixed penalty
  • £900 penalty - this is £10 each day from 1 May to 29 July, when the maximum 90 day penalty is reached
  • £300 or 5 per cent of the tax due - whichever is the higher

Having a reasonable excuse for missing the deadline

You won't have to pay a penalty if you have a reasonable excuse for missing the deadline. For example, there may have been an exceptional or unexpected event, beyond your control, that meant you couldn't send your return on time. In this case, you must send your return as soon as possible once the problem ends.

There are no hard and fast rules but some examples of what HMRC may consider a reasonable excuse are:

  • documents lost through theft, fire or flood that you can't replace in time
  • life-threatening illness, for example a heart attack that prevents you dealing with your tax affairs
  • death of a partner shortly before the deadline date
  • industrial action by Royal Mail over a lengthy period of time
  • issues with the online service, with no work-round - you'll need to provide the error message you received

If you believe you have a reasonable excuse, you can ask HMRC to reconsider a penalty. They will look carefully at the information you provided and any other available evidence. You should tell HMRC as soon as possible - don’t wait until you receive the penalty.

You should write to HMRC with:

  • your name and Unique Taxpayer Reference - you'll find this on your tax return or statement
  • the date you sent your return
  • the reason why it was late

HMRC can't accept this information over the telephone.

Receiving a tax estimate if your return is late

If you don't send your return by the deadline HMRC may estimate the tax you owe. You will also have to pay interest from the date the tax should have been paid. You can only change this estimate by sending your tax return. You will also have to pay any penalties due for missing the tax return deadline.

Deadlines for paying your tax

31 January

You must pay any tax you owe by 31 January following the end of the tax year. For example, for the tax year 2010-11 (ending on 5 April 2011) you must pay any tax you owe by 31 January 2012. The payment deadline is the same for both paper and online returns.

You’ll need to pay one or both of the following:

  • any tax you still owe for the previous tax year
  • the first of two 'payments on account'

Payments on account are part payments towards your next tax bill. HMRC won't always require you to pay these, it'll depend on the amount of tax due and the kind of income you receive.

HMRC will usually send you a ‘Self Assessment Statement’ that shows how much you owe. If you don't receive this, you'll need to work out the tax due yourself. You can use your tax calculation and previous statements or log in to HMRC Online Services and use the 'View Account' option.

31 July

This is your deadline for making any further payments on account if HMRC have asked you to.

For example, on 31 July 2011 you would make your second payment on account for the 2010-11 tax year.

Interest and penalties if you don't pay your tax on time

If you don't pay the tax you owe for the previous tax year on time, the longer you delay, the more you'll have to pay. So it's important to pay HMRC as soon as you can.

Penalties for paying late

 Length of delay Penalty you will have to pay 
30 days late 5% of the tax you owe at that date 
6 months late 5% of the tax you owe at that date. This is as well as the 5% above.
12 months late 5% of the tax unpaid at that date. This is as well as the two 5% penalties above.

The penalties above do not apply to any payments on account that you pay late.

Interest charges if you pay late

You will have to pay interest on anything you owe and haven't paid, including any unpaid penalties, until HMRC receives your payment.

Example

Mr T's tax for the 2010-11 tax year is due on 31 January 2012. HMRC don't receive it until 5 Aug 2012.

It is over six months late so he will have to pay all of the following:

  • 5 per cent of the tax unpaid at 1 March (30 days after the date the tax was due)
  • 5 per cent of the tax unpaid at 1 August (five months after the first penalty) 
  • interest on all outstanding amounts, including any unpaid penalties

Late return and payment penalties before 6 April 2011

In some cases, you may have to pay a penalty under the 'old rules' that applied before 6 April 2011. For example, if HMRC asked you to fill in a 2009-10 tax return and you still haven't sent it back.

Follow the link below to find out more.

More useful links

Provided by HM Revenue and Customs

  • Source Direct Gov
  • Last Updated: 06 Jan 2012