With the personal tax deadline of 31st January fast approaching, HMRC has issued a reminder to those completing their Self Assessment for the first time that they must register with HMRC Online Services by the 21st in order to receive their activation PIN number in time to file.

Self Assessment can be a confusing process for first-timers, involving multiple levels of “registration” – first to receive a Unique Taxpayer Reference number, which must then be used to register for HMRC Online Services – the self-serve platform where the tax return itself is completed. HMRC recommends leaving six weeks to complete the entire process, as issuing taxpayers with a UTR number can often be a slow process.

Last year a total of 10.34 million individuals were registered to complete a Self Assessment tax return, with some 730,000 missing the deadline and incurring a ¬£100 instant penalty. With HMRC’s customer service centres under such a high load, delays can often be exacerbated in late January. Hold times of an hour or more are not uncommon on deadline day, and HMRC Online Services is prone to sluggish performance and crashing.

With an estimated 10.9 million due to file this year, these problems could be further compounded. Filing figures for the festive season were up slightly on last year Рaround 17,000 people filed their tax return on Christmas Eve, up 19% on December 2012. Christmas Day saw a more modest 1% rise, and Boxing Day recorded 4% more returns than last year.

The last day of January is also the deadline for filing any owed tax.