It seems wrong to panic people about the upcoming deadline for self-assessment returns, but… BE QUICK, HURRY, GET A MOVE ON – BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE!!

The deadline for online returns is midnight on January 31 (the cut off point for paper returns was back in October) and it’s important to emphasise that not only must your self-assessment be filed, it must also be paid.

The latest statistics suggest an estimated 9 million people have yet to do their returns – a few of which will hopefully have filed theirs over the weekend. As a result, there are concerns over a last minute rush which HMRCs website may find too hot to handle; though HMRC insist their systems are “robust.”

There’s also a concern over those who haven’t filed a return before. First-timers will have to apply online for a unique code which HMRC will send through the post. This can take up to seven days, and there are reports of the process taking even longer.

For those freelancers, contractors and small business owners who require advice from HMRC’s helpline, they may be in for a wait. The massive job cuts at Revenue and Customs is certain to have an impact on the number of customer service personnel taking calls and helping to complete the online forms. Anecdotal evidence certainly suggests this is the case.

2011 deadlines and fines

January 31: The penalties for failing to complete and pay your self-assessment return can quickly mount up. If you miss the deadline there is an automatic £100 fine, regardless of whether you owe anything. Interest will immediately be added for non-payment.

February 28: If you still haven’t paid your self-assessment, a 5% additional charge will be automatically added.

July 31: Still haven’t paid up? The punishment is: another £100 fixed fine, and another 5% surcharge.

October 31: This is the deadline for the 2010/2011 paper-based self-assessment return. The balance must be paid by January 31.

Good luck and happy returns!