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The Self Assessment is the dirty laundry of the business world – you know it needs doing, but you put it off again and again, hoping that somehow it’ll do itself. Eventually January rolls around and you realise there’s no avoiding it any more.
You’re not the only one procrastinating – in January 2014 2.8 million people (over a quarter of those due to file) completed their return in the final four days before January 31st. Predictably, deadline day is historically the busiest single day for filing. Over 5% of total returns due – 569,847 – were filed in the final 24 hours this year. Some 710,000 people still missed the filing deadline in 2014 though, and in the last six years HMRC has raked in over £70 million in fines from those filing late.
HMRC have a torrid history of flaky service during Self Assessment season. In 2012 the deadline was extended after call centre staff went out on strike on January 31st, and this year certain groups of filers were given a two week extension. HMRC has also faced stability issues with its Online Services, the website used to complete Self Assessments online. At its peak HMRC Online Services processes around 12 returns per second.
All of this may lead you to one inevitable conclusion: that it makes sense to file early – and you’d be right! But avoiding fines isn’t the only advantage to expeditious personal tax filing.
Although you may choose to file your Self Assessment early, your tax bill still isn’t actually due until January 31st. So if you file in July you’ll have a full six months to budget for any tax you owe. Conversely, if you file in January but find you don’t have enough money to actually pay your taxes, you’ll be in line for one of HMRC’s famous on-the-spot £100 fines.
Every so often you’ll have overpaid your personal tax, and HMRC will actually owe you money. In these rare instances you’ll often get your refund shortly after you file – meaning you’ll get a potentially sizeable cash bonus and can buy yourself something nice – or go the responsible route and save it.
If you’ve ever attempted to get in touch with HMRC’s personal tax helplines in January you’ll most likely know their hold music by heart. Wait times stretching into hours are not uncommon – an internal HMRC report in March this year even found that as many as a quarter of calls to HMRC’s helplines go totally unanswered.
Filing early will help you avoid the rush, and get help direct from HMRC when you need it.
A survey last year found that one in five micro-business owners were anxious about completing their Self Assessment – with one in twenty admitting they were “terrified”. With the number of self-employed workers in the UK growing faster than ever, more and more people are facing their first ever filing – in fact the number of people required to file has increased by over 1 million in just the last four years.
Filing early will mean you can avoid the mid-January dread felt by many freelancers and contractors, and enjoy a well-earned worry-free rest over the festive period. HMRC even used this angle in its most recent advertising push, promising taxpayers they would “find inner peace” by filing on time.
This is the most obvious benefit, but filing early will give you time to address any problems and avoid HMRC’s late filing penalties. For the uninitiated, those penalties are:
In 2012 David Cameron’s Behavioural Insight Team – a group tasked with finding “intelligent ways to encourage, support and enable people to make better choices for themselves” floated the idea of offering a £100,000 prize to anyone who filed their Self Assessment before the end of November. The idea came after the success of a similar scheme which offered a £25,000 prize for people moving their Council Tax payments to Direct Debit, which was estimated to have saved local authorities around £350,000.
Two years later the proposal has yet to be implemented – but you never know!
As Moira Stuart is so fond of telling us, tax doesn’t have to be taxing. Leave it to the last minute, however, and it certainly will be! If you’re a Crunch client, log in and click the Personal tax tab to get started, or find out more about our Self Assessment service.
It’s important to know exactly what’s required long before the first time you need to file, as you’ll need to keep certain records, and to get in touch with your accountant to get certain forms.
To help out first-timers (or just those who need to brush up on their tax return skills) we’ve put together a dead simple 5-step guide to completing your Self Assessment.