There had been speculation for some time now that HM Revenues and Customs was going to have a rethink when it came to imposing automatic £100 penalties for the late filing of self-assessment.
Well, it appears this has now happened if the articles from the Daily Telegraph and BBC are to be believed. From an accountant’s point of view, that decision is particularly welcome.
So what exactly has happened? Well, HMRC has confirmed that people who filed late tax returns for the end of the last tax year have been let off paying a £100 fine even though they missed the deadline at midnight on 31 January.
The information was disclosed by the Daily Telegraph via a leaked memo, which also claimed the new measure could potentially affect up to 890,000 tax payers. However, the penalty has only been waived for individuals who provide a “reasonable” excuse for being late.
A spokesman for HMRC said it wanted to focus more resources “on investigating major tax avoidance and evasion”.
The Telegraph report says the internal memo asks tax officials to remit fines without further investigation for those people who could show mitigating circumstances, and who appealed against the fine after their tax return was sent in.
Why has HM Revenues and Customs taken this decision now?
Well, the tax authority is facing a backlog of almost a million letters and staff have been taken off call centre duties to work through the mail, according to the newspaper.
The Telegraph quotes the memo as saying:
“Our penalty regime is intended to influence customer behaviour, but also be clear and cost-effective, fair, and proportionate.”
“The current way of managing penalties does not meet these objectives, and so we have decided to take a more proportionate approach where a customer has filed their return late, and then appealed against their penalty…”
“This means that in the vast majority of cases we will be accepting the customer’s grounds for appeal, and we can cancel the penalty.”
A HMRC spokesman said it had “always accepted” those with a reasonable excuse should have a penalty waived, and it was now “expediting that process”.
A statement on the tax returns added:
“We’ve been clear we want to focus more and more of our resources on investigating major tax avoidance and evasion rather than penalising ordinary people who are trying to do the right thing.
“But no one will be let off the fine unless they’ve now sent in their return and have a good reason for sending it in late.”
“This is part of our planned approach to penalty appeals, particularly for small businesses and individuals who have sent their tax return in late.”
So what constitutes a ‘reasonable excuse’ for late payment? Well, the list is surprisingly broad, and includes ‘excuses’ the tax authority originally said it was unlikely to accept. On its website HMRC lists a number of possible excuses including the death of a family member, a stay in hospital, a computer failure, fire, or postal delays.
Paul Lewis, the presenter of BBC Radio 4’s Money Box programme, explained HMRC’s new stance on late payment penalties, saying:
“This isn’t an amnesty. If you filed late and you’ve got a penalty and you haven’t appealed then you will have to pay. But if you appealed, and by now have filled the form in, then the chances are, the overwhelming majority… will be accepted.”
If you’d like any further information on the self-assessment system or advice on whether you could be eligible for a refund of a late payment penalty, call Steven Glicher accountants on 0161 405 8007 or email info@.