What happens if you don't fill out your tax return?

Well, according to HMRC, you won't get "inner peace".

Where did the time go? 31st January is less than a week away.

With online submissions nowadays isn’t everything much smoother and quicker and all done well before time? If this is your first online return and you have sat on your paperwork so that you are only now getting around to it you will probably already be too late if you haven’t at least registered online. In this world of being online, I’m afraid HMRC still use the good old fashioned postal system to send you the activation code you will need to submit your online return. This can take up to seven days to reach you — perhaps even longer in the snow!

So I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but if you are late for this very important date you will be hit with an automatic £100 fine, even if you have no tax to pay or are paying your tax on time. 

If you are more than three months late in filing your return, there will be a daily fine of £10 up until the 90-day period, amounting to £900. HMRC has also now imposed an additional £300 penalty or 5 per cent of the total tax payable (whichever is higher) for those self assessment returns that are six months late. The same applies again for being 12 months late. In serious cases, the penalty can be 100 per cent of the tax payable.

In order to avoid late filing penalties it is advisable to submit an estimated return (if you have your activation code that is). You will need to provide an explanation of why certain figures are estimates and you will, of course, need to remember to send in the actual figures as soon as you have received these.

HMRC’s 2013 advertising campaign encourages people to "do it today, pay what you owe and take a load off your mind", so they can experience "inner peace".
   
Remember, even if you have professionals dealing with your affairs, preparing and submitting your returns they are limited by the amount of information you have provided, within a timescale they no doubt advised you of last April. So if you are only now discharging your duty by emailing everything to your adviser remember you’ll still be personally held responsible if they don’t meet the deadline.

It’s not just filing your return that counts. Whatever you do, don’t forget that payment of tax is also due on 31 January. It is important to make payment, even if no payslip is received. If tax is not paid, interest will run immediately. If tax is still outstanding after 28 February you will be subject to a 5 per cent surcharge. And all this is on top of any late filing penalties.

Anybody with any difficulties paying their taxes must inform HMRC ahead of time to take advantage of the Business Payment Support Service, an initiative of HMRC to help business and individuals with their tax payments.

When it comes to tax payments and returns, punctuality definitely pays off.

Fiona Poole is a senior associate at private client law firm Maurice Turnor Gardner LLP

This article first appeared on Spear's.

31st January is less than a week away. Photograph: Getty Images

Fiona Poole is a senior associate at private client law firm Maurice Turnor Gardner LLP

Photo: Getty
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Scotland's vast deficit remains an obstacle to independence

Though the country's financial position has improved, independence would still risk severe austerity. 

For the SNP, the annual Scottish public spending figures bring good and bad news. The good news, such as it is, is that Scotland's deficit fell by £1.3bn in 2016/17. The bad news is that it remains £13.3bn or 8.3 per cent of GDP – three times the UK figure of 2.4 per cent (£46.2bn) and vastly higher than the white paper's worst case scenario of £5.5bn. 

These figures, it's important to note, include Scotland's geographic share of North Sea oil and gas revenue. The "oil bonus" that the SNP once boasted of has withered since the collapse in commodity prices. Though revenue rose from £56m the previous year to £208m, this remains a fraction of the £8bn recorded in 2011/12. Total public sector revenue was £312 per person below the UK average, while expenditure was £1,437 higher. Though the SNP is playing down the figures as "a snapshot", the white paper unambiguously stated: "GERS [Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland] is the authoritative publication on Scotland’s public finances". 

As before, Nicola Sturgeon has warned of the threat posed by Brexit to the Scottish economy. But the country's black hole means the risks of independence remain immense. As a new state, Scotland would be forced to pay a premium on its debt, resulting in an even greater fiscal gap. Were it to use the pound without permission, with no independent central bank and no lender of last resort, borrowing costs would rise still further. To offset a Greek-style crisis, Scotland would be forced to impose dramatic austerity. 

Sturgeon is undoubtedly right to warn of the risks of Brexit (particularly of the "hard" variety). But for a large number of Scots, this is merely cause to avoid the added turmoil of independence. Though eventual EU membership would benefit Scotland, its UK trade is worth four times as much as that with Europe. 

Of course, for a true nationalist, economics is irrelevant. Independence is a good in itself and sovereignty always trumps prosperity (a point on which Scottish nationalists align with English Brexiteers). But if Scotland is to ever depart the UK, the SNP will need to win over pragmatists, too. In that quest, Scotland's deficit remains a vast obstacle. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.