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

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

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

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.