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

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Does the UK care enough about climate change to admit it is part of the problem?

The government’s energy policies make can make it hard to decipher its commitment to emissions reduction.

“People tell me it’s ridiculous to be flying for a climate change project but you have to get real with it, I mean I can’t cycle across the Southern ocean,” says Daniel Price, an environmental scientist from London. As founder of Pole-to-Paris, Price is about to complete a 17,000km bike ride from the Antarctic to the Arc de Triomphe.

Price came up with the idea in an effort to raise public awareness of COP21, the UN Climate Change Conference taking place in Paris next week. During the trip he’s faced a succession of set-backs: from the discovery that boats were prohibitively expensive, to diplomatic tensions scuppering his Russian visa plans. Yet the darkest moments were when he became overwhelmed by the magnitude of his own mission. “There were difficult times when I just thought, ‘What is the point of this’?” he says. “Cycling round the world is nowhere near enough to engage people.” 

As world leaders descend on Paris, many questions remain unanswered. Not least how much support developing nations will receive in tackling the effects of climate change. New research commissioned by Oxfam claims that such costs could rise to £1.7tn a year by 2050. But with cuts kicking in at home, the need to deliver “climate justice” abroad feels like a bigger ask than ever.

So does Britain really care enough about climate change to accept its full part in this burden? The government’s energy policies make can make it hard to decipher its commitment to emissions reduction. In September, however, it did pledge £5.8bn from the foreign aid fund to helping poorer nations combat climate change (twice that promised by China and the United States). And there’s evidence to suggest that we, as a public, may also care more than we think.

In America attitudes are much darker; in the dismissive words of Donald Trump “It’s called the weather”. Not least since, as a recent study proves, over the last twenty years corporations have systematically spread scepticism about the science. “The contrarian efforts have been so effective," says the author Justin Farrell, a Yale sociologist, "that they have made it difficult for ordinary Americans to even know who to trust.” 

And what about in China, the earth's biggest polluter? Single-party rule and the resulting lack of public discussion would seem to be favouring action on the environment. The government has recently promised to reach "peak" emissions by 2030, to quadruple solar installations, and to commit $3.1bn to help low-income countries adapt to the changing world. Christiana Figueres, the UN’s chief climate official, has even lauded the country for taking “undisputed leadership” on climate change mitigation.

Yet this surge of policy could mask the most troubling reality of all: that, when it comes to climate change, the Chinese are the least concerned citizenship in the world. Only 18 per cent of Chinese see the issue as a very serious problem, down 23 percentage points from five years ago, and 36 points behind the global median.

A new study by political economist Dr Alex Lo has concluded that the country’s reduced political debate could be to blame for the lack of concern. “In China popular environmentalism is biased towards immediate environmental threats”, such as desertification and pollution, Lo writes, “giving little impetus to a morally driven climate change movement”.

For the international community, all is well and good as long as the Chinese government continues along its current trajectory. But without an engaged public to hold it to account there’s always a chance its promises may fade into thin air.

So perhaps the UK’s tendency to moan about how hard it is to care about the (seemingly) remote impacts of climate change isn’t all bad. At least we know it is something worth moaning about. And perhaps we care more than we let on to each other.

Statistics published this summer by the Department of Energy and Climate Change reveal that three quarters of the British public support subsidies for renewable energy, despite only 10 per cent thinking that the figure is that high. “Even if the public think the consensus is not there, there are encouraging signs that it is,” says Liz Callegari, Head of Campaigns at WWF. “Concern for climate change is growing.”

As Price puts it, “You can think of climate change as this kind of marathon effort that we have to address and in Paris we just have to get people walking across the start line together”. Maybe then we will all be ready to run.

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.