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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Geoffrey Howe dies, aged 88

Howe was Margaret Thatcher's longest serving Cabinet minister – and the man credited with precipitating her downfall.

The former Conservative chancellor Lord Howe, a key figure in the Thatcher government, has died of a suspected heart attack, his family has said. He was 88.

Geoffrey Howe was the longest-serving member of Margaret Thatcher's Cabinet, playing a key role in both her government and her downfall. Born in Port Talbot in 1926, he began his career as a lawyer, and was first elected to parliament in 1964, but lost his seat just 18 months later.

Returning as MP for Reigate in the Conservative election victory of 1970, he served in the government of Edward Heath, first as Solicitor General for England & Wales, then as a Minister of State for Trade. When Margaret Thatcher became opposition leader in 1975, she named Howe as her shadow chancellor.

He retained this brief when the party returned to government in 1979. In the controversial budget of 1981, he outlined a radical monetarist programme, abandoning then-mainstream economic thinking by attempting to rapidly tackle the deficit at a time of recession and unemployment. Following the 1983 election, he was appointed as foreign secretary, in which post he negotiated the return of Hong Kong to China.

In 1989, Thatcher demoted Howe to the position of leader of the house and deputy prime minister. And on 1 November 1990, following disagreements over Britain's relationship with Europe, he resigned from the Cabinet altogether. 

Twelve days later, in a powerful speech explaining his resignation, he attacked the prime minister's attitude to Brussels, and called on his former colleagues to "consider their own response to the tragic conflict of loyalties with which I have myself wrestled for perhaps too long".

Labour Chancellor Denis Healey once described an attack from Howe as "like being savaged by a dead sheep" - but his resignation speech is widely credited for triggering the process that led to Thatcher's downfall. Nine days later, her premiership was over.

Howe retired from the Commons in 1992, and was made a life peer as Baron Howe of Aberavon. He later said that his resignation speech "was not intended as a challenge, it was intended as a way of summarising the importance of Europe". 

Nonetheless, he added: "I am sure that, without [Thatcher's] resignation, we would not have won the 1992 election... If there had been a Labour government from 1992 onwards, New Labour would never have been born."

Jonn Elledge is the editor of the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @JonnElledge.