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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Find the EU renegotiation demands dull? Me too – but they are important

It's an old trick: smother anything in enough jargon and you can avoid being held accountable for it.

I don’t know about you, but I found the details of Britain’s European Union renegotiation demands quite hard to read. Literally. My eye kept gliding past them, in an endless quest for something more interesting in the paragraph ahead. It was as if the word “subsidiarity” had been smeared in grease. I haven’t felt tedium quite like this since I read The Lord of the Rings and found I slid straight past anything written in italics, reasoning that it was probably another interminable Elvish poem. (“The wind was in his flowing hair/The foam about him shone;/Afar they saw him strong and fair/Go riding like a swan.”)

Anyone who writes about politics encounters this; I call it Subclause Syndrome. Smother anything in enough jargon, whirr enough footnotes into the air, and you have a very effective shield for protecting yourself from accountability – better even than gutting the Freedom of Information laws, although the government seems quite keen on that, too. No wonder so much of our political conversation ends up being about personality: if we can’t hope to master all the technicalities, the next best thing is to trust the person to whom we have delegated that job.

Anyway, after 15 cups of coffee, three ice-bucket challenges and a bottle of poppers I borrowed from a Tory MP, I finally made it through. I didn’t feel much more enlightened, though, because there were notable omissions – no mention, thankfully, of rolling back employment protections – and elsewhere there was a touching faith in the power of adding “language” to official documents.

One thing did stand out, however. For months, we have been told that it is a terrible problem that migrants from Europe are sending child benefit to their families back home. In future, the amount that can be claimed will start at zero and it will reach full whack only after four years of working in Britain. Even better, to reduce the alleged “pull factor” of our generous in-work benefits regime, the child benefit rate will be paid on a ratio calculated according to average wages in the home country.

What a waste of time. At the moment, only £30m in child benefit is sent out of the country each year: quite a large sum if you’re doing a whip round for a retirement gift for a colleague, but basically a rounding error in the Department for Work and Pensions budget.

Only 20,000 workers, and 34,000 children, are involved. And yet, apparently, this makes it worth introducing 28 different rates of child benefit to be administered by the DWP. We are given to understand that Iain Duncan Smith thinks this is barmy – and this is a man optimistic enough about his department’s computer systems to predict in 2013 that 4.46 million people would be claiming Universal Credit by now*.

David Cameron’s renegotiation package was comprised exclusively of what Doctor Who fans call handwavium – a magic substance with no obvious physical attributes, which nonetheless helpfully advances the plot. In this case, the renegotiation covers up the fact that the Prime Minister always wanted to argue to stay in Europe, but needed a handy fig leaf to do so.

Brace yourself for a sentence you might not read again in the New Statesman, but this makes me feel sorry for Chris Grayling. He and other Outers in the cabinet have to wait at least two weeks for Cameron to get the demands signed off; all the while, Cameron can subtly make the case for staying in Europe, while they are bound to keep quiet because of collective responsibility.

When that stricture lifts, the high-ranking Eurosceptics will at last be free to make the case they have been sitting on for years. I have three strong beliefs about what will happen next. First, that everyone confidently predicting a paralysing civil war in the Tory ranks is doing so more in hope than expectation. Some on the left feel that if Labour is going to be divided over Trident, it is only fair that the Tories be split down the middle, too. They forget that power, and patronage, are strong solvents: there has already been much muttering about low-level blackmail from the high command, with MPs warned about the dire influence of disloyalty on their career prospects.

Second, the Europe campaign will feature large doses of both sides solemnly advising the other that they need to make “a positive case”. This will be roundly ignored. The Remain team will run a fear campaign based on job losses, access to the single market and “losing our seat at the table”; Leave will run a fear campaign based on the steady advance of whatever collective noun for migrants sounds just the right side of racist. (Current favourite: “hordes”.)

Third, the number of Britons making a decision based on a complete understanding of the renegotiation, and the future terms of our membership, will be vanishingly small. It is simply impossible to read about subsidiarity for more than an hour without lapsing into a coma.

Yet, funnily enough, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Just as the absurd complexity of policy frees us to talk instead about character, so the onset of Subclause Syndrome in the EU debate will allow us to ask ourselves a more profound, defining question: what kind of country do we want Britain to be? Polling suggests that very few of us see ourselves as “European” rather than Scottish, or British, but are we a country that feels open and looks outwards, or one that thinks this is the best it’s going to get, and we need to protect what we have? That’s more vital than any subclause. l

* For those of you keeping score at home, Universal Credit is now allegedly going to be implemented by 2021. Incidentally, George Osborne has recently discovered that it’s a great source of handwavium; tax credit cuts have been postponed because UC will render such huge savings that they aren’t needed.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

This article first appeared in the 11 February 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The legacy of Europe's worst battle