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Missed the filing deadline – is a penalty avoidable?

If you missed the 31 January deadline for self-assessment HMRC will fine you £100 and more if you continue to delay. It will cancel the penalty if you have a reasonable excuse but if you don’t have one is there another way to dodge a fine?

Must you file a tax return?
It’s a common misunderstanding that if you owe tax you’re required to submit a tax return. The correct position is that you only need to file a self-assessment return if you’re asked to do so by HMRC. It does this by issuing a “notice to file”. However, to prevent you and any individual from dodging tax simply by not declaring income, you’re required to notify HMRC within a time limit if you believe you owe tax but haven’t received a notice to file – it’s then up to HMRC to issue one. If it doesn’t do so you won’t be penalised for not submitting a tax return by the normal deadline.

Notice to file received
Once issued, there is no appeal procedure against a notice to file even if you have no income, gains or other tax liability to declare. This position was recently confirmed by the Upper Tribunal (UT) in HMRC v David Goldsmith 2019
Trap. If you receive a notice to file but don’t submit a return within the time limit the initial penalty is £100. However, even if you don’t owe any tax this can rise to £1,600.

Appealing a penalty
You can appeal against a penalty but HMRC will only cancel it if you have a reasonable excuse such as you or a close member of your family being seriously ill and this was a significant factor in you missing the deadline
Tip. HMRC has the power to withdraw a notice to file. If it does so any penalties for late filing will be withdrawn. This option is only open to HMRC if you haven’t yet submitted the tax return in question and is entirely at HMRC’s discretion.

Discretionary conditions
HMRC will usually agree to withdraw a notice to file a tax return if for a year you don’t meet its criteria for being within self-assessment. This can apply in far broader circumstances than you might think. For example, you can be a director, have annual income of up to £100,000, including savings and investment income of up to £10,000, and be entitled to claim expenses linked to your job of up to £2,500. There are, as you would expect, circumstances in which HMRC insists on self-assessment. For example, if you have income from self-employment or you or your partner receive child benefit and one of you has annual income exceeding £50,000.
Tip 1. For a definitive opinion on whether self-assessment applies to you, use HMRC’s online tool. Keep a copy of the result.
Tip 2. If you’ve missed the deadline for submitting one or more tax returns, still haven’t sent them to HMRC and don’t meet the conditions for being in self-assessment, then don’t submit the form(s). Instead write to HMRC and ask it to withdraw the notice(s) to file. Include a copy of the result produced by HMRC’s online tool showing that self-assessment isn’t applicable.
If you don’t meet criteria for self-assessment for a year and haven’t yet submitted the corresponding tax return you can ask HMRC to withdraw the requirement to submit one. It has the discretion to refuse your request but if it agrees it will also cancel the late filing penalties. Use HMRC’s online tool to check if self-assessment applies.