With the 31st January Self Assessment tax deadline looming, it’s important to understand that you will not escape the automatic £100 penalty if you submit late – unless you have what HMRC deems a “reasonable excuse.”
A “reasonable excuse” does not, however, include the dog eating your P60, or the fact that you had a cold on the day of the deadline. To be accepted as reasonable, your excuse will need evidence of an unexpected event that is truly beyond your control, therefore preventing you from meeting the deadline.
Let’s say your car engine explodes on your way to work with the important documents in your cubby. With proof of insurance claims, along with a YouTube video of your burning vehicle, you could probably have your deadline extended a bit without having to pay a fine.
But if you wake up on the morning of the 31st January to a floating goldfish and spend the rest of the day on your couch, watching Steel Magnolias and sobbing into your onesie, you’re probably not going to be let off the hook.
Top ten strangest excuses
If you’re thinking that nobody would use the death of their goldfish as an excuse, think again. A goldfish death actually made No. 1 on HMRC’s recent list of ten strange excuses given for late Self Assessment tax returns:
- Believe it or not, a self-employed builder gave the sad demise of his goldfish as his reason for not submitting his return on time
- “I had a run-in with a cow” was a Midlands farmer’s excuse
- A London woman claimed she couldn’t concentrate on anything else after seeing a volcanic eruption on the news
- “My wife won’t give me my mail”, claimed a self-employed trader
- A Leicester hairdresser was adamant that her husband told her the deadline was 31st March, and she believed him
- Being busy is not a reasonable excuse either, as a Coventry writer discovered. “I’ve been far too busy touring the country with my one-man play,” said the man (who now faces a £100 penalty)
- A working taxi driver thought this was a very reasonable explanation: “My bad back means I can’t go upstairs. That’s where my tax return is”
- Having a far-too-fabulous life doesn’t qualify either. A South East man said he had been cruising around the world on his yacht, only picking up post when on dry land. He too is subject to a £100 penalty, which could go up to as much as £1600 if he doesn’t get off his yacht soon and take care of his tax matters
- A Kent financial services firm claimed: “Our business doesn’t really do anything.” Seems legit.
- And finally, a London accountant used the excuse that he had been too busy submitting his clients’ tax returns to do his own.
Most common excuses
While the above are the strangest excuses HMRC has seen, they are not the most common. If you were thinking of using any of the following common excuses, be aware they will not be accepted:
- The tax return is too difficult to understand
- I’m under a lot of pressure at work
- I didn’t receive a reminder from HMRC
- I couldn’t get all the information I needed to complete the return
- I thought my accountant would do it.
Ultimately, your tax return is your responsibility. The reality is there’s plenty of information and help available to enable you to submit on time and avoid any late penalties.