The ten worst excuses for late tax returns

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Anyone expecting to get away with filing their tax return late should take heed: HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) has made clear that excuses just won't wash.

With the 31 January deadline looming, HMRC has published a list of the ten worst explanations for late payment - placing the blame on everything from pet dogs to the US president.

They were all presented as part of unsuccessful appeals against HMRC penalties for late filing and payment. As HMRC director general of personal tax, Ruth Owen, points out: "People can have a genuine excuse for missing a tax deadline, but owning a pet with a taste for HMRC envelopes isn't one of them."

The top ten excuses

1. My pet dog ate my tax return...and all the reminders.

2. I was up a mountain in Wales, and couldn't find a postbox or get an internet signal.

3. I fell in with the wrong crowd.

4. I've been travelling the world, trying to escape from a foreign intelligence agency.

5. Barack Obama is in charge of my finances.

6. I've been busy looking after a flock of escaped parrots and some fox cubs.

7. A work colleague borrowed my tax return, to photocopy it, and didn't give it back.

8. I live in a camper van in a supermarket car park.

9. My girlfriend's pregnant.

10. I was in Australia.

The taxman isn't completely inflexible, and there are certain circumstances under which you'll be given a bit of leeway after failing to meet your obligations - for example, if your partner has just died or you've had an unexpected stay in hospital.

You'll also be given a bit of extra time to file online if your computer or software failed just before or while you were preparing your online return, or if there are service issues with HMRC online services. A fire or postal delays may also be allowed.

However, you won't be let off if you relied on someone else to send your return and they didn't; if your cheque bounced or payment failed because you didn't have enough money; if you found the HMRC online system too difficult to use or if you didn't get a reminder from HMRC.

"You need to file your 2013/14 tax return online, and pay what you owe, by 31 January. But it's best to do it now, to allow plenty of time to sort out any issues with your return," says Owen. "That way, you'll avoid the busy period for our phone lines as the deadline approaches."

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