Is this an end to tax return hell?

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HMRC has revealed more information on how small businesses and the self-employed will be expected to handle their tax in future.

It's planning to digitise the process of self-assessment, with taxpayers submitting their figures online by next year.

Small businesses and the self-employed earning more than £10,000 a year - including buy-to-let landlords - will be forced to submit accounts four times a year instead of just once.

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HMRC says the changes will make it easier for taxpayers, with software doing most of the work.

"We know that the majority of businesses want to get their tax right first time, but the latest tax gap figures show that too many find this hard, with more than £8 billion a year lost in tax as a result of avoidable taxpayer error by small businesses," says HMRC's director general for customer strategy & tax design.

"Making tax digital will help businesses to get their tax right first time; it will help reduce the likelihood of errors, lower the chance of unwelcome compliance checks and give them greater certainty that they are getting things right."

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However, many of those affected are horrified by the prospect of having to file tax information - and probably pay an accountant - four times a year, rather than just once.

"HMRC's own research indicates that 400,000 businesses would rather disengage totally from reporting their taxes than transmit their information over the internet to a government body. For those prepared to give it a try, the outlook is 'challenging'," says Jason Piper, senior manager, taxation and business law, for the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants.

"Charities with experience in the sector have warned of the risk of exploitation of vulnerable taxpayers if they have to rely on third parties to handle this aspect of their financial affairs."

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The Federation of Small Businesses has described the government's timetable as 'total fantasy'.

"Today, small businesses were expecting clarity around how to meet their tax obligations from 2018, and they still do not know what they will face. Government now needs to take this time to rethink the proposals," says chairman Mike Cherry.

"To make them work, FSB will push for the removal of businesses with turnover of less than £83,000 from the scheme, and for a phased approach that starts initially with the largest firms. We will also press for implementation in 2020, not next year."

And it seems that the vast majority of people affected don't even know that this will be expected of them, with a recent survey carried out by tax software firm 1Tap Receipts revealing that a whacking 94% of the self-employed unaware that the changes are coming in.

Ten terrible tax excuses
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Ten terrible tax excuses

HMRC has revealed the 10 worst excuses people have given for missing the 31 January tax return deadline. The excuses were all used in unsuccessful appeals against penalties for late filling and payment.

Top of the list was “My pet dog ate my tax return…and all the reminders.” It's the school homework classic that never gets old.

One taxpayer argued “I was up a mountain in Wales, and couldn’t find a postbox or get an internet signal.”

It’s not thought that he was up the mountain for the entire ten months - which would indicate a particularly slow ascent.

One person tried to get away without penalties by claiming “I fell in with the wrong crowd.”

Presumably this was some sort of anti-tax, paperwork-eschewing crowd, who ought to take full blame for the fact that you couldn't be bothered to fill in your form.

One of the most fanciful excuses was “I’ve been travelling the world, trying to escape from a foreign intelligence agency.”

It’s an impressive level of excuse, although it might make quite a dull episode of Spooks.

One person tried to claim “Barack Obama is in charge of my finances.”

It would clearly explain why the tax return was late, because Obama has probably been a bit busy recently.

In an excuse which seems to have come directly from ‘My Family and Other Animals’, one taxpayer said: “I’ve been busy looking after a flock of escaped parrots and some fox cubs.”
This taxpayer didn’t bother altering the excuse they usually use at work for missing deadlines and claimed: “A work colleague borrowed my tax return to photocopy it, and didn’t give it back.”

One taxpayer argued “I live in a camper van in a supermarket car park.”

While that could make online submission a bit tricky, it doesn’t fully explain why they weren’t able to complete a paper return or leave the van to find somewhere more suited to paperwork completion. Perhaps the supermarket cafe would have sufficed.

If in doubt, point the finger at your other half.

One person used the brilliant excuse that “My girlfriend’s pregnant”: presumably they weren't to blame for that either.

One person blamed the fact they had been in Australia - where computers and the internet presumably haven’t been invented yet.
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