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Is HMRC dishing out double standards with tax returns?

It seems that the British public are getting better at filing their tax returns online. But when the tables are turned, and we’re due a rebate from HMRC, is the tax man letting us down?

According to HMRC (HM Revenue & Customs), some 850,000 people will receive penalty notices for failing to submit their tax returns on time this year. That’s 550,000 less than a year ago.

This might be because this year, we were all given a couple more days’ leeway: industrial action at HMRC call centres and inquiry offices meant that the deadline was extended to 2 February.

Or it might be that we were all just more scared, because the penalty for filing late is now harsher. Unless you have a ‘reasonable excuse’ (like bereavement) an automatic £100 fine will be levied for late filing – even if you have no tax to pay.

My tax rebate

Before I started working at Which? I was a freelance journalist. That means that for the third year in a row, I’ve had to fill in a self-assessment tax return and file it (online) by 31 January.

And for the third year in a row, I left everything until the last minute. I was still scrabbling around for various bits of documentation as the last days of January came in to view.

I’ve never actually missed the deadline, but it’s been a) close and b) stressful. So, as I clicked ‘submit’ on my return on January 25th, I felt the rosy glow of relief.

This glow was made even more rosy by the fact that this year, I’d be getting a rebate. I’d worked out that, because I overpaid last year, it was the tax man who should be paying me several hundred pounds and not the other way round. And so once I’d filed my tax return, I settled down to wait for my windfall.

The waiting game

The thing is, I had to wait rather a long time.

When I submitted my return I also called HMRC to confirm that I’d understood things correctly and was, in fact, due for the rebate. I was informed that I was indeed, and that they had my bank details stored so they could transfer the money in to my account online.

Now, when I transfer money via online banking, it pops up in the beneficiary’s account within a couple of hours. So when the HMRC customer service chap told me vaguely that it would ‘probably take a few weeks’, I was a bit miffed.

Double standards?

I can’t see the logic in why I had to wait so long – but I can smell double standards. When I owe HMRC cash (or even just a tax return, and no cash) they will charge me £100 if it’s not in dead on time. However, when HMRC owes me money, I get the vague assurance that it will probably be with me by the end of the month.

In any case, I got the rebate in just under three weeks. Not the end of the world, but not great either. I think, in this age of instant online banking and strict HMRC deadlines, they should do better when the tables are turned…


Have to say I do self assessment as well, but well before the January deadline and I normally get a rebate within five working days.

Gerard Phelan says:
21 February 2012

On-line tax return submitted 17 Jan. Refund arrived in bank account 24 January. It works for me!

I switched from paper to the on-line system when they added the Foreign pages. The on-line system is still a challenging system, especially when it asks questions that do not appear on the paper tax return and for which there is no help. If I had not separately computed the exact answer I would have been unwilling to just ‘wing it’ and take a guess into the mind of those inscrutable tax inspectors.

Allyn says:
15 March 2013

Only three weeks? I had to file form P85 as I was leaving the country, and I knew I had overpaid my taxes as I’d earned below the threshold for the current year. I filed my return a healthy month before the deadline & was promised via post that I would receive my return on February 2nd. February came and went and still had nothing. I asked my appointed person (whom I had given expressed permission to talk to HMRC on my behalf, and had put it in writing for HMRC) to contact them for an update. She was barred from being able to talk about my taxes until they received another letter stating that she can talk to HMRC on my behalf. Conveniently losing letters of consent so that it’s harder to find out why my rebate is over a month late from what I can see.

So; Self assessment filed in December 2012
Promised rebate on February 2nd 2013
Still waiting for it on March 15 2013

I think double standards is a good term

Harvard Law says:
8 October 2014

Allyn I had the same problem.

I filled in my tax forms (p85’s) submitted all the necessary details on the July 29th

received mail on the September 26th saying that I was getting a rebate it said 14 days from the date on the letter -marked (August 28th).

It is now October 8th and I am still waiting for it to get put into my account.