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.
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…