HMRC have conceded that it will have to deal leniently with taxpayers who face fines, owing to a planned strike by their staff. Approximately 2.7 million people still have to file their self-assessment tax returns online by the deadline of 31 January, but some HMRC staff plan to strike on the deadline day. If there isn’t enough staff to answer last-minute queries, people may decide they are unable to complete their forms and face a £100 penalty.
Usually, this penalty would be imposed from the end of Tuesday, but HMRC has today confirmed that it could be waived. An HMRC spokesman commented, “In all goodness and fairness, we won’t be able to charge them.”
The countdown to file tax returns by the 31st January deadline has started in earnest – on Tuesday 24th January approximately 182,530 forms were filed online. HMRC have introduced a much tougher system of fines this year – a £100 penalty will apply whether or not there is tax owed.
Penalties can mount up if a taxpayer neglects to send in a form, to £1,300 after six months and £1,600 after a year. Even so, 600,000 of the nine million people who have to fill in the returns are expected to put off submitting them until 31 January.
Past history shows that roughly 15% per cent of them, about 90,000, will ring for help and may find it impossible to get an answer. HMRC have issued reassurance that no one would be disadvantaged as a result of the planned industrial action by members of the public sector union, the PCS.
The strikes are planned at call centres and inquiry offices to protest against the appointment of private companies to run call-handling trials in two contact centres. However, those affected would still have to lodge an appeal.
The appeals procedure requires taxpayers with a “reasonable excuse” to write to their tax office quoting their unique taxpayer reference and should not wait for the penalty notice. Examples given of valid excuses which would normally be accepted include the loss of documents through theft, fire or flood and the onset of a life-threatening illness.