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Goalposts for tax returns have moved

By Adrian Huston

This year the Revenue has moved the goalposts for submitting your Self Assessment Tax Return. A few people might see it as a bonus but for most people it means having less time to do the form.

Up to the tax year 2006/07 there were two deadlines for submitting Returns. The first was September 30. This was what might have been called a soft deadline. By this I mean that missing it did not get you a penalty.

The reason for the first deadline was that the Revenue promised that they would calculate your tax for you in time for the January 31 tax payment date. In reality they would calculate your tax whenever you sent in the form — just no promise about how long they might take doing it.

The other deadline up to 2006/07 was the final deadline of January 31 — which was 10 months after the form was first issued to you. This made the UK one of the countries which gives its people longest to file their tax returns. By contrast the USA gives people 3.5 months!

That January 31 deadline applied whether you filled in a paper Return or filed online.

Now all has changed. The 2007/08 returns were issued in early April 2008. The September deadline is gone.

However, if you want to file a paper tax return your final deadline is now October 31, 2008. For those who like their life exciting this means they have just 1.5 months left. Compared with 4.5 months. So for the procrastinators they have three months less to faff about. This is a pretty big stick the Revenue is wielding — since missing the October deadline with your paper return will get you a £100 penalty.

No stick is complete without a carrot. So what’s the Revenue’s carrot? It is that so long as you agree to file your tax return online (or pay someone like me to do that for you) you will still have until January 31, 2009 to do it. And the Revenue can continue to cut staffing!

Let’s talk about those procrastinators again — I am sure you are not one, but you might have a friend who is. If they like filing their return on paper then they need to do it by October 31.

If they might try filing online then they should register now. That way they can see how they get on with the Revenue’s software, and if they don’t like it there would still be a few weeks to file on paper.

There is never anything to be gained by running up to the wire. That does not stop the Revenue moving the wire. So be warned — paper tax returns must be in by October 31, 2008.

Adrian Huston, a former tax inspector, is a director of Belfast tax and accountancy firm Huston & Co — or 028 9080 6080

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