Time to look at those returns
At this time of year a remarkable number of people still have not filed their 2006/07 tax returns. Time is running out with the deadline of January 31, 2008 looming.
If you are one of these people you should read on, otherwise you can smugly move on to read the rest of the paper.
There are two categories of people whose returns are not yet submitted - those using professional help and those not.
If you use an accountant the key thing is to ensure that they have received from you all the papers and numbers they need to finish your tax return.
If they have this then all you need do is give them a wee shout in early January to ask when the return will be finished.
Of course, if your accountant still has not received your papers they don't have much chance of doing your return, do they? So make it a priority and get your stuff to them before Christmas.
If you leave it to January your accountant may not have the time they would like to devote to your case and the matter may be somewhat rushed. If the accountant finds something missing there may not be time to get it before the deadline.
Now I turn to those people who do not use an accountant for tax returns - there are lots of people like that.
And we mustn't forget that the Revenue believes it has developed a self-assessment system which many people can manage without professional help. I'll leave the debate on that point to another day.
At this stage in the year it is a good idea to file your tax return electronically. To do this for the first time you must register with the Revenue and wait to receive some codes in the post. For this reason start the process this evening.
Go to the Revenue's site - www.hmrc.gov.uk - and on the left hand side click on the self-assessment heading under 'do it online'. Then click register and follow the instructions. Do that now - even though you're not ready to complete the return, because it will take a while to set up.
The great advantage of electronic filing is that your return, once submitted, is processed within about a day.
So any tax bills will be known in time for you to pay the right amount.
Remember January 31 is a major tax payment date. If you send in a paper return you need to pay an estimated amount of tax by January 31 since the Revenue may not have looked at your form in time.
Let's now assume that you are going to file on a paper return in the time-honoured fashion.
Firstly, bear in mind that you must get your act together quicker next year. The return filing deadlines are changing so that paper returns for 2007/08 will only be accepted up to October 31, after which online will be the only way.
If you are filing a paper return you need to ensure you have all the relevant sections of the return. The Revenue tries to send you the right bits, but sometimes it doesn't know the whole story.
If you made a capital gain then you need the capital gains pages. If you had rental income then you need the income from property pages. If you were self-employed then ensure you have the self employment pages.
The easiest way to obtain a missing set of forms is to print them off the site at http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/sa/forms/
Or you can ring and ask for them on the forms orderline 0845 9000 404 (open seven days a week 0800hrs to 2200hrs).
Today's article has concentrated on getting you ready so your return can be completed. Next week I will talk more about the stuff you need to finish the return.
By the way, if you want to give Dave Hartnett (the man running HM Revenue & Customs) a present, I checked out what he would like. Just a couple of CDs, please.
Adrian Huston, a former tax inspector, is now a partner in Belfast tax and accountancy firm Huston & Co LLP (www.hustontax.com; tel: 028 9080 6080).