I completed my online tax return the other day. It reduced me to weeping and gnashing of teeth, and it took me all morning and made my lunch late. That's bad. All the years I was employed as a teacher, I only did perhaps a couple of returns before they brought in PAYE, so this assault upon me as a result of doing the self-employed thing came as a cruel awakening.
Part of the cruelty comes in the letter the tax people send you - the ones that tell you to get it done by October if you're filing a paper return, but allow you to the New Year for the online stuff. It arrives in May. The language is especially minatory, despite their attempts to lighten up by introducing the contractions of an informal register. So: This notice requires you, by law, to send us a tax return ... but you have till three months after the date of this notice if that's earlier. I would disapprove of that, I think, were I to attack it in a professional capacity ... but I digress. The greatest threat is yet to come.
If you don't file (that wee informal touch again) by the deadlines, you will have to pay penalties and interest as follows.
• One day late and you will be charged an initial penalty of £100 (even if you have no tax to pay or you have already paid all the tax you owe).
• Three months late and you will be charged an automatic daily penalty of £10 per day, up to a maximum of £900.
• Six months late and you will be charged further penalties, which are the greater of 5% of tax due or £300.
• Twelve months late and you will be charged yet more penalties, which are the greater of 5% of tax due or £300. In particularly serious cases you face a higher penalty of up to 100% of the tax due.
So why am I making all this fuss? (It is the law, after all). Two reasons. The first is that my fellow-teachers and others in PAYE schemes, who never have to deal with their own taxes, might be interested to see what they're missing out on. But secondly, and far more importantly, is the lack of efficiency of the Tax Office.
Mr B got a letter on 9th March, in which HM Revenue and Customs told him that he had underpaid tax. Apparently the SPPA had given them the wrong tax code, and they intended simply to take the money. Several phone calls and letters later, they are still "dealing with it". The most recent phone call was prompted, I may add, by the sight of the letter I had with all these penalties listed for late submission.
Perhaps I am merely being naive. Perhaps in fact HM Revenue and Customs find their tax sums as difficult to deal with as I do. Perhaps we ought to cut them a bit of slack and not expect them to be as efficient as we're expected to be.
But I find myself incapable of such magnanimity. And the worse of it is that I shall now be hounded to my grave by these people, whether I ever work again or not. I'll get back to you on this. As the tax office folk say on the phone - bear with me.