By Paul Lewis
BBC Radio 4's Money Box
Taxpayers have been stopped from taking photographic evidence that they have handed in their tax return on time.
The returns must be submitted by midnight on Tuesday 31 January, or the taxpayer is fined £100.
But over the last two years, HM Revenue & Customs has admitted that it issued penalties to 43,000 people who did get their form in on time. It blamed "processing errors".
HMRC will no longer issue paper receipts
To avoid these problems many people hand the form in personally and ask for a receipt.
But this year the Revenue has stopped issuing receipts. And some accountants have suggested that a photograph might be an alternative form of proof.
Dave, a listener to Radio 4's Money Box programme, described what happened when he tried to take a picture in his local office to prove his form was in on time.
"I put my tax return on the box supplied by the Revenue in the office and took a photo. As soon as they saw the flash they called across and said 'no photographs in a government building'. The manager made it clear she wanted it erased. I can't see why they are making it impossible to get any sort of receipt."
Another listener, Jeremy, found things even more difficult at his local office, Ealing in West London.
"I approached the tax office at 4.30, half an hour before closing, and a member of staff was outside stopping people going in. It was like a nighclub on a Saturday night. I said 'I just want to hand my tax returns over; will you give me a receipt?' The answer was 'No'. I said 'If I hand them to you will you give me your name please? He point blank refused and his name tag was turned away."
Photographs not allowed in government buildings
The Revenue confirmed that in response to media suggestions, managers had been reminded that no photographs were allowed in Revenue offices without permission for reasons of privacy and security.
And it apologised to: "any of our customers who did not receive the level of service we would normally provide. Our Ealing Enquiry Centre is quite small and for health and safety reasons during the very busy days coming up to the deadline, it occasionally cannot accommodate all the customers attempting to hand in their return."
John Whiting a partner with accountants PricewaterhouseCoopers told the programme: "It's understandable that people want receipts. It would be easy to have some automated stamping mechanism where people could walk in, date stamp and certify it themselves - we are after all in the era of self assessment-pop it in the box and everybody's happy."
Confirming that receipts would not normally be given, a spokesman said
"We are looking to transform our face to face service so that it better focuses on customers that need advice. This means using our resources to maximise the level of service available to our customers."
Some tax offices will be open late on Monday and Tuesday to take the forms. The strict deadline is midnight on Tuesday but many offices do not have letterboxes for people who arrive after they close.
BBC Radio 4's Money Box was broadcast on Saturday, 28 January, 2006, at 1204 GMT.
The programme will be repeated on Sunday, 29 January, 2006, at 1204 GMT.