Page last updated at 13:26 GMT, Friday, 30 January 2009

Surge expected for tax deadline

HMRC website
HMRC is confident its computer systems will hold up to demand

HM Revenue and Customs is preparing for a surge of online self-assessment tax returns ahead of Saturday's deadline.

The Revenue said that about 5.1 million returns had been filed by Thursday night, compared with 3.8 million in total last year.

The deadline for paper applications was in October, brought forward from January to encourage web submissions.

Despite several glitches, HMRC says it is "very confident" the system will not collapse before the midnight deadline.

In 2008, the Revenue extended the deadline by a day after the website broke down.

On Thursday, 278,438 people filed online, and HMRC expects a further 336,000 people to file on Friday which, along with Saturday, will be its "peak days".

Ideally, tax returns should not have been left to the last minute but as this will be the first time many people have filed online, the Revenue needs to operate with a very light touch
Chas Roy-Chowdhury
Association of Chartered Certified Accountants

The IT system had been strengthened after last year's crash, and a spokesman said they did "not foresee" problems this time around.

'Understanding'

There are about nine million people in the self-assessment system.

Those filing a tax return late face a fine of 100. Interest is then payable on any unpaid tax.

A surcharge of 5% is levied on the amount of unpaid tax left outstanding on 28 February and interest is also charged on the surcharge.

Taxpayers who have not filed electronically before will need a PIN code, which you apply online for. This can take a week or more, which could mean some people miss the deadline.

"Ideally, tax returns should not have been left to the last minute but as this will be the first time many people have filed online, the Revenue needs to operate with a very light touch," said Chas Roy-Chowdhury of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants.

'Unnecessary burden'

Small business leaders have said that, given the onset of recession, HMRC should be "more understanding" if self-assessment tax forms arrived late.

The Federation of Small Businesses said sickness should be accepted as a reasonable excuse if smaller companies or entrepreneurs missed the deadline.

And chairman John Wright said that if the online system crashed, as it did last year, it would be "an unnecessary burden on our nation's small businesses".

"For small businesses, the self-assessment tax return is a very important task and in these tough times there are many reasons why they will need up until the deadline day to file their return," he added.

"We urge HMRC to ensure they have the right resources in place to deal with the influx."

For small businesses, the self-assessment tax return is a very important task and in these tough times there are many reasons why they will need up until the deadline day to file their return
John Wright
Federation of Small Businesses

A HMRC spokesman said that business customers who tried to file on time but were unable to because they had a "reasonable excuse" would not have to pay any penalty.

"We are committed to doing everything we can to support small business," they added.

Advertising campaign

This year, the self-assessment system has undergone its biggest change since it was first introduced in 1996.

Paper returns had to be submitted by 31 October, brought forward from the end of January.

An advertising campaign, alerting people to the change was launched featuring the former BBC newsreader Moira Stuart.

In the last few months, the HMRC has reported 16 glitches in its self-assessment system - some of which are still unresolved.

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