By John Whiting,
Tax partner PricewaterhouseCoopers
You've got your tax return, you've opened the envelope, and now you are wondering where to start?
How do you pass the tax return exam?
What do I do next?
Having opened the pack, make sure you have the right pages for your circumstances.
The basic return of ten pages comes automatically but there are extra pages - e.g. the rental pages, the employment pages, the capital gains pages.
The tax returns are personalised so you should get the ones that match your circumstances.
If you don't have the right pages, you can phone the Inland Revenue's help line, which will be on the front page of the return, or run off copies of the missing pages from their website.
The website is www.inlandrevenue.gov.uk.
Get the necessary information
The next step is to get the information you'll need.
At a minimum that will include:
Forms such as the P60 and P11D your employer has given you.
Your accounts if you are self employed.
Expense records for your freelance earnings.
Rental details plus relevant expenses.
Dividend vouchers and interest certificates that you will have received.
Details of any benefits that you have received (these may or may not be taxable).
Pension details, both what you received and what you paid in if it's not just ordinary contributions to your employer's scheme.
The copy you took of last year's tax return (you didn't take a copy? Well, treat this as a tip).
And now to fill it in
Now come to the most important tip: treat the tax return like an exam paper, and one in which you have to get 100% for that matter.
This has some implications:
Read the questions properly.
Answer the questions you have been asked, not the ones you wanted to be asked.
Leave time to check your answers.
Make sure you follow the rules of the exam. Work to the nearest pound throughout, apart from calculating your actual tax bill when Hector wants the last penny from you.
You can, incidentally, pour yourself a stiff drink at this point.
But don't touch it. Ask your spouse/partner/flatmate/neighbour to guard it until you have done the return.
Ask your spouse/partner/flatmate/neighbour to guard it until you have done the return.
Help - I'm stuck!
There are sources of assistance available to you.
As always, use what is to hand, so here comes another tip: use the Tax Return Guide, it is really pretty good.
If that doesn't solve the problem, the next tip is to try the Inland Revenue Helpline (see the numbers on the front of the tax return and try your own tax office first).
Then don't forget there are plenty of tax advisers who would be happy to help.
If you don't know one, or can't get a friend to recommend one, call the Chartered Institute of Taxation (020 7235 9381) or Association of Taxation Technicians (020 7235 2544) who will supply contacts in your area.
A final tip in this area: if you're going to ask for help, don't leave it to the last minute, tax advisers and the Inland Revenue tend to get busy in January.
No, not quite.
Like an exam paper, read it through.
Does it make sense? Compare it with last year's return - does it look similar? Are there things that look odd?
If so, the taxman will be asking you about them so you could try and explain them in the white space on the form.
You may want to have a look at article three in this series which looks at some of the common traps.
If you really have finished, keep a copy of your return and send off the original.
Now have that drink you poured yourself. You've earned it.