HMRC says 3 million people still have not filed annual tax return

Patrick Collinson
<span>Photograph: Realimage/Alamy</span>
Photograph: Realimage/Alamy

More than 3 million people have failed to send in their annual self-assessment tax return with just one week to go before the final deadline, according to HM Revenue and Customs.

The deadline for completing the tax returns online is 11.59pm on 31 January, and those who miss it face an initial £100 penalty, rising by an additional £10 a day after three months.

Last year, more than 700,000 people missed the deadline and became liable for penalties, and a similar number of late returns are expected this year.

HMRC said it accepts few excuses from late filers – and has highlighted the daftest ones it has received over the past 10 years.

It turned down a claim from one late filer whose dog “ate the post … again”, while another said: “I’ve been cruising round the world in my yacht, and only picking up post when I’m on dry land.” It said the most bizarre excuse it has received was: “My mother-in-law is a witch and put a curse on me.”

The number of people required to fill in a tax return has risen in recent years as more and more workers have become self-employed. In total this year 11.7 million people are liable for self-assessment, compared with 11.5 million last year.

Jesse Norman MP, financial secretary to the Treasury, said: “The deadline is fast approaching. With only one week until 31 January, HMRC strongly encourages people to file their self-assessment. Anyone who believes they might not be able to file on time should make sure to call or email HMRC.”

Common mistakes on tax returns include failing to fully state savings and investment income. Others fail to report earnings from new-style sources of income, such as payments to Instagram influencers and money made by letting a property through Airbnb.

Which? said there was widespread customer confusion over what expenses could be claimed, with many people underclaiming. However, HMRC said it struck out many dubious expenses claims, such as a music subscription to be listened while working or a claim for pet food for a shih tzu “guard dog”.

HMRC warned people not to be taken in by scam HMRC emails and texts. One fake text message currently in wide circulation invites people to click on a link, claiming they have been found eligible to receive a tax refund of £251.49.

In the past year alone, there have been 900,000 reports of suspicious phone calls, texts and emails to HMRC. These often use increasingly sophisticated methods to defraud, including “spoofing numbers” so that they appear to be from HMRC and causing charges to be added to a victim’s phone bill simply by making them press a key on their phone.