Time is ticking for 5.4 million taxpayers who have until 31 January to complete their tax return, as HMRC reports filing rates tracking at a similar level as last year despite Covid disruptions.
HMRC has received 6.6 million tax returns as of 4 January 2021, leaving 45% of the 12.1m tax returns to be filed this year.
The majority of these tax returns (93%) have been submitted online, continuing a trend which has seen only 450,000 returns filed on paper (7% of total filed) as of 4 January.
Many of these taxpayers chose to strike their return off their to-do list over the Christmas period.
More than 2,700 taxpayers used Christmas Day as an excuse to catch up with their paperwork and file their self assessment tax return, while 18,000 started the New Year off by filing their return on 1 January 2021.
Comparatively, the number of tax returns filed are currently tracking at the same levels as this time last year despite the ongoing Covid restrictions and upheaval. On 31 December 2019, HMRC had received 6.3 million SA returns – which was 54% of the total 11.7 m returns.
“In what was a very difficult year for many, we are grateful to the 55% of our customers who have already submitted their returns,” said Karl Khan, HMRC’s interim director general for customer services.
“HMRC is ready to offer support to those who are yet to file their returns or are worried about paying their tax bill, but they must act now so we can help before the deadline.”
HMRC reported that the peak time for completing tax returns on 25 December was between 2pm and 2.59pm when 214 returns were filed before the Queen’s speech.
This Christmas Day number tax return number trails 2019’s 3,003 festive filers. However, the number of tax returns completed was down across the board between 24 and 26 December when compared to 2019.
Christmas Eve saw the biggest number of tax returns filed over the three day period, but the 20,200 tax returns were still down on last year’s 22,035.
Boxing Day also saw taxpayers squeeze in their tax returns between grabbing a bargain at the virtual sales. In total, 8,500 tax returns were filed, with the peak between 3pm and 3.59pm bringing in 858 returns. Again, this was a decrease on Boxing Day in 2019 when 9,254 were filed.
The 31,400 returns filed over the Christmas period will have made a small dent in the outstanding 5.4 million returns left to submit before the 31 January.
HMRC is encouraging as many taxpayers as possible to complete their 2019 to 2020 returns by 31 January. Once the self assessment has been completed, the taxpayer can set up a payment plan if they can’t pay in full to spread the cost of their tax liabilities, up to the value of £30,000.
But any hope of an extension for those behind on schedule to accommodate the extra Covid workload was dashed in late December when HMRC’s chief executive Jim Harra rejected calls from the accountancy bodies.
Harra didn’t want to “complicate the message by sending a blanket signal that it’s OK to file late”, especially with filing rates “holding up well”.
Some AccountingWEB members agree with Harra, having “bored clients” during the first lockdown in the spring of 2020 that “sent in stuff much earlier”.
“There's no excuse whatsoever, you've had nine months,” said Marlinman. “Most of my clients got their figures to me much quicker than usual while stuck at home with nothing else to do during the first lockdown.
The lower number of returns filed this Christmas compared to last year could be a sign that others are in the same situation as AccountingWEB member bettybobbymeggie, who is ahead on last year and said in November that they may “may actually be able to afford Christmas this year”.
However, news of the national lockdown and the need to support Covid hit clients will add further pressure to those falling behind in previous years.
“Let's get the deadlines extended and put pressure on recalcitrant clients to get their records together,” argued AccountingWEB member Red1960. “Do you really have the time to deal with all of these appeals in writing and then months chasing them up because they haven't been dealt with by HMRC because they can't be bothered?