Reasonable Excuses for Late Filing

Reasonable Excuses for Late Filing

As the 31ST of January rapidly approaches, thousands of tax payers are yet to file their Self Assessments with HMRC and risk facing late filing penalties.  File after the January deadline and HMRC will automatically raise a £100 late filing penalty, whether you owe any tax or not.             

If you’re a client of Orange Genie Accountancy we’ll do everything we can to make sure your tax return is filed on time, so we wouldn’t expect you to have late filing penalties unless there are exceptional circumstances. It’s worth noting, then, that late filing penalties can be cancelled if you have a “reasonable excuse” for filing late.

HMRC define a reasonable excuse as “something that stopped you meeting a tax obligation that you took reasonable care to meet”.

They don’t define “reasonable care” which leaves some possible grey areas, but they have published a list of helpful examples of excuses that might be reasonable:

  • your partner or another close relative died shortly before the tax return or payment deadline
  • you had an unexpected stay in hospital that prevented you from dealing with your tax affairs
  • you had a serious or life-threatening illness
  • your computer or software failed just before or while you were preparing your online return
  • service issues with HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) online services
  • a fire, flood or theft prevented you from completing your tax return
  • postal delays that you couldn’t have predicted
  • delays related to a disability you have

They also provide similar examples of things that won’t count as a reasonable excuse:

  • you relied on someone else to send your return and they didn’t
  • your cheque bounced or payment failed because you didn’t have enough money
  • you found the HMRC online system too difficult to use
  • you didn’t get a reminder from HMRC
  • you made a mistake on your tax return

Even if HMRC agree that there was a reasonable excuse for being late, you will need to overcome the second part of the test that looks to make sure you have remedied the situation without unreasonable delay. Failing to act promptly will mean HMRC do not find in your favour.

If you believe you have a reasonable excuse it’s best if you let HMRC know as soon as possible; you don’t have to wait until you receive a penalty notice. If you’re not sure, either speak to your accountant or contact HMRC directly and explain your circumstances, and again please do so as soon as possible.

And what about late payment…?

Filing the return is half of the story, the tax liability then needs to be paid.

Insufficient funds are not a reasonable excuse for a failure to pay unless it is attributable to events outside the taxpayer’s control. Circumstances where an appeal is possible may include:

  • Bankruptcy of a major supplier
  • Sudden withdrawal or cut in bank funding
  • Government cuts if affecting a supply chain

If you are having difficulties making your tax payments, you should seek advice from your accountant as soon as possible. They may be able to help you establish a payment plan with HMRC.

On a lighter note:

In what has become an annual event, HMRC publish a list of the most “unusual” unsuccessful excuses. The latest one was published in December 2016 and includes:

  1. My tax return was on my yacht…which caught fire”

  2. “A wasp in my car caused me to have an accident and my tax return, which was inside, was destroyed”

  3. “My wife helps me with my tax return, but she had a headache for ten days”

  4. “My dog ate my tax return…and all of the reminders”

  5. “I couldn’t complete my tax return, because my husband left me and took our accountant with him. I am currently trying to find a new accountant”

  6. “My child scribbled all over the tax return, so I wasn’t able to send it back”

  7. “I work for myself, but a colleague borrowed my tax return to photocopy it and lost it”

  8. “My husband told me the deadline was the 31 March”

  9. “My internet connection failed”

  10. “The postman doesn’t deliver to my house”

We sincerely hope that you don’t see your own excuses on next year’s list.

If you have any questions about this or any issue, or if Orange Genie can help in any way, please contact your Orange Genie Accountant, call us on 01296 468483 or email us at


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