Tax deadlines and self-assessments: what does HMRC consider a ‘reasonable excuse’?

This time last year we looked at 10 excuses that HMRC hear most commonly when it comes to self-assessment deadlines. This year we thought it might be worth looking at what HMRC considers a ‘reasonable excuse’.

What is a ‘reasonable excuse’? 

Imagine you’ve missed your self-assessment deadline – the one that occurs on January 31st. You phone up HMRC and you tell them your dog ate it, or that your sister usually does your accounts for you but you’ve fallen out (yes, these are actual excuses published by HMRC). A ‘reasonable excuse’ would be one that HMRC accepts – one that doesn’t make you look like a bit of an imbecile.

What does HMRC consider to be a ‘reasonable excuse’? 

Well, that’s the million-pound question, isn’t it? While they’ll happily highlight ‘my laptop broke and so did my washing machine’ as a ridiculous attempt (yes, that’s another real one), other technology-related excuses are considered totally legit.

A faulty laptop, for example, can be deemed reasonable providing you can provide proof. So can “serious illnesses, disabilities and/or serious mental health conditions” – again, all provable by a doctor. They’ll also accept “registering with HMRC in time but not receiving your activation code”, or “an HMRC online failure”.

It bears repeating, however: they’ll only accept these excuses if they’re based in fact. You can’t just pick one and hope for the best.

What they usually won’t consider reasonable are excuses that can’t be backed up with evidence, or point to your own failings as an organised individual. “I found the whole process too confusing”, for example, or “I registered with HMRC too late”.

Neither would pass muster. A common one is, “I thought my accountant was doing it”. If you genuinely have problems with an unreliable accountant, it’s your responsibility to spot the problem and correct it. (If you’re looking for a reliable accountant, may we unashamedly suggest My Accountant Friend?)

How does HMRC go about determining a ‘reasonable excuse’? 

As we said above, a ‘reasonable excuse’ often requires some level of proof alongside some level of self-awareness. You can’t simply admit to a worrying lack of punctuality and hope to get away with it. All that said, there’s no set list that you can pick and choose from. All you can do is submit your excuse once your returns have been submitted and hope that you don’t receive a penalty as a reply.

Naturally, a good accountant will help you prepare this, but they aren’t going to act as your fall guy. As a rule, an accountant can help you to get everything ready (and using software like My Accountant Friend can help you do that in a matter of minutes), but it’s down to you to press the send button and get everything in on time. The responsibility lies with you.

Does a ‘reasonable excuse’ only apply to the self-assessment period, or is it for any tax deadline? 

This is a very good question. HMRC will hope to see a ‘reasonable excuse’ any time you miss a tax deadline. It is not a situation used exclusively for the self-assessment period.

What happens if your ‘reasonable excuse’ is turned down? 

The short answer is: financial penalties. And if your reasonable excuses is considered so unreasonable that it makes the inspector laugh out loud, then there’s a strong possibility you’ll make it into another of these ‘most ridiculous self-assessment excuses’ articles. Talk about public humiliation!

If you’re concerned about getting your self-assessment in on time and avoiding having to make a ‘reasonable excuse’, give My Accountant Friend a call. We’re experts in helping people with self-assessments and any other tax queries you may have, and our cloud-based software enables you to have your tax documents ready in a matter of minutes rather than a matter of days. 

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