Do you file your Self-Assessment Tax Return using the traditional paper form? If so, filing is about to get more complicated. The reason? HMRC is withdrawing downloadable paper tax returns from its website.

Current filing system

At the moment, most people complete and file their Self-Assessment Tax returns online. HMRC prefers that you do this. Not only does it simplify administration at their end, but the more people who file online the easier it is for them to clear their backlogs. These have been exacerbated by the increased numbers of HMRC staff working from home after the pandemic lockdowns. If HMRC is anything like the DVLA, paper forms can only be processed on-site.

All that said, significant numbers of people still file paper tax returns. If you do this, you need to complete and submit your return by 31st October following the end of the tax year. For online returns, you have until 31st January.

Paper tax returns to become harder to obtain

HMRC has a ‘Digital by Default’ approach (not to be confused with Making Tax Digital). The government defines Digital by Default as:

Digital by Default means digital services which are so straightforward and convenient that all those who can use digital services will choose to do so, while those who can’t are not excluded.

As a result, HMRC is writing to thousands of people who currently file paper tax returns. The letter is a notice to file a return, but it will not contain a paper return for completion. If you want to file on paper, you will need to get in touch to request a form.

At the same time, HMRC is going to remove the downloadable paper tax return from its website by 6th April 2023. ICAEW (Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales) has asked HMRC to publish a specimen return for reference, but this is not guaranteed to happen.

Will anyone be sent a paper return?

HMRC will still send paper returns to two groups of people who currently use them. The first is people aged 70 or over who have never submitted an online return before. The second is visually impaired people.

What should I do?

If you currently file paper tax returns, we’d recommend that you begin to file them online if at all possible. The online forms are easier to fill out. Depending on your responses, HMRC’s system will skip irrelevant sections. You also don’t have to rely on the vagaries of the postal service to submit your return. Better still, if you file online, you get an extra three months to do so.

Additionally, if you use cloud accounting software such as Xero, FreeAgent or Hammock, you can submit your return via these platforms. They will fill in much of the required information automatically, making the process even simpler. Using software also makes it easier for your accountant to analyse your figures and spot potential tax savings.

Consultation on modernising Income Tax services

HMRC is keen to make taxpayer interaction with its services digital as far as is possible. It is running a consultation between 15 March and 7th June 2023. If you wish to take part, you can respond to the discussion document, Simplifying and modernising HMRC’s Income Tax Services through the tax administration framework.

Need further advice on any of the topics being discussed? Get in touch and see how we can help.

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    About Ben Locker

    Ben Locker is a copywriter who specialises in business-to-business marketing, writing about everything from software and accountancy to construction and power tools. He co-founded the Professional Copywriters’ Network, the UK’s association for commercial writers, and is named in Direct Marketing Association research as ‘one of the copywriters who copywriters rate’.

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