LATE SELF-ASSESSMENT FILERS have seen their £100 fines waived by HM Revenue & Customs should they offer a “reasonable” excuse for doing so, it has emerged.
In an internal memo leaked to the Daily Telegraph, HMRC staff were asked to forego the £100 charge without further investigation if people with apparently mitigating circumstances appealed after paying their tax bill.
As many as 890,000 people are estimated to have potentially benefitted from the reprieve for missing the 31 January deadline as HMRC faces a backlog of almost a million letters from taxpayers.
With a list of reasonable excuses on its website, HMRC said it was focusing its resources on tackling major tax avoidance rather than “penalising people for trying to do the right thing”.
In the past, people who appealed the £100 fine faced two- or three-week scrutiny of their tax affairs before a decision was reached.
The memo to HMRC staff described the process as “lengthy” and questioned its necessity when the “overwhelming majority of appeals” were accepted.
“Our penalty regime is intended to influence customer behaviour, but also be clear and cost effective, fair and proportionate,” the document said.
“The current way of managing penalties does not meet these objectives, and so we have decided to take a more proportionate approach where a customer has filed their return late, and then appealed against their penalty.
“This means that in the vast majority of cases we will be accepting the customer’s grounds for appeal, and we can cancel the penalty.”
A spokeman for HMRC added that despite the policy, no one will be let off the fine unless they’ve now sent in their return and “have a good reason for sending it in late”.
“This is part of our planned approach to penalty appeals, particularly for small businesses and individuals who have sent their tax return in late,” he said.
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