Did a rat eat your tax return?
Did a rat eat your tax return? (Image Credit: Pieter Brueghel the Younger [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)
Ruth Owen, HMRC Director General of Personal Tax
Ruth Owen, HMRC Director General of Personal Tax

HMRC has listed the worst 10 excuses for 2013-2014 from those who missed the self-assessment deadline for tax returns. All of the excuses were put forward in appeals against penalties applied by HMRC and all were unsuccessful although one or two will have raised an eyebrow.

Technology challenges feature among the excuses including having no access to Internet, losing login details and broken laptops. According to Ruth Owen, HMRC Director General of Personal Tax: “Untidy family members and hungry pets are very unlikely to be accepted as a legitimate excuse for completing your tax return late.”

The top ten bad excuse list is:

  1. My tax papers were left in the shed and the rat ate them
  2. I’m not a paperwork orientated person – I always relied on my sister to complete my returns but we have now fallen out
  3. My accountant has been ill
  4. My dog ate my tax return
  5. I will be abroad on deadline day with no internet access so will be unable to file
  6. My laptop broke, so did my washing machine
  7. My niece had moved in – she made the house so untidy I could not find my log in details to complete my return online
  8. My husband ran over my laptop
  9. I had an argument with my wife and went to Italy for 5 years
  10. I had a cold which took a long time to go

The UK has seen a significant rise in the growth of the self-employed. As such the end of January sees the biggest influx of tax revenue to government coffers across the entire year (Source: HMRC).

HMRC offering help but only to those who really need it

This year, HMRC has said that the focus is mainly on deliberate tax evaders rather than ordinary people and that they would accept reasons up front rather than once a late payment notice has been issued. For instance, those affected by flooding at their premises, or their agents’ premises, will not be asked to pay a penalty if their return is submitted without unreasonable delay. The department has also opened a Tax Helpline to give practical help and advice to people affected by severe weather and flooding – 0800 904 7900.

HMRC is also keen to make its point that they are not there to help those who are just trying to game the system with Owen saying: “We understand that life can be unpredictable and for those customers who have a genuine excuse for missing the 31 January deadline, such as the flooding, help is on hand. My advice would be to contact us through our helplines or online, as soon as possible.

“But for those who are trying to play the system, while the rest of us do the right thing, the message is clear: submit your tax return online by 31 January or face a fine. We’re here to help people in genuine distress, but not to act as a free lender to people who can’t meet their responsibilities to pay their tax.”


Parts of the UK has seen severe problems with weather over the last two months. This means that money to pay tax returns may simply not be there. It is easy to see this release as a move by HMRC to head off bad publicity should it end up issuing default notices to individuals who are in real distress.

However, it is also a thinly disguised barbed at those who might want to use the recent problems as an excuse. It will be interesting to see if self-assessment tax receipts top the £12.2 billion paid in January 2015 and if the total HMRC receipts January 2016 exceeds the £67 billion from January 2015.


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