HMRC excuses

The Dog Ate It, And Other Excuses That Won’t Wash With HMRC

I’ve always managed to file my tax return on time. I’m lucky that my incomings and outgoings are relatively simple. I’m also quite well organised and sensible enough to know when I need the help of an accountant. So I’ve never had to face a penalty for a late return or use my imagination to conjure up a late-return excuse that I think HMRC is likely to accept.

If I had to fabricate an excuse, I hope I would come up with one that was more believable and engendered more sympathy than these awful examples reported by the HMRC, which I’ve replicated below – with my comments – for your pleasure:

  1. My tax papers were left in the shed and the rat ate them.
    A rat? That’s new. Presumably, the dog was busy on another excuse-based assignment.
  2. I’m not a paperwork-orientated person – I always relied on my sister to complete my returns but we have now fallen out.
    And you’re an adult? Hmm – can’t think WHY you’ve fallen out with your sister…
  3. My accountant has been ill.
    For the whole year? Did they only mention this on January 30th?
  4. My dog ate my tax return.
    Ah, there he is. Well, he can’t be expected to dash about eating everyone’s tax returns, now can he? He’s got his own life. No wonder he subcontracted the rat.
  5. I will be abroad on deadline day with no internet access so will be unable to file.
    That’s why there are those other 364 days of the year on which to file your tax return.
  6. My laptop broke, so did my washing machine.
    I think you have understood both the term ‘dirty accounting’ and ‘in the black’.
  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.
    If you only tidy your house on 31st January, you have other problems beyond a late tax return. And how old is this niece?
  8. My husband ran over my laptop.
    If you don’t back-up everything regularly, you’re lucky to have made any money at all. You probably don’t owe a bean. But where are you paper copies?
  9. I had an argument with my wife and went to Italy for 5 years.
    So five years on, you still remember the argument but had completely forgotten the existence of the HMRC…
  10. I had a cold which took a long time to go.
    Get a grip.

Yes, these are all genuine excuses used in unsuccessful (naturally!) appeals against HMRC penalties for late returns. “Untidy family members and hungry pets are very unlikely to be accepted as a legitimate excuse for completing your tax return late,” says Ruth Owen, HMRC Director General of Personal Tax.

But HMRC aren’t unsympathetic to genuine problems and hardships, such as flooding at your business premises.

“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 at hand,” explained Ms Owen. “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.”

Kara Copple
An experienced business and finance writer, sometimes moonlighting as a fiction writer and blogger.