Reasonable excuse for late filing of tax returns

According to an announcement made on the website last week, more than three million self-assessment tax returns had not been filed with just a week to go before the 31 January deadline. That’s a third of returns due to be filed.

Readers who find themselves in this category may feel that they have an excuse for late filing, and should not pay the automatic penalty of £100. HMRC will consider a reasonable excuse and the criteria they will consider is set on their website and is reproduced below:

What may count as a reasonable excuse?

A reasonable excuse is something that stopped you meeting a tax obligation that you took reasonable care to meet, for example:

  • your partner or another close relative died shortly before the tax return or payment deadline
  • you had an unexpected stay in hospital that prevented you from dealing with your tax affairs
  • you had a serious or life-threatening illness
  • your computer or software failed just before or while you were preparing your online return
  • service issues with HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) online services
  • a fire, flood or theft prevented you from completing your tax return
  • postal delays that you couldn’t have predicted
  • delays related to a disability you have


You must send your return or payment as soon as possible after your reasonable excuse is resolved.

What won’t count as a reasonable excuse

The following won’t be accepted as a reasonable excuse:

  • you relied on someone else to send your return and they didn’t
  • your cheque bounced, or payment failed because you didn’t have enough money
  • you found the HMRC online system too difficult to use
  • you didn’t get a reminder from HMRC
  • you made a mistake on your tax return

If you did miss the deadline, for whatever reason, it will be in your best interest to file the outstanding return as soon as possible. In addition to the automatic £100 late filing fine there are progressive penalties if your late filing extends for months rather than days.

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