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Published on 9 September 2020

Need to file your paper tax return by 31 October?


Tax returns that are filed on paper, rather than online, normally need to be with HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) by 31 October following the end of the tax year. This April, HMRC decided to encourage more people to file online by sending many paper-filers a Notice to complete a tax return (form SA316, or ‘notice to file’) rather than an actual tax return. You should not ignore this notice as it creates a legal obligation to file a return. Some taxpayers may still be sent a paper return instead. In either case, it is important to deal with it to avoid unnecessary penalties.

Image of a sticky note saying file tax return

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Who needs to file a tax return?

If you have received a notice to file or a paper return, then you have a legal obligation to complete one unless HMRC withdraw that notice, regardless of your circumstances. However, HMRC may agree with withdraw that notice if they agree that you are not required to file a tax return because you do not meet the criteria to do so.

If you have not received such a notice, you may have an obligation to notify HMRC that you need to file a tax return so that they can issue such a notice. See also the question below.

There is more detailed information in the tax basics section of our website, but the main reasons, as a low income taxpayer, that you might need to file a tax return for the tax year 2019/20 (that is, the year ended 5 April 2020) are if you:

  • are working for yourself (that is, you are self-employed – unless your trading income is within the £1,000 annual trading allowance). This includes subcontractors in the Construction Industry Scheme (CIS);
  • are a partner in a partnership business;
  • are a minister of religion – any faith or denomination;
  • are a trustee or the executor of an estate (you need to complete a tax return for the estate);
  • are a company director, if you have income on which tax is due that is not taxed under PAYE;
  • have untaxed income on which tax is due. This could be, for example, where interest is not taxed before it is paid to you and your savings income exceeds the personal savings allowance, or if you receive rental income in excess of the property allowance. If you are an employee or a pensioner and the income (profit) is less than £2,500 a year you might not have to complete a tax return if HMRC are able to collect the tax via PAYE, but it is still your responsibility to report such income by contacting HMRC. If you receive other untaxed income and the tax due on it cannot be collected via PAYE, you will need to complete a tax return;
  • receive regular annual income from a trust or settlement, or you receive income from the estate of a deceased person and further tax is due;
  • have taxable foreign income (although there is an exclusion if your foreign income consists solely of less than £300 of dividend income).
  • are non-resident and you have taxable income in the UK. This includes non-UK resident landlords. You can find out more on GOV.UK;
  • have tax due at the end of the year that cannot be collected via your PAYE coding notice in a later year; 
  • have untaxed income of £2,500 or more; 
  • have claims for expenses that are £2,500 or more; 
  • have  capital gains tax to pay.

The above is not an exhaustive list. You can check if you need to file a tax return by using a tool on GOV.UK.

How can I check if I have been sent a notice to file a tax return?

You may find the piece of paper that was sent to you or, if you had signed up to receive email notifications from HMRC, they may have sent you an email reminder. If you cannot locate either of these, by logging in to your personal tax account (PTA) you may see whether or not HMRC are expecting you to file a tax return.

If you are not sure, contact HMRC to check whether you have been sent a notice to file. See also the question below.

I’ve been sent a notice to file a tax return, but I don’t think I need to complete one.

In this case, you should contact HMRC and ask for the notice to file (or paper tax return) to be withdrawn. You will need to explain why you think you do not need to complete one.

Keep a note of any telephone conversation you have and keep copies of any letters. Ask for written confirmation from HMRC that they have accepted that you no longer need to file a tax return.

Remember, however, that you might need notify HMRC in future that you need to complete a tax return again if your circumstances change.

I need to file a tax return for 2019/20, but I haven’t been sent a tax return or a notice to file. What do I do?

You need to tell HMRC by 5 October 2020 that you need to file a tax return or you can be charged a penalty. If the reason you need to complete a tax return is because you are self-employed, you need to register with HMRC as self-employed. The same time limit of 5 October 2020 applies.

How do I get a paper tax return when I haven’t been sent one?

You can print one from the HMRC website or ask a friend to do that for you. You can also call HMRC and ask them to send you one, but it may take a few weeks to receive it so make sure you request one in plenty of time before the 31 October deadline.

Alternatively, you can file online, in which case there is an extended filing deadline (see question below). You can also phone HMRC, explain your position and ask for help in completing your tax return. HMRC have an Extra Support Team who can do this for you if you are unable to print the form or to complete it online. If you intend using this service, make sure you have all the required information to hand such as your National Insurance number, P60 (or final payslip of the year), details of any pensions, taxable state benefits received and any other income or capital gains.

What happens if I don’t file on paper by 31 October?

You can be charged a late filing penalty for filing a paper tax return after the deadline of 31 October. The penalty starts at £100 when the return is late but can increase dramatically when the return is 90 days late since daily penalties can apply. Further penalties can be charged if tax is paid late. If you miss the deadline for filing on paper, you should aim to file online by 31 January 2021. As you can see, there is an extended deadline if you file online.

But note there are two exceptions to the above general rule:

  • If the tax return, or the notice to file the tax return, was issued after 31 July 2020 you have 3 calendar months from the date of issue to file the tax return on paper.
  • You may have a reasonable excuse for filing the return late. Reasonable excuse is a technical term and you must have filed the tax return as soon as possible once the reasonable excuse ends. You can read more about reasonable excuse on our website.

What happens if I file on paper between 1 November 2020 and 31 January 2021?

Assuming the tax return, or the notice to file, was issued by 31 July 2020, you will be charged a late filing penalty of £100. You could avoid that penalty by filing online. But if you file a paper tax return first, any late filing penalty will not be set aside by the later filing of an online tax return.

Where can I get help and support?

You will find more information on our website in relation to Self Assessment. If you are self-employed you may find our self-employment guide useful.

If you have tried to resolve any problem with HMRC already, there are two tax charities who may be able to help if you are on a low income. Tax Help for Older People offers help to those aged 60 and over, except if they are self-employed. TaxAid offers help to those who are self-employed and those under the age of 60.

GOV.UK provides further information on Self Assessment.

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