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January 17, 2020

Self-Assessment Tax Return for Freelancers: Making the Deadline

Written by Jack Lewis

Let’s face it – self-assessment isn’t at the top of anyone’s to do list. But submitting your forms for the tax year 2019 / 20 is something you need to do if you work for yourself. In this blog we’ll take a look at exactly what you need to do in order to make your self-assessment return as painless as possible.

Some great things about being a freelancer, in no particular order:

  • Freedom to work where you want and when you want
  • More time to spend with your loved ones / cat / Netflix (or all three)
  • The lack of interminable office ‘banter’ (shudder)

But there’s also the prospect of completing and submitting your self-assessment tax return on time every year. That one’s not so great. Luckily for you, we’re here to help.

Whether you’re wondering how to register for self-assessment, worrying about what any late filing penalty might be, or simply want pointing in the right direction, we’ve got a few tips for you.

The self-assessment basics

Before we delve into the details of self-assessment, there are a few things any self-respecting freelancer and budding tax enthusiast should know. You – or the person who handles your financial matters, if you’re lucky enough to have one – need to get your self-assessment done by midnight on 31st January 2020.

If you’re a fan of the traditional pen and paper method, unfortunately you’re a couple of months too late. That particular self-assessment deadline passed in October, so at this point your only option is to submit your return online. You can register for self-assessment and complete the forms here.

What happens if I miss the self-assessment deadline?

HMRC aren’t known for being the most understanding of governmental departments, so you won’t be surprised to learn that missing the self-assessment deadline leads to some rather draconian penalties. If your return is submitted up to three months late, you can expect a £100 fine on top of your existing tax bill. It doesn’t matter if that return is submitted at 12:01am on 1st February or right at the end of April – the amount you have to pay will be the same.

If you still haven’t completed your self-assessment after those 3 months have elapsed, the penalties begin to ramp up. Between the 3- and 6-month mark, you’ll be fined to the tune of £10 every day, up to £900. After that, between 6 months and a year, you’ll incur a further penalty of £300 or 5% of your tax bill – whichever is greater. If you still haven’t submitted after a year, then that penalty is repeated again.

As you can see, it’s much easier (on you and your wallet) to get your ducks in a row well before the self-assessment deadline begins to approach. Is all the associated paperwork and form-filling a bit of a nightmare unless you’re some kind of sadist? Absolutely. But it’s a pleasant dream compared to the thousands of pounds worth of fines that’ll be coming your way if you don’t complete your submission in time.

 How to make self-assessment easier for yourself

We know that completing your self-assessment tax return isn’t a particularly enticing prospect. But there are a number of things you can do which will make it a little less painful. Our number one tip? Be organised! It sounds simple, but it’s human nature to delay unappetising tasks until the very last minute – at which point they’re inevitably a much greater headache.

By carving out a little time here and there throughout the year, you’ll give yourself room to breathe later on. Once the tax year is over in April, you’re free to submit your next self-assessment return. We’re not saying get it in by 1st May – that’d be ridiculous – but it’s not a bad idea to get prepping early. Maybe set aside half a day once a month to make sure everything is where it needs to be.

There are numerous guides and blogs (just like this one) which will help you with any number of quandaries, and if you don’t mind paying a generally reasonable amount of money (somewhere between £100 and £200 depending on the company) it’s very easy to get someone else to do the hard work for you.

Finally, the self-assessment part of the website offers some very handy advice on any questions you might have – from live webinars, to videos, to answers to frequently asked questions.

On a lighter note…

As much as we like to think a blog like this one is easy to read, we’re very much aware that there are an almost infinite amount of other things you’d rather be doing rather than trudging through 1,000 (ish) words on penalties, fines and the more mundane aspects of working for yourself. So we thought we’d wrap things up with a few facts:

  • If you do miss the self-assessment deadline, you can at least take some solace from the fact that you’re very unlikely to be the only one. In fact, in 2015 HMRC made £89 million from the charges – enough to get you your very own Paul Pogba
  • Well over 90% of all self-assessment returns are now done online
  • Not a fan of Father Christmas? In 2014, you wouldn’t have been alone. That year nearly 25,000 self-assessment returns were filed between Christmas Eve and Boxing Day!
  • If you think you might need some advice on the phone, make sure your phone is charged – in January 2018 HMRC took 195,260 phone calls. Even if they operated 24/7, that’s still 262 calls every hour. Expect a wait.

And one last thing. If all this talk of admin and form filling has got you in the mood for…more form filling, then why not head on over to the Dinghy homepage and get a quote for your freelancer insurance cover? It shouldn’t take you anywhere near as long as your self-assessment return – you can get a quote in just 60 seconds.

About Jack Lewis

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