Eight top tax return tips

Serena Cowdy
by Lovemoney Staff Serena Cowdy on 25 October 2013  |  Comments 15 comments

How to make sure your self-assessment tax return's right... as well as on time.

Eight top tax return tips

If you want to file a paper self-assessment tax return you have until the end of October to send it in to HMRC.

If you're not sure where to start, these eight trouble-shooting tips should help. Hopefully you can learn from my mistakes!

1. Decide whether you need professional help

Many of us are confident enough to fill out our self-assessment forms, but if you have complicated tax affairs or you're worried you might make a mistake, you could get an accountant to do it for you. Charges can vary massively, so shop around and make sure you understand what you're getting for your money.

2. Find your P45/P60

If you were employed (rather than self-employed) for any part of the tax year in question, you'll need to use your P45 or P60 to fill in sections of the self-assessment form.

In our household, there seems to be some sort of black hole into which all P45/P60 forms go; I'm sure I've been sent them in the past, but I can never, ever find them when I need them.

If it turns out you don't have the relevant P45/P60, you'll have to contact your previous employer (usually the payroll department) and get the relevant information from them.

In my experience, this can be a very long-winded process, with replacement documentation trailing sluggishly through the post. So, it's not a good idea to start hunting for these documents the day before the deadline!

3. Make sure you have all the relevant information

Filling in my self-assessment form took about half an hour. Simple, right? Unfortunately, pulling together all the information I needed to include in that form took about three days. Virtually every piece of financial documentation you own somehow turns out to be relevant.

So, sort all your paperwork into manageable, date-ordered sections well in advance. Here's an HMRC guide to the basic records you should keep for self-assessment purposes.

4. Get hard copies

If your invoices, bank statements and so on are stored electronically, you may find it useful to print off hard copies as well.

These papers can be laid out in front of you, clipped together in handy groupings and arranged in date order. That way, you won't need to scour electronic folders and files every time you need to find a piece of information.

5. Clear some space in your diary and some space on your desk

Try to find a time to complete your return when kids or partners aren't around. In my experience, any distractions can make the process seem even more unmanageable!

Many people complete their tax returns during weekends. However, I find it easier to devote a couple of weekdays to it, when I've got the house to myself.

Another good reason to tackle your return during working hours is that all the people you might need to get in touch with (like that old payroll department) are actually sitting at their desks and able to take your slightly panicky call.

Give yourself plenty of physical, as well as mental room in which to complete those forms.

With each category of paperwork in its own pile (even if it's on the living room carpet) you're less likely to lose documents and get everything mixed up.

6. Obtain proof of posting

When you go to post your return, it's best to send it by recorded delivery, or another method where you have proof of posting, to make sure it gets there on time.

7. Learn from your mistakes

If your tax return is nightmarish this year, try to pinpoint why that is and approach next year's return armed with that knowledge.

For example, I discovered that many of the receipts in my 'expenses' folder were very vague, and looking back, I had no idea what they were actually for. I'll be making a note on each one from now on!

8. Need more help?

If you get stuck, HMRC Self Assessment assistance is available online here.

If you'd rather hear a human voice, you can call the Self Assessment helpline on 0845 9000 444. It's open from 8am to 8pm Monday to Friday and 8am to 4pm on Saturdays.

For identification purposes, just make sure you have your Unique Taxpayer Reference (UTR) and your National Insurance number ready.

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Comments (15)

  • Captain Slow
    Love rating 0
    Captain Slow said

    My tips would be:

    1 Do it as close to the end of the tax year for the return in question as possible- you have 9 months to do it!

    2 Put a pack together and give it to a tax adviser to do for you. (I'm not one of those!). They will save you more than their fee.

    3 If you do it early, you will know exactly what your liability is so you can make a plan (include it in your cashflow) to get the money saved up and available to pay by 31 Jan.

    4 Enjoy the lack of stress cos it's all done early!

    Report on 09 January 2010  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • ronat42
    Love rating 71
    ronat42 said

    Captain Slow has it in 1. Sadly, I always do this during April and hand it to my accountant, who also does my business accounts, who then leaves it until January to do anything with it and then seems to have lost the details. It's not just him, they all seem to be the same. I pop in during the year and they always have desks full of paperwork and look frantic so, If the year ends at the same time for most people, what are thay doing?

    Please don't suggest changing accountants because It took ages to find one who could actually get the figures right and, anyway, I take the Queens bus pass this year so I shall not be needing tham soon.

    Report on 09 January 2010  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • chubby chops
    Love rating 13
    chubby chops said

    I start to get my things ready in January for the end of the tax year in April. I compile the relevant figures into a spreadsheet. Usually in April I make an appointment with the accountant and we do the tax return together. Sorted. 

    Report on 09 January 2010  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • gluman
    Love rating 0
    gluman said

    I find the biggest difficulty is get ]ting tax certificates from the banks and building societies. They used to do it automatically but now you need to ask most and they can be very very tardy, Halifax are the worst.

    Report on 09 January 2010  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • Captain Slow
    Love rating 0
    Captain Slow said

    I forgot a couple of things...

    Get your accountant to agree (in writing) to having everything done within 3 months of receiving everything from you, else they only receive 50% of their fee. That soon focuses their minds!

    Make it easy for your accountant. Brown paper bags of receipts makes it a pain for them and expensive for you.

    If your self employed, update your income and expenditure ledgers (in a simple spreadsheet) weekly, and pass these to your accountant at the end of each quarter. If you're VAT registered, you'll need to have the numbers quarterly anyway.

    Report on 09 January 2010  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • mambach
    Love rating 37
    mambach said

    This year, mines dead easy

    No income = no tax

    Though sod's law suggests they'll try and charge me anyway

    Report on 09 January 2010  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • Hel22
    Love rating 2
    Hel22 said

    In response to Capitain Slow's 50% fee reduction focuses the accountant comment.

    It's a shame us accountants' can't charge double for clients bringing in their records in the last couple of weeks of January despite sending reminders throughout the year.

    There will be many accounts/tax staff working 12 hour+ days to try and get everything done and not on an overtime rate and receiving no thanks from the clients.

    Ronat24 - change accountants, we aren't all the same, some of us care about doing a prompt job and if you're retiring you may still need to complete a tax return. Most people's year ends are 31 March, but if you have the right records ready Apr/May then you shouldn't have a problem, a 4-6 week turn around

    Report on 09 January 2010  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • mymoneymatters
    Love rating 33
    mymoneymatters said

    A good accountant will tell you how much tax you don't have to pay. Threatening your accountant with a 50% reduction in pay if they prove to be inefficent is crazy. You should portray yourself as a good hard working man who is struggling to pay the bills. They are only human and will ensure you pay the minimum required. I have a great accountant who is very honest and accurate and has a good relationship with the taxman as they know he is straight. I studied accounting years back but never pursued it as a career as due to high interest rates on my mortgage i had to look for a higher income than a trainee accountant would receive so that was the end of that. The thought of paying taxes to these cronies in power makes me wanna puke. I do my own accounts with revised income and throw in a couple of mistakes. Accountants love pointing out mistakes God blees 'em. That's how i save a lot in taxation. Do i feel guilty? No. In fact the thought of avoiding paying taxes i owe to these elected robbing scumbags fills me with a rare warm glow! The amount of taxpayers money squandered by this government is criminal and obscene and i'm damned if i'm going to be a financial contributer. My hard earned money matters to me. They can go to hell.

    Report on 09 January 2010  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • Scott_Parker
    Love rating 8
    Scott_Parker said

    I completed my self assessment form myself, no accountant, just plain old me. It was a painful task but I felt quite proud of myself once it was done and it didn't appear to be that painful......but the tax payment was :( After about an hour and a half it was complete, I already had an online account because I've submitted online before but all the way through it I was swearing at the screen and my wife was laughing at me. What I don't understand is how this service is policed. As an honest hardworking tax payer I did was I was supposed to do but what about all the UK citizens that just don't bother.....do they ever get caught, fined, jailed.....I certainly haven't heard of that happening to anyone. I don't think the self assessment system works because unlike me others are dishonest.

    Report on 18 January 2010  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • FireBlade
    Love rating 25
    FireBlade said

    I think with increased levels of technology these days, the the HMRC radar will start picking up more and more dodgers. They must have lost billions of pounds in the people you refer to Scott.

    Report on 23 January 2010  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • Bierlijn
    Love rating 24
    Bierlijn said

    If I knew who you were, mymoneymatters, I'd try and have you slung in jail. It's not so much that you cheat on your taxes, but a sign of how far standards of morality have sunk in this country that you think it's OK to brag about it on a public forum.

    Come on, Lovemoney, you have this person's details. Phone up HMRC and point out their post on your website. It's your public duty.

    Report on 18 October 2012  |  Love thisLove  1 love
  • tuttogallo
    Love rating 99
    tuttogallo said

    I have always filled in my own return and here is my advice.

    Create a spreadsheet to add up your dividends and interest, gross, tax deducted and net. When you receive a dividend or a section 975 tax certificate enter the figures on your spreadsheet. Before filling in the TR, check every figure on the spreadsheet against the paperwork and make sure that all your income is on the spreadsheet.

    When you receive a dividend certificate, write the financial year at the top and keep each year's certificates together with a large paper clip. Keep them in a box file.

    Have a decent filing system and do your filing. Personally I like treasury tags. They keep your papers together and in date order (latest on top).

    Make a copy of the TR and fill that in first. I generally find that I have to change at least on figure before I am ready. KEEP A COPY OF YOUR TR, not just to refer to it, but it makes it easier to fill in the next one.

    If you accidentally under declare and correct it later, HMRC will hit you with fines and interest, so there is really no alternative to getting it right first time.

    Lastly, I do recommend doing it yourself, it gets easier and when you use a professional, you still have to collect and collate the information and that is most of the work anyway.

    Report on 18 October 2012  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • PDB11
    Love rating 75
    PDB11 said

    I do as much of the calculation as I can straightaway when the P60 arrives. Not April - it seldom arrives by then - but May or June. I have a spreadsheet ready set up, a few tweaks needed each year.

    I submit, electronically, in mid January. This gives me the maximum flexibility in moving gift aid payments from one year to another.

    This year I shall have dual residency, so my employer has hired a well-known firm of tax advisers to help. The advice they give is awful, but they have some pretty good online tools for entering your data, they are good at pestering you for stuff starting about three months after the end of the tax year (which is of course different in England and Germany), and so far they've done a pretty good job of calculations and filling in a German tax return. Let's see how they do on my UK one!

    It doesn't help, though, when my employer refuses to give me the information I need, and I know they've already given it to my tax advisers...

    Report on 19 October 2012  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • DavidSnow24
    Love rating 0
    DavidSnow24 said

    I used a website called www.simpletaxreturns.com

    They were really helpful on the phone and had it all completed in 48 hours. Plus it was only £49. Best £49 spent. Made the whole thing so easy.

    Last year I used an accountsnt who charged £345 for the same service! The HMRC website is an option if you can figure out what you are doing! I gave up after two hours - it's so confusing.

    Report on 19 January 2013  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • amwell44
    Love rating 77
    amwell44 said

    1. At the start of the tax year, start a new folder, with a label. Place your P60 and other relevant documents and receipts inside, as you receive them. When you come to file your return, all the paperwork will be to hand and you can add to the folder any calculations and a copy of your completed return for the record.

    2. File self-assessment returns on line. It's much easier and you will get used to HMRC-speak. You need to register the first time and then it becomes a permanent arrangement.

    3. Keep your folder for 5 years at least, in case of queries from HMRC. It can work the other way too. I once realised I had made a mistake two years running and was able to revise my past returns and obtain a refund.

    Report on 29 October 2013  |  Love thisLove  0 loves

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