How to file a tax return in 2020 file a tax return in 2019

A guide to filling out your tax return

Filling out your tax return can feel like a daunting task, but it's a necessary part of running a business and it's important to get it right. We've teamed up with Jonathan Bareham, Director and Co-founder of accountancy firm Raedan, to explain everything you need to know about doing your taxes.

What is 'Making Tax Digital'?

Making Tax Digital (MTD) was implemented in April 2019 to make tax easier, more efficient and more effective.

If your business is VAT-registered, with a turnover above the £85,000 threshold, you have to keep digital records and submit your VAT returns using compatible software. HMRC has compiled a list of compatible software to save you the hassle of searching.

What is tax and why do businesses have to pay it?

Tax is our compulsory contribution to state revenue. It is levied by the Government on employee's income and business profits, and is also added to the cost of certain goods, services and transactions.

We pay tax to fund public services such as health, welfare, transport, education and more. Central Government revenues come primarily from Income Tax, National Insurance contributions, VAT, Corporation Tax and fuel duty.

Income Tax is the largest source of revenue for the UK Government, representing around 30 percent of the total.

What is a self-assessment tax return?

A self-assessment return is a record of all the income or capital gains a taxpayer has made in the tax year from all sources worldwide. HMRC is moving towards providing every taxpayer with an online digital account by 2020.

Who needs to complete a tax return?

Over 11.5 million people filed self-assessment tax returns in 2019. Completing and filing a return is not optional; HMRC applies strict rules for who should submit a return.

Generally, if someone only receives income taxed at source, such as a payslip, they do not have to file a self-assessment return.

However, you will be expected to file a return if you are:

  • self-employed as a 'sole trader' and earned more than £1,000
  • a partner in a business partnership
  • paid more than £2,500 a year in untaxed income, such as from renting out property, savings or dividends
  • making a profit from selling shares, land, a buy-to-let home, or other chargeable assets
  • a company director, unless no pay or benefits were received
  • claiming child benefit when one partner earns more than £50,000 a year
  • receiving income from overseas that is taxable
  • living overseas but receiving income from the UK
  • earning more than £100,000 a year
  • a trustee of trusts or registered pensions

If you fail to file, you will face penalties. If in doubt, check with HMRC because this list does not cover every possible scenario.

How to do a tax return

You can complete your own tax return or ask an accountant for help. If your financial affairs are straightforward, drafting and filing your own return online isn't too difficult.

Here are some tips to help you avoid some common pitfalls:

What should I have to hand?

Taxpayers need a wide range of security codes, forms, statements and other financial records readily available to complete a self-assessment tax return, depending on your personal circumstances.

If you're in business and VAT registered, then you're probably in a routine of bringing financial records up-to-date every quarter. If you're not VAT registered, then try to get into the same habit.

Using accounting software can help here. You can link to your bank data and automatically extract information from paper records to increase efficiency.

A good habit to develop is to have your online tax return completed by the end of November, so that you avoid any pressure in the run up to the deadline.

HMRC security codes and passwords

You cannot file online unless you have a unique tax reference (UTR) and you can only get one by registering with HMRC.

If you're completing a partnership return, you will need a separate UTR for the partnership as well as your own.

You will also require a username and password to access the HMRC online service. Setting up these UTRs and security codes can take up to a month, as the process is completed both online and by post.

Financial records

The basics include:

  • your national Insurance number
  • date of birth
  • forms P45 or P60 to show income received and tax paid

Also keep:

  • dividend vouchers
  • statements showing interest paid on savings
  • details of pension contributions

If you're self-employed, you will need:

  • bank statements
  • invoices
  • till rolls
  • receipts for expenditure
  • mileage records
  • any other documents showing income and expenses

Reducing your bill and avoiding errors on tax returns

To reduce your tax bill and avoid errors, make sure any allowances or reliefs you are entitled to are claimed in full, such as:

  • Capital allowances if you're self-employed - this is spending on assets to run your business, such as tools, equipment, office furniture and vehicles.
  • Charity donations - if you give money through Gift Aid or Payroll Giving you may qualify for tax relief.
  • Pension contribution relief - higher rate and additional rate automatically collect 20% tax relief, but have to apply for a top-up to 40% or 45% by completing a self-assessment return.

Some common mistakes:

One of the most common errors when it comes to self-assessment is leaving everything to the last minute. In 2018, 758,707 people completed their return on the last day, and the most popular hour for submissions was between 4pm and 5pm on 31 January.

To avoid joining this very stressed group, keep records as you go throughout the year, rather than trying to tackle a heap of paperwork on the final day.

What are the deadlines for completing your tax return?

Filing deadlines for paper and online returns

Different filing dates and procedures apply depending on how you submit your tax return.

Taxpayers have to register for self-assessment by 5 October 2020 to declare any income for the 2019-20 tax year, which runs from 6 April 2019 until 5 April 2020 inclusive.

Registration is a one-time task - once registered, taxpayers stay on the HMRC database and receive reminders to file tax returns each year until such time as they notify HMRC of a change in circumstance.

Tax returns online

HMRC offers a free basic tax return service online, but if you have more complicated financial affairs you will need to buy software or download forms to complete your return.

The most common taxpayers who require software or extra forms are those with income as:

  • Business partnerships
  • Trusts and estates
  • Lloyd's underwriters
  • Religious ministers
  • Non-residents

Online tax returns for the tax year ending 5 April 2020 have a filing deadline of midnight on January 31 2021.

Paper tax returns

If you are filing a paper self-assessment return for the tax year ending 5 April 2020, the deadline is earlier for delivering the forms to HMRC - midnight on 31 October 2020.

Payment dates can be found on the HMRC website.

Paying your self-assessment bill through your tax code

HMRC will collect any tax you owe by adjusting your personal tax coding providing:

  • The tax bill is no more than £3,000
  • You already pay income tax by PAYE, such as from a salary or pension
  • A paper self-assessment return was filed by the deadline.

What are the benefits of hiring an accountant to help you complete your tax return?

There are a multitude of reasons why you should consider hiring an accountant. When it comes to helping you complete your tax return, here are the two big ones:

  1. They're tax experts - as a busy business owner, chances are you won't have the time nor the inclination to dig into the various ways you can reduce your tax bill. Accountants on the other hand are experts in tax, and can help you pinpoint savings and deductions throughout the year.
  2. They save you time - The time you spend rummaging through boxes and files and gathering receipts and bank statements is time better spent running your business. Delegating your tax return to a professional frees you from that responsibility, while giving you peace of mind that it's all in good hands.

Tax made easier

The tax system can appear daunting but it's made easier by ensuring your records are correct. While MTD may seem a painful change at first, the idea behind storing digital records is the right one.

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Last Updated: 22 Jul 2020