August 1st, 2021

What is a “reasonable excuse” for filing your tax return late?

The deadline for submitting your self-assessment tax return online is 31st January following the end of the tax year on 5th April.

Submitting just one day late can result in a £100 late filing penalty. This amount can rise significantly the longer you leave it (estimate your penalty here).

HMRC do say though, that you can appeal against a penalty if you have a “reasonable excuse”.

Each year, HMRC gives us a look into some of the more ‘interesting’ excuses that taxpayers have attempted, and failed, to use. Here’s a sample of them:

  1. “I had an argument with my wife and went to Italy for 5 years”
  2. “My tax papers were left in the shed and the rat ate them”
  3. “My husband ran over my laptop”
  4. “My niece had moved in – she made the house so untidy I could not find my login details to complete my return online”
  5. “I was up a mountain in Wales, and couldn’t find a post box or get an internet signal”
  6. “My mother-in-law is a witch and put a curse on me”
  7. “I’ve been cruising around the world in my yacht, and only picking up post when I’m on dry land”
  8. “My child scribbled all over the tax return, so I wasn’t able to send it back”
  9.  “My dog ate my tax return…and all of the reminders”
  10. “My wife helps me with my tax return, but she had a headache for ten days”
  11. “I couldn’t complete my tax return, because my husband left me and took our accountant with him. I am currently trying to find a new accountant”
  12. “A wasp in my car caused me to have an accident and my tax return, which was inside, was destroyed”
  13. “My husband told me the deadline was the 31 March”
  14. “I’m too short to reach the post box”
  15. “2I was just too busy – my first maid left, my second maid stole from me, and my third maid was very slow to learn”
  16. “My boiler had broken and my fingers were too cold to type”
  17. “My wife won’t give me my mail”
  18. “I had a run-in with a cow”
  19. “My bad back means I can’t go upstairs. That’s where my tax return is”
  20. Lastly, from an accountant in London…. “I’ve been too busy submitting my clients’ tax returns!!”

So what is a ‘reasonable excuse’?

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

Does coronavirus (COVID-19) count as a reasonable excuse?

In light of the extraordinary circumstances over the last 17 months, HMRC will consider coronavirus as a reasonable excuse for missing some tax obligations. You must explain how you were affected by coronavirus in your appeal.

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COVID-19 Deadlines HMRC Penalties Tax Info


Alison obtained a First class degree in Accountancy and Management at UCLAN University. She then went on to qualify as a certified accountant in 2006 and became a founder member in 2011.

Alison trained at a practice in Liverpool and, within her 10 years there, she developed as an accounts manager and obtained a varied portfolio of clients which has provided her with a range of experience in accounts, audit, VAT and taxation.
Alison specialises in giving sound jargon-free advice to a range of small and medium sized businesses.

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