Even if you don’t actually have any tax liability, you may need to file a tax return for a number of reasons, for example if you’re self-employed but haven’t earned enough to owe HMRC, or you filed a tax return last year and haven’t been told you don’t need to this year.
HM Revenue & Customs figures released to us under the Freedom of Information Act show that between April 2012 and April 2017, some 1,635,000 late tax returns were filed by people who owed “£0 or less” in tax – meaning they didn’t need to pay anything, and some could even have been due cash back from the taxman. In 2016/17, the last year for which figures are available, some 239,000 such returns were filed late.
Those who file their tax return late face a fine of at least £100 unless they have an officially-approved excuse, such as an illness or bereavement immediately before the deadline. While some of those filing late will have offered a valid excuse and not been fined, many are likely to have had to pay up. HMRC says simply not owing any tax is not a valid excuse which will stop you being fined if you file your return late.
As well as the 1.6 million late returns from people owing no tax, a further 268,000 late returns were recorded over the five years from people who owed less than £100 in tax – meaning they risked paying more in fines than they owed in tax.
See our Self-assessment tax returns guide for full help on filing before the deadline.