Self-employed try to file at the 11th hour (and keep their cool) with HMRC
The taxman’s final reminders to the self-employed to settle up and file before the self-assessment deadline of midnight tonight aren’t going down well with all freelancers.
Posting on a business networking website to urge self-assessors not to “leave it until the last-minute,” HMRC was met by an independent worker clearly trying not to lose their temper.
“I’ve tried for over an hour to get through to your phone line,” the worker posted under the HMRC reminder, which was uploaded by a member of the Revenue’s communications team.
'What else do you suggest, HMRC?'
Heading off a reply that simply redirected them, the worker added: “I have a [self-assessment] query which is not addressed on your website. What else you do suggest?”
Research handed yesterday to FreelanceUK strongly indicates that tax return reminders are still necessary, as it shows that four in ten sole traders are yet to file or pay.
Perhaps more “concerning”, said IR35 advisory Qdos and accountant Crunch which ran the research, 73% of those with outstanding returns did not know how much they needed to pay.
'Tax gets deprioritised'
“For many sole traders, tax is deprioritised – understandably [as] small business owners are busy running their [ventures],” Qdos chief executive Seb Maley told FreelanceUK.
“The tax system itself is needlessly complicated, too, which means calculating and submitting accurate returns can be challenging.”
However there is also the monetary challenge -- actually being able to pay the amount which is due to HMRC, indicates an emotional post by Hannah Duncan, a freelance writer.
“I [just] nearly, nearly, broke down in tears on the phone to HMRC. We’re all under pressure to pay taxes. Microbusiness and small businesses are getting squeezed to breaking point.”
Without detailing her specific issue, Duncan spoke of ‘losing sleep over taxes’ and since her near-breakdown on the phone to HMRC yesterday morning, her “mental health”.
Tax expert Laurence Hodgens tried to help. “If you need clarity and advice get in touch with me”, he intervened.
'Calling HMRC rarely brings resolution'
The boss of Hodgens Global added: “[But] phoning HMRC at this time can be a challenge and the best approach is to engage a supportive tax adviser. Tax can be explained and resolved but rarely through a call to HMRC.”
At the time of writing, calls to HMRC’s self-assessment helpline are taking an average of 27 minutes to be answered, the Revenue’s CEO Jim Harra has admitted to the Treasury Committee.
To a freelancer specialising in theatre, such an almost half-hour wait would be welcome.
“I was on hold for three hours last week to HMRC,” said the freelancer. “When I eventually got through to an agent, we spoke for five seconds. And then the line went dead.”
According to Mr Harra, disconnection should only happen when HMRC determines that, at “exceptionally busy times”, the caller isn’t going to be answered within a “reasonable” time, he wrote.
But online cries for help from self-assessment taxpayers seem to tell a different story.
One reflected: “I am on hold [to HMRC] right now. I think I am actually going to be very late for my meeting...[as] it's been 40 minutes on this call, and I got cut off from another 40-minute wait before. It's HORRIFIC.”
Sympathy isn’t guaranteed at this 11th hour – even from others contending with HMRC’s system, however.
“I’m always surprised by the number of people scrabbling around in the last few days of January,” said one, early last week. “I submitted mine in April -- I’ll pay the bill [now]. I never leave it until 31st in case there are systems access issues.”
Financial accountant Jack Laird has suggested that to an extent, HMRC’s ‘agents’ should be making sure that the self-employed don’t get into difficulty as the clock ticks down.
“Communication with the client should be the key to easing this occurrence,” Laird recommended in a LinkedIn update. “Setting a plan, agreeing on deadlines, and delivering what is required from both parties makes for a smoother process”.
That is the theory, at least.
But in practice “there’s always a mad dash to file self-assessments by midnight on January 31st,” Mr Maley told FreelanceUK.
“[Our]findings [were gathered]in the past fortnight, so I expect that more people will have completed the process by now. Even so, that the majority yet to file didn’t know how much they would need to pay is a worry.”