You may recall a few years ago when, each January, HMRC led an advertising campaign in which Hector the Taxman encouraged people to submit their self-assessment tax returns on time using the strapline 'Tax doesn’t have to be taxing'. Spoiler alert: tax is taxing. It's debatable if the campaign succeeded as more than 10% of those required to file a tax return continue to miss the deadline each year.

Tax is complex, multi-functional and nuanced, having been established in sedimented layers down the centuries, with case law interpretations and annual budgets all seeking to loosen this law or exorcise that exception. It's fascinating to some, yet seriously depressing for others, especially if you've been subjected to detailed explanations about the different classes of National Insurance contributions.  

Yet, we have no escape from tax. It's an annual obligation that no amount of wishful thinking will free us from. And when we finally get around to preparing and filing our tax return, we have the treasured privilege of giving Hector some of our hard-earned cash!

As an accountant as well as a therapist, I have a soft spot for helping therapists with their tax returns. I aim, and delight in trying, to demystify and simplify tax, making it more accessible and less fearful. Part of the work includes taking away the surprises, so an unexpected tax bill cannot take us unawares, as well as helping people hard-wire new and good financial habits. I was therefore delighted to be invited to contribute to this toolkit and thoroughly enjoyed doing so.

So, let’s end with some light relief: HMRC has published the worst excuses given by taxpayers for filing their tax returns late, which include:

  1. my tax papers were left in the shed and the rat ate them
  2. I'm not a paperwork orientated person, so I always relied on my sister to complete my returns, but we have now fallen out
  3. my laptop broke, so did my washing machine
  4. my niece moved in – she made the house so untidy I couldn't find my log in details to complete my return online
  5. I had a cold which took a long time to go
  6. I had an argument with my wife and went to Italy for five years

While HMRC will not accept spurious excuses, they do recognise that taxpayers may have genuine difficulties completing their tax return on time, such as those affected by flooding at their premises. Further, they understand that life can be unpredictable and so always encourage taxpayers to contact them. However, they strongly resist acting as a free lender to people who don't wish to meet their responsibilities to pay their tax.

So, whilst Hector suggested that tax is really quite easy, perhaps with some planning and tenacity it need not be quite as daunting as you may fear. If this toolkit helps you to do this, then we're all winners. Thank you.