Semi-retired landlord Richard Eaton has never missed a tax deadline — until this year.
Richard, 65, has been locked out of his Government Gateway account since the beginning of December and has been unable to gain access to file his taxes.
That is despite making 15 phone calls to HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) and sending multiple letters in a bid to unfreeze his account.
With just hours to go before tonight’s self-assessment tax return deadline, he now fears he will have to pay hefty late filing and payment penalties and will be hit with high interest rates if the issue remains unresolved.
Anyone who misses the January 31 deadline will receive a £100 fine automatically. After three months, you will begin incurring additional daily fines of £10, up to a maximum of £900.
Cut off: Those seeking help are finding it difficult to speak to anyone after HMRC’s decision to reduce the service on its helpline from December 11 until the end of January
Failing to file for a whole year could leave you facing a £1,600 bill. HMRC also charges 7.75 per cent interest on late payments.
Richard says: ‘All I’m trying to do is the right thing by paying my taxes — why can’t they help?’
Taxpayers such as Richard face nail-biting hours ahead of tonight’s self-assessment tax return deadline, as a customer service meltdown at HMRC is preventing many from filing and paying their taxes on time, Money Mail can reveal.
More than 475,000 self-employed people are expected to miss the midnight deadline as they struggle to finalise their tax returns, according to research from wealth manager Handelsbanken. Last week, nearly four million people still had yet to file their tax returns.
Our postbag is heaving with letters from more than 100 readers who have voiced their frustration over HMRC’s poor customer service in the lead-up to the self-assessment tax return deadline.
Many tell us they have gone to great lengths to pay their taxes but have been blocked by inefficiencies within the tax office, including year-long waits for replies to letters, a lack of knowledge among officials and long phone wait times.
The struggles paint a depressing picture of a department that should be welcoming taxpayers’ attempts to pay their taxes on time. In Richard’s case, the taxman’s incompetence has led him to lose a crucial remortgage offer.
The 65-year-old’s troubles began on November 28 when he clicked on a scam link in an email from fraudsters impersonating HMRC, asking him to update his contact details.
‘Naively, I clicked on the link and entered my log in details for the Government Gateway. I had just had contact from HMRC so fell for it.
However, very quickly I realised it looked dodgy and logged on to the genuine Government Gateway to reset my password. I thought it would end there.’
But on December 2, when Richard tried to log into his account, he was unable to because HMRC had suspended it due to unusual activity.
Squeezed: Anyone who misses the deadline will receive a £100 fine automatically. After three months, you will begin incurring additional daily fines of £10, up to a maximum of £900
During a series of calls, he was told by one official he would have to wait six weeks for his account to be back up and running, another claimed it would be an eight-week wait, while a third said they could not put a timeframe on it.
‘My stress levels were going through the roof,’ he says. ‘Nobody could give me a clear answer or help me access my account. It’s hopeless.
‘Some operators say they can’t help and then hang up so you have to redial and face the long holding times all over again.’
On December 15, out of ‘sheer desperation’, Richard wrote a letter of complaint detailing the serious issues he was experiencing.
‘Needless to say, I have yet to receive a response from HMRC.’
Richard has since missed the capital gains tax filing deadline on December 31 and he and his wife have lost out on a remortgage offer on his home.
‘The best deal around fell through because I couldn’t submit my last three years’ tax returns, including the 2022-23 year,’ he says.
‘At our age we aren’t exactly inundated with mortgage offers. I have explained this to numerous customer service personnel over the helpline but am just repeatedly told that there is nothing they can do to reinstate my account until I am contacted by the security team.’
After Money Mail intervened, HMRC has said Richard will not receive any penalties for late filing and payment.
A spokesman says that no one identified as being subjected to a scam attack who has had their online account suspended will have penalties to pay for filing their return or paying their taxes late.
Money Mail has this month exposed the shocking extent of the breakdown in customer service at HMRC.
We revealed how those seeking help are finding it difficult to speak to anyone ahead of the tax return deadline after HMRC’s surprising decision to reduce the service on its helpline from December 11 until the end of January.
Fines: More than 475,000 self-employed people are expected to miss the midnight deadline
One reader from Edinburgh says she will be among the hundreds of thousands to miss tonight’s deadline, despite filing her paper returns in October.
The freelance writer, who asked to remain unnamed, has not yet received a letter or notification to inform her of how much tax she is due to pay.
‘I’m very aware of the dire warnings of not paying on time,’ she says. ‘I’m scared that, although it is not my fault, I’ll get clobbered with a fine.
‘I tried to phone but HMRC’s phone line is a nightmare and won’t let you navigate through to talk to anyone. I have written a letter but who knows when it might be answered.’
A tax expert, who has run an accountancy business for 35 years, tells Money Mail that in one recent case it has taken HMRC 13 months to send letters responding to paper tax returns.
Mark Collins, head of tax at Handelsbanken Wealth and Asset Management, says those with a reasonable excuse for missing the deadline may avoid penalties but there is a risk of a £100 fine even if there is no tax to pay and penalties can quickly mount.
He says: ‘Self-assessment returns are clearly challenging for substantial numbers of the self-employed, with many at risk of missing the deadline and others struggling to complete returns.’
Deadline: A customer service meltdown at HM Revenue and Customs is preventing many workers from filing and paying their taxes on time
Barbara Cox says her attempts to pay tax have been cut short at the very first hurdle. The pensioner applied for a Unique Taxpayer Reference (UTR) number in June last year to complete a self-assessment return. But she says she never received a response.
She says: ‘Ever since, I have tried constantly, at all times of the day, to call them. I got totally exasperated as whatever time I called, no one ever answered the phone and it just rang off. I continued trying to contact them by phone for several months, but to no avail.
‘I wrote to them, explaining that I was trying to acquire a UTR in October and again in November, sending the letters registered delivery, but never received any response from them.’
As a last resort, she turned to a friend with experience of tax returns who suggested that she send an estimation of the tax she believed she owed by cheque.
‘Within two days, HMRC banked my cheque. Such a shame that they could not have responded to me as quickly as they took my cash and saved me the anxiety, when I had been trying so hard to do the right thing and pay my tax.’
Barbara has since received multiple reminders to file an online tax return and fears she will still receive a fine.
She says: ‘I find it utterly appalling that such an organisation can be so unprofessional. I’m now waiting to see if I get an automatic fine, despite them having my cheque. HMRC is not fit for purpose, it’s a disgrace.’
An HMRC spokesman says: ‘Our online services and phone lines are operating as normal, with filing going well ahead of the self-assessment deadline.
‘Customers are successfully using our digital services to get the help they need as this is the quickest and easiest way for most, saving people having to wait on the phone.
‘This frees up our expert advisers to help people with urgent and more complicated queries as well as helping the small number unable to access our online services.
‘Millions of people already sort their taxes online, with more than 80 per cent satisfied with their experience.’
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