Income Tax and Self-Assessment

I cheered so loudly I woke the cat.  After several weeks/months of procrastinating, I finally dug out my box file labelled ‘Tax’.  I then waded through several years’ paperwork, all kept ‘just in case’, to find anything relevant to the year 2011-2012.  This happens every year.  What’s needed is actually very little: my pension P60s and, this year, a P45 from two months’ work carried out at the beginning of 2012.  As usual I inwardly groaned at having to complete a tax return when I no longer have any self-employment income or other income – the forever hoped for publication of a book perhaps – that warranted a place on the forms.

As I fanned through sheaves of notices and reminders from HMRC a leaflet printed in RED and in a large print fell out.  It read ‘Should I be in Self Assessment?’  Yes, I muttered, this is exactly what I have been asking myself over the last couple of years.  If I could say ‘yes’ to any of the  eight questions listed in the centre box, apparently my quest would end and a further couple of evenings clicking the mouse to answer ‘no’ or enter small insignificant sums would ensue.  Insignificant, that is, to the Inland Revenue, but not actually insignificant to me, of course.

I scanned the questions.  No I’m not self employed and haven’t been for a few years preferring someone else to calculate my dues to the nation’s coffers.  No, I’m not a company director and no, no, no I don’t receive income over £100,000!  I wish.  I read on, further down the sheet.  Again no, I don’t receive foreign income liable to UK tax and furthermore I no longer receive income from letting out property.

With that I dialled the 0845 number bracing myself for something resembling the Spanish Inquisition and being regarded as a would-be felon attempting to avoid paying tax in the same way our MPs have done for years.  I expected to be treated with suspicion.  After all, isn’t it usually a bad sign when none of the options in the first five minutes of your call apply to you and you are forced to ‘wait to speak to an advisor’.  To me, this always reeks of complications.

Once I was speaking to a human being, I explained about the leaflet and how I thought I was eligible only to be told there were ‘a few items not on the list which may change things’.  Just my luck I thought.  First security – full name with all its strange spellings and a surname that can be so easily misheard even if it’s spelt out.  I have received post addressed to Ms Carson, Ms Cattle and Ms Cassell – our northern operators do pronounce my name as the latter, frequently.  Then date of birth when you hold your breath hoping you are actually on a secure connection and speaking to the right person.  After being quizzed further, I was asked why I had signed up for self-assessment in the first place.  Here I hesitated, wondering if this last question was going to ‘find me out’.  Luckily, today my brain was in gear and I remembered.  On moving to the south coast in 2001 I had let my London house out for a period of 6 years and the receipt of rental income had triggered the need to submit a tax return.  As a cash strapped landlady I struggled annually with hmrc.gov.uk rather than line an accountant’s pockets.

Ten minutes later and I was told that I did not have to complete this season’s tax return, that a letter of exemption would arrive and I could ignore any reminders – or threats, my word not hers.  If my circumstances change – royalties on a novel ha ha – then I can re-start the process.  For once I am happy not to be published.

My relief was palpable as I babbled nonsense about being increasingly nervous of anything legal on the computer and this would be one less task leaving just contents insurance and online banking to cause me jitters. In other words I can now officially ‘retire’ and join the band of ‘white haired super-surfers’ who use the computer for pleasure only, not an annual stint of purgatory raising the blood pressure as each question is read three times to ensure accuracy.

And that was when I woke the cat.

By the way, paper returns should have been sent weeks ago but, if you file your self-assessment online, you have until 31st January 2013 to submit it.  Don’t leave it and get billed a wasted sum of £100 – just get on with it.  But if you think some of the above might apply to you phone 0845 900 0444

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