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No one messes with HMRC

As the UK’s tax deadline day loomed at the end of January, Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs helpfully sent out a reminder to editors that it is not a body to be messed with.


Ludicrous claims will be dismissed. Late filers will be fined. Excuses will cut no ice. “We’re here to help people in genuine distress, but not to act as a free lender to people who can’t meet their responsibilities to pay their tax,” says a stern-sounding Ruth Owen, HMRC director general of personal tax.

HMRC sneers at some of the outrageous personal expenses claimed as business costs, although without specifying what the profession is of whoever claimed for their “intimate waxing”.

But it saves its most ruthless mockery for the worst excuses it encountered last year for late returns. Euromoney ponders: “I will be abroad on deadline day with no internet access so will be unable to file.” Most financial journalists have used a variant of this to dodge that insistent PR begging us to interview the bank’s head of social responsibility, or the new start-up offering a revolutionary digital payments service. 

But as taxpayers have around six months to file their returns, we can see why this one fails to cut the mustard.

Some of the old schoolday explanations for not handing in homework also featured. “My tax papers were left in the shed and the rat ate them.” Yep, we’ve all been there, pal. 

But there was much creativity too. “My niece had moved in – she made the house so untidy I could not find my log-in details to complete my return online.” 

Euromoney’s favourite, though, is: “I had an argument with my wife… and went to Italy for five years.”

Euromoney contacts the HMRC. Is this a case of one law for the little people or did all of these excuses come from Google or Starbucks?

The identity of respondents is confidential, we are told. Quite so.

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