We're pushing on into autumn now, and all those rainy days we've been saving those tax refunds for are well and truly on their way. The first hints of Christmas displays are starting to sprout in department stores, and the taxman's already licking his chops at the thought of January's tax return deadline.

Now's the perfect time to top up your wallet before the winter money avalanche empties it again. It's easier than you'd think, too. In fact, answering a few questions for online surveys could put hundreds of pounds in your pocket. It's easy to do, and with a few precautions can be a decent little earner. Here's what you need to know:

Simple Surveys

The simplest kind of programme to sign up for is the basic online survey site like i-Say or Swagbucks. You register, go about your business until you get an alert and then you're off to the races.

There are lots of sites to look into, and you'll probably get a decent range of topics to weigh in on from them. It's worth taking the surveys fairly seriously, by the way. Don't just throw out any old answers. It might be a short-term laugh for now, but some of the companies do check up on you. If you're messing about too much you'll probably find your offers drying up eventually. Wherever you sign up, consider using a new email address just for your surveys. The last thing you'll need is a flooded-out inbox in your everyday email account.

Focus Groups

Another option is the “focus group” type of programme, like Research Opinions or Saros. You can generally expect to make a lot more for taking part in one of these. On the other hand, you'll also probably be very limited in the number you can take on per year. Still, payouts of around £50-£150 aren't uncommon, so they're definitely worth considering.

Avoid Pay to Join Sites

Don't be fooled into paying to join up with a site. There are far too many free options to bother with sign-up fees. You might occasionally get tricked into answering a few questions before being told you aren't eligible, too. If you think you're being taken for a ride, always complain – and do it loudly. Use social media and make some noise.

Using Your Vouchers

Not all sites pay in cash. If you earn vouchers from your surveys, then get the most you can out of them as soon as possible. There's almost always an expiry date – and sometimes companies go out of business unexpectedly.

Wherever possible, you're probably better off choosing a cash option instead. If there's a minimum threshold for what you're owed before they pay out, get your cash the moment you hit it. If the company shuts down while it still owes you, you'll be out of luck.

Do I Have To Pay Tax On What I Get Paid?

At the end of the day, we're talking about hundreds of pounds for virtually no effort (a bit like getting a tax refund with RIFT, but this is extra money, not just getting back what you're owed). The individual amounts paid out won't look like much, but they stack up over a year.

Keep in mind, as always, that the taxman will expect his bite out of whatever you make. Any source of income you've got coming in has to be accounted for if HMRC consider it a "substantial amount" (which is usually around £1000 but it does vary, so you can check with us if you're not certain). If you're used to the Self Assessment system already, this is old news to you, of course. Still, a lot of people tend to forget to tell HMRC about things like this, and the taxman's got no sense of humour about that. Fines start at £100, which could wipe out a big chunk of what you've made in itself.

Your opinions, experiences and ideas are worth money, and firms are more than willing to pay you for sharing them. Just make sure HMRC knows what you're up to – and get in touch with RIFT if you need help tackling the taxman with your tax rebate or tax return.