Tax returns

A tax return is an HMRC form on which a taxpayer makes an annual statement of income and personal circumstances, used by HMRC to calculate the tax you owe based on what you report.

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Tax Returns

What is a tax return?

A tax return is a form you use to tell HMRC about your income, expenses and other circumstances. HMRC will then use this to calculate the tax you owe based on what you report. The form includes details of taxable income such as rental income, capital gains if appropriate and lets you claim tax allowances and tax reliefs. If you're self-employed, a self assessment tax return is the main way to sort out your taxes.

There are a lot of things you seriously need to know about tax returns so it’s definitely worth looking at all the information we have here to help you. In fact, every year, lack of interest in tax gets a lot of self assessment taxpayers in scalding hot water with HMRC.

Tax returns aren't just for the self-employed.  There are lots of reasons you might need to file one each year. You might have additional sources of income outside of your main job, or be the director of a company.

Take a look at our rundown and make sure you don’t fall into any common tax return mistakes. Also, if you're moving to the UK to work and need to pay UK tax you can find out more with us. If you think you could be due a tax refund, our simple tax refund calculator will tell you what you need to know.


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Tax Returns

When should I do my tax return?

Technically, you can do it any time after the end of the tax year, as long as it's filed by the 31st of January the following year. That said, it's always better to get it done sooner. For one thing, you'll know earlier how much you owe. That means you have time to plan or save up for making the payment. But also, as the numbers below show, there is quite a crush around tax return deadline time!

  • A record 85.5% of tax returns were sent online last year. The real crushes came on the 30th and 31st of January, when HMRC received 980,000 returns. The busiest hour was between 1pm and 2pm on 30 January, when almost 50,000 returns were received – 830 per minute!
  • The busiest hour on deadline day was between 11 am and midday. Almost 32,000 returns were received then – 530 per minute. Amazingly, HMRC managed to answer 95% of calls first time on deadline day.
  • Around 4.3 million customers (42%) left it until January to file their returns. This is despite HMRC asking for them back in April!
  • 210,000 more people are filing their returns on time than last year.
  • Christmas Day saw just over 2,000 Tax Returns submitted and Boxing Day another 5,400.
  • A record of nearly 25,000 tax returns were submitted on New Year's Eve. Another 11,500 came in on New Year's Day.
  • 600 people made a flying start on their New Year's resolutions, submitting their return between midnight and 10am.
  • Missing the tax return deadline lands you in an automatic £100 late-filing penalty. Those fines ratchet up further after 3, 6 and 12 months. A genuine reason might stop the penalty pain, but don't count on it.
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Tax refunds and tax returns

What's the difference between a tax refund and a tax return?

A tax refund is the money HMRC owes you back when you've paid too much tax. A tax return, on the other hand, is one of the tools you use to claim your refund. If you're paying out over £2,500 in work expenses each year, for example, the taxman will need a tax return from you to claim your refund.

If you're self-employed, or on the CIS (Construction Industry Scheme), you'll use a Self Assessment tax return to tell HMRC about the money you've got coming in and going out. It's still easy to end up paying too much tax through Self Assessment, though, so it's worth getting professional help.

Current tax year

What is the current tax year in the UK?

Tax years in the UK run from the 6th April to the 5th April the following calendar year. For example, the tax year covering 2016/2017 ends on the 5th April 2018. This means that claims made in 2016/2017 can cover refunds as far back as 2013/2014.

As for why the tax year is worked out from such odd dates - well, it's complicated. The short answer is to blame Pope Gregory XIII and the fact that September 1752 was missing 11 days.  After that, things get tricky...

Tax Return stats

How many tax returns are submitted?

According to HMRC, 10.39 million Self Assessment tax returns were completed ahead of the 31st January deadline this year. That's more than 92% of the total returns expected, and 150,000 more than the year before. Just last year alone, we sorted out 37,913 tax returns.

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Tax Return Experts

Our Understanding

Self Assessment affects more than just the self-employed, and traditional accountants just don't have the experience to keep up. RIFT keeps everything smooth and simple:

  • Self Assessment can be daunting at first. We'll get you properly registered as part of our service.
  • We make sure you can always get hold of us, when and how you want.
  • We cut the jargon, making complex tax situations straightforward so you always know where you stand.
  • We keep pace with your changing tax needs, while general accountants fall behind.
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RIFT Reviews

Here's what our customers say

We pride ourselves with being the first company in the tax sector to be awarded ServiceMark by the institute of Customer Service. That's because we're known for our friendly, helpful and jargon free approach to tax matters. But don't just take our word for it, check out our reviews. We invite our customers to tell us what they think about their experience with us on, an independent reviews site.

Read our reviews

Need more help?


Wondering if you can claim a tax refund or need to submit a tax return? Use our online tools to find out if you're owed money by HMRC.

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