What happens if you fail to file a tax return?

Each new tax year, you will be contacted if HMRC believe you have to complete a tax return.  You will either receive a paper tax return or a letter called ‘Notice to File’ if you send your tax return online.

There are strict deadlines and penalties for failing to file a tax return.  Our guide explains these.

Paper tax return deadline

All paper tax returns have to reach HMRC by midnight on 31 October.  The deadline for paper tax returns is only later than this if:

  • you receive the notice to file your tax return after the 31 July (if this is the case, you have three months from the date of the notice to file to send in your return)
  • you are completing a paper return because there is no method of you sending your tax return online

Online tax return deadline

If you send your tax return online, it must reach HMRC by midnight on 31 January.

The deadline is only later than 31 January if you received the notice to file your tax return after 31 October.  In this situation, you will have three months from the date you receive the notice to file your return online.


If you fail to submit your tax return by the appropriate deadline, you will be charged an automatic £100 penalty.  If your Partnership Tax Return is late there is a £100 penalty for each partner.

However, you won’t have to pay this penalty if you have a reasonable reason for missing the deadline.  Whilst there are no set rules on what constitutes a ‘reasonable excuse’, some common examples are:

  • serious illness
  • the death of a partner shortly before the deadline
  • documents being lost through fire or flood that you cannot replace in time
  • problems with the online tax return system

If you think that you have a reasonable excuse, you should get in touch with HMRC immediately and ask for a penalty to be reconsidered.

If you do not have a reasonable excuse and you continue to fail to file your tax return, more significant penalties will start to apply.  From the 2010/11 tax year these penalties will be:

  • Over three months late – a daily penalty
  • Over six months late – an additional £300 or 5 per cent of the tax due (if higher)
  • Over twelve months late – a further £300 or a further 5 per cent of the tax due (if higher)

1 comment

  1. Hilary East says:

    my husband is in a partnership that Has only sent in estimAted returns for over 10 years. What will happen if they don’t get their paperwork sorted out? How long will the tax office wait?

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