I’ve been pretty fortunate in my life. Having been in more or less constant PAYE employment since leaving school at 16 I’ve never had to do my own tax returns so my contact with Her Maj’s Revenue and Customs has been necessarily limited. For anyone self-employed who’s reading this, I apologise in advance but it’s all new to me.
Until last week.
Last Monday (that’s 10 whole working days before the self-assessment deadline), I got a letter saying I owe Her Maj a couple of hundred quid and I had to pay now or they’d come round and break my legs. As it was the first I’d heard of it, I called the number on the letter. The conversation went a little like this:
‘But we’ve written to you before about the outstanding tax.’
‘No, you haven’t.’
‘We sent you a letter and a self-assessment form last April.’
‘You sent me a letter telling me you thought I’d been self-employed in 2007/8 and could I fill in the form saying I was self-employed. I called and said I have never been self-employed and was told not to bother filling in the form.’
‘So we DID write to you.’
‘You said you wrote to me about outstanding tax. You didn’t.’
‘I never said that.’
‘You did! You said you wrote to me about outstanding tax!’
‘I said we wrote to you and asked you to fill in a self-assessment.’
‘You asked me to fill in a self-assessment but you never said I owed any money and you thought I was self-employed.’
‘But you didn’t fill in the form.’
‘Because I wasn’t self-employed!’
‘You should have filled it in anyway.’
‘You told me not to!’
‘You were given incorrect information.’
‘So you admit I was given incorrect information and told not to fill in a form when I should have?’
‘I never said that.’
I won’t bore you with the rest of it but suffice to say it was a continuation of the same sort of Kafka-esque conversation punctuated by some lengthy periods on hold which left my brain bleeding.
Bizarrely, although I said I would pay the outstanding tax – which sparked a whole new and separate interrogation as to whether I had prepared for this bill (no, because I didn’t know about it till today and I don’t own a crystal ball), if I could borrow the money from someone else, if I had any savings I could use – they said I had to fill in a self-assessment for 2007/8. Before 31 January.
I’ve heard about self-assessments. Online forms of death filled with relentless terror and FEAR and DEATH which make grown-ups weep in despair and rend their clothes. Or something. But you can’t just register online and do a tax return. Oh no. You have to register online then request a secret code which takes up to seven days to arrive. But even when you get the secret code, you have to wait a further 72 hours to be able to submit a self-assessment for a previous year.
So tonight I fortified myself with alcohol and logged into HMRC’s secret portal using their secret code. Selecting the drop down for 2007/8, I received the message; ‘The deadline for self-assessments for this year has passed’. Oh holy mother of… But you TOLD me I had to do a self-assessment for 2007/8! You tremendous, hateful sock of stoats.