Tax Returns: How Do They Work?

If you are employed and paid through the traditional Pay as You Earn (PAYE) system, the chances are you may never need to fill out a self-assessment tax return. The most likely situation where you would need to fill out a self-assessment is if you are self-employed. It can be a complex process if you are doing it for the first time, so use this guide to help.

Who needs to complete a tax return?

Self-employed Self-employed helpline

A tax return must be completed for every tax year that you are self-employed or a partner within a partnership. The tax return must be completed even if you make a loss or it is your final year of trading.

Company director or minister

If you are a company director, with the exception of not-for-profit organisations where you do not receive any benefit or payment, or you are a minister of faith in any religion, you must complete a self assessment form.

Annual income of £100,000+ or if you have income from savings, investment and property

If you are an employee through the PAYE system, you can sometimes request for tax that you owe on outside income such as savings to be collected using your code number. However, you will need to complete a tax return instead if:

If you have income from a property, you may need to complete a tax return.
If you have income from a property, you may need to complete a tax return.
  • £10,000 or more from taxed savings/investments.
  • £2,500 or more from untaxed savings/investments.
  • £10,000 or more from property (before deducting allowable expenses.)
  • £2,500 or more from property (after deducting allowable expenses.)

If you do not pay tax using a PAYE code, you will need to complete a tax return if all of the following apply to you:

  • You have income, for example from savings/trusts/rental income to declare.
  • Your total income exceeds your total allowances and relief.
  • You have tax to pay on this income.

You need to claim expenses or relief

You will need to fill out a tax return if you intend to claim expenses of £2,500 or more. You can only claim certain types of relief,such as Enterprise Investment Scheme relief.

You/your partner receives Child Benefit and your income is over £50,000

You must complete a tax return in this instance all of the below apply to you:

If you have a high income and you claim Child Benefit, you may need to complete a self assessment.
If you have a high income and you claim Child Benefit, you may need to complete a self assessment.
  • Have income of over £50,000 a year.
  • You live with a partner and your income is higher than theirs.
  • You or your partner is still entitled to receive Child Benefit.
  • You decide together to keep receiving Child Benefit and pay the new tax charge.

You receive income from overseas

If you have any foreign income which is liable to UK tax, you need to complete a tax return.

You have income from settlements, trusts and estates

You must complete a return if you are receiving income from one of the above and tax is still due, for example from annual trusts and settlements.

You owe Capital Gains Tax

If you owe Capital Gains Tax, a self assessment may be necessary.
If you owe Capital Gains Tax, a self assessment may be necessary.

If you have Capital Gains Tax to pay, for example from a recently sold holiday home, you will need to complete a tax return.

If you have recently returned from living abroad

Residency is a complex issue. You will need to fill out a tax return if:

  • You are not a resident in the UK.
  • You are a dual resident of the UK and another country.

You are a trustee

If you are a trustee or personal representative of a deceased person or a pension scheme, you should complete a tax return.

If your circumstances change

If you don’t complete a tax return but your circumstances change, for example you become self employed, you can register for Self Assessment online.

How do I complete a Tax Return?

tax return form
If you think any of the above applies to you, you may need to complete a Tax Return form.

So, you have established that you need to complete a Tax Return. To get the process started, you need to register for Self Assessment first of all. Once you have registered, HMRC will use the information that you have provided to set up the correct records for you and you will be sent a Unique Taxpayer Reference. You will receive a letter around April or May, asking you to complete your return. This can be done by post or online.

Types of Tax Return

Individuals and Directors

If you are a higher rate tax payer, a director of a company or your tax affairs are generally more complicated, you need to complete a tax return. You can file it online or on paper, but you have three extra months to complete it if you fill it in online.

Self employed or partnership

If you are self-employed or in a partnership, you will most likely have to complete a self assessment.
If you are self-employed or in a partnership, you will most likely have to complete a self assessment.

Self employed people have to fill out a tax return each year. You are generally considered to be self-employed if you can answer ‘yes’ to the following:

  • Do you have the final say in how the business is run?
  • Are you responsible for meeting any losses as well as taking any profit?
  • Can you decide what work to do, how and when to work and where to provide the services?
  • Do you regularly work for a number of different people?

Trustees or charities

If you are a trustee, you will have to complete the Trust and Estate Tax Return, with additional pages depending on the trust’s income and gains. It is recommended that you seek professional help when completing this kind of tax return as it can be complex.

What do I need when completing my tax return?

You will need details of any income or employment to hand when completing your Tax Return.
You will need details of any income or employment to hand when completing your Tax Return.

The information you need to have ready when you complete your return depends on the type of return. However as a general rule you will need to have records of:

  • Any employment.
  • Any pension contributions you make or any pension that you receive.
  • Income from letting out property or land.
  • Any capital gains/losses made in the last year.

You may also need records with information relating to:

  • UK savings and investments.
  • UK pensions, benefits and annuities.
  • Life insurance gains and AVC refunds.
  • Any other income that is taxable.
  • Gifts to charity if you are claiming tax relief.

What happens if I don’t have the exact figure?

If you do not have the correct amount of tax that you owe, you can send a provisional figure.
If you do not have the correct amount of tax that you owe, you can send a provisional figure.

If you do not have the exact amount of tax that you owe, you can use either an estimate- a figure you want HMRC to accept as the final amount or a provisional figure- an amount you want to use until you can confirm the actual amount. You should use the Additional Information section to say how you got the figures and why you can’t use actual figures. If you haven’t paid enough tax at a later date you may be subject to penalties, so remember to correct the figures once you have the correct amount.

How to avoid common mistakes

Mistakes can result in your tax form being sent back to you. There are simple things that you can avoid in order to stop this from happening.

Paper return:

You should avoid making common mistakes when filling out your tax return.
You should avoid making common mistakes when filling out your tax return.
  • Make sure it is signed and dated.
  • Make sure it is fully completed including any necessary additional pages.
  • If you downloaded the form, add your tax reference number.
  • Use the right form for the right tax year.
  • Avoid putting notes on the form such as ‘information to follow’.

Online return:

  • Make sure that you know your user ID and password.
  • Read any error messages.

Tax Return deadline

If you choose to send a paper tax return, it must reach the address given to you by HMRC by midnight on the 31st October. If you miss this, you will need to send it online instead.

If you send your return online, it must reach HMRC by midnight on the 31st January. You will get an acknowledgement that the return has been received.

If you send your tax return in late, you will have to pay a penalty so make sure that you send it in plenty of time in order to avoid this.

What happens after the return is sent?

Once your tax return has been sent, you will receive your calculation.
Once your tax return has been sent, you will receive your calculation.

If you asked for a tax calculation on your paper return form, you will receive one. If you have tax to pay, it will either be collected using your tax code or you will have to pay it by the 31st January.

If you have overstated how much tax you owe and you are due a repayment, this will usually be completed automatically. However, if there is another amount due soon it may be set off against other forms of tax.

Tax refunds and claiming overpaid tax

If you have overpaid through Self Assessment you can ask for the money in a refund or request that it be left in your Self Assessment account to be set off against future tax bills. The refund can be paid to you or your agent/nominee. You can check the amount of overpayment in your Self Assessment tax calculation and it will include any interest on the amount that you have overpaid.

If you have overpaid tax, you will be able to choose between a refund or saving it for future tax bills.
If you have overpaid tax, you will be able to choose between a refund or saving it for future tax bills.

Remember that the Self Assessment helpline is there to guide you through the tax return process. Although it can be complicated, it is important to take your time filling it out in order to avoid any costly mistakes which could result in penalties. You should also always get it sent in plenty of time, particularly if you opt for the paper version.