Hundreds of thousands of people could spend an entire working day filling in their tax returns this year, a Which? investigation reveals.
With the 31 January online tax return deadline creeping up, Which? surveyed over 4,000 people to investigate the nation’s tax-filing habits, and found people could spend an estimated total of 26 million hours filling in tax returns this year.
Which? also found that almost half (47%) of respondents completed their return within one to three hours, while one in 10 spend between three and five hours filling in tax returns. Meanwhile, 5% take between five and 10 hours, meaning hundreds of thousands of people could be spending more than a working day on their tax return.
Which? investigated the most time-consuming aspects of the process that people encountered when completing their returns. Almost half (44%) of respondents spent the most time finding receipts and records, while a third (34%) said that trying to understand HMRC forms was the longest part of the process. Meanwhile, one in 10 (10%) said that looking up the various terms and tax jargon took the longest.
Almost one in five (18%) of those surveyed had paid to submit a tax return. The average cost of using an accountant is £358.
To help consumers navigate the often lengthy, confusing process, Which?’s easy-to-use and jargon-free online tax calculator offers personalised tax tips and helps simplify the process. This system allows for returns to be submitted directly to HMRC.
Which? is keen to encourage consumers to prepare early to beat the upcoming deadline and avoid a fine. Late tax submissions can leave people with hefty fines – for a return that is three months late this can be up to £1,000. Filing late will land taxpayers with an immediate £100 fine, and the cost of late returns can reach thousands, depending on how late it is and the amount owed.
Following the Budget, the Treasury is planning to reform the system of charging standard fines for late self-assessment tax returns. Instead of immediate and automatic penalties, it is considering introducing a driving licence-style points system for those who fail to submit their tax return on time.
Gareth Shaw, Which? Money Expert said:
“Our findings show just how time-consuming and laborious tax returns can be for many. We found people struggled with complex language and trying to make sense of HMRC forms.
“To avoid a late submission and a hefty fine, we’d recommend using one of the streamlined tools that can guide users through the process quickly, with reduced stress. As the deadline approaches – returning your tax doesn’t have to be such an ordeal.”