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'HMRC's online tax return didn't work - and now we've been fined £300'

Jessica Gorst-Williams
HMRC said no other taxpayers had reported the same issue as our reader - Joe Giddens/PA Wire

Last year I completed my online tax return for 2015-16 and I have a copy of it. 

There was £43 due back to me and, as it was a small amount, I didn’t look to see if it had been paid into our bank account as requested.

Sometime later I received a message reminder that online tax returns needed to be submitted by Jan 31 2017 or a fine might be imposed. 

Happy in the knowledge that I had completed my return months before and with a copy of what I submitted, I presumed it was just a general reminder. You can therefore imagine my alarm when I had a demand for £100 for a fine for not having submitted my return.

I immediately filed an online appeal against this quoting when I had submitted it. However, the self-assessment page on the HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) website told me my return was overdue and invited me to complete it.  

On the relevant page, I was greeted with the message stating at the top that the return for 2015-16 had been submitted. However, further down it came up with an error message, which said: “There was a problem and your return was not submitted. We have saved it automatically and you can submit it again by clicking ‘Next’.”

On the next page it said: “The submission service is temporarily unavailable. 

“There is a problem with the system and we have still not received your return. We have saved it and you need to log out and try submitting it again later. We are sorry for this."

PR, New Zealand

You went straight back to the HMRC appeals page and pointed out the problem and then sent written details of the error messages. 

You tried calling from New Zealand, but couldn’t get through. You appealed again and this time had a message back saying that HMRC couldn’t look at it until you had submitted your return, which you couldn’t as the site wouldn’t let you.

You trawled the internet and found another number and spoke to someone, who said you had contacted the wrong department. You got in touch with the online help desk and received a case number and a request for up-to-date screengrabs, which you then sent. 

Get in touch | How to contact Jessica Gorst-Williams

HMRC contacted you again for another screenshot and you were told that your case was being investigated. Then you received in the post a notice that the fine had gone up to £300. 

I spoke to HMRC and it put a stop to further penalties. It gave you more time to submit paper returns while it resolved the problem you have had with submitting forms online. 

In a statement, HMRC said: “We have contacted the taxpayer to explain how this happened. He should not face problems submitting future returns online.” 

I believe there was a technical issue that is now resolved but which has not been fully explained to me. You have now filed a paper return.  

HMRC said no other taxpayers have reported the same issue. That said, I have heard from other readers that they have had problems signing in to their HMRC self-assessment account. 

JD, of Cheshire, who found himself in this situation (albeit it is not exactly identical to yours) said he found HMRC’s digital complaints team to be very helpful.