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  • Catherine Stork

Tips to ensure tax returns are as accurate as possible in order to avoid HMRC penalties

Updated: Jun 22, 2018

These mistakes, however innocent can lead to additional enquiries and even investigations by HMRC. At the very least they may mean paying too much tax or waiting longer than necessary for a refund. So here are the top mistakes that many people make:

Not using the white space to explain unusual variations

If you know there is something unusual, explain it.

HMRC is then far less likely to start an enquiry. It is crucial that you or your accountant do this.


Entering the same expenses in different boxes each year

In their haste to get the return filed, many taxpayers and sometimes even their accountants do misclassify the expenses on the return.


For example, a driving instructor putting their fuel cost in the cost of sales figure one year and then in motor expenses the next, will produce large variations that the computer will want further explanations for.


Lack of attention to risk areas and hot spots

HMRC knows that enquiries into the following expenditure areas are likely to produce some interesting results:

· legal and professional expenses

· repairs and renewals

· entertaining

· stock

· provisions and accruals

· research and development (R&D)

· drawings

· pensions

· employment expense

· termination payments


The taxman has been known to raise more enquiries into the above expenses than any other areas. For instance, where drawings are comparatively low, HMRC may wonder whether there have been undeclared cash sales which have been used to fund your living expenses.


Not showing private use adjustments separately on the self employment pages

HMRC will always be looking to disallow any private use of items. So where you have already restricted say motor expenses for private use, you will avoid questions if you show the adjustments separately rather than netting it off so that it’s clear to the taxman that adjustments have been made.


Claiming for expenses that cannot be claimed

The rules on what expenses can/cannot be claimed is not as straightforward as you may think. You should proceed with care or appoint a good accountant or tax adviser.

For instance, you might assume that an actor who rented accommodation in Scotland during a film shoot for his business could claim the cost of the accommodation against his income right? Wrong.


HMRC denied the expenses and won the tax tribunal case. It was decided that the expenses did not meet the so called ‘wholly and exclusively for the purpose of the trade’ test.


This is very common and a classic mistake that has led to a number of tax tribunal cases. The effect being that taxpayers are asked to pay, on average, £3,000 in carelessness tax penalties.

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