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January 16. 2017

“I am writing to tell you that I intend to enquire into your Tax Return.”

The first line of the letter that tends to send a shiver down the spine of most self-employed individuals if they are unlucky enough to receive a letter from HM Revenue & Customs.

You may have submitted your Tax Return and thought ‘great, it has been accepted’. But confirmation of receipt doesn’t mean to say that HMRC have finished with it.

Under Self-Assessment, the Revenue’s method of dealing with Tax Returns is to “Process Now / Check Later.”  The Revenue then has a period of time to review the entries on the Return.  If some of the entries on the Return differ from information which they already hold or if these entries fall outside the normally accepted patterns for that particular business sector, then there is a possibility that the Return could be selected for an enquiry. 

There is a time limit within which the Revenue can take up an enquiry.  This is currently within 12 months of the normal filing date for the Return i.e. a 2015/16 Tax Return must be filed with the Revenue by 31st January 2017, therefore the window for opening an enquiry is up to 31st January 2018. 

However, it has been known for HMRC to open an enquiry outside of that time frame which is called a ‘Discovery’ enquiry.  Why can they do this you ask?  Because they can!  Such an enquiry can take place where based on the information (or lack of) shown on the tax return HMRC could not have known that the tax return was incorrect and issued an enquiry within the normal time limits.

In addition to the ‘normal’ lines of enquiry, HMRC are now carrying out random ‘Business Record’ checks in which they look into your record keeping.  If they have reason to believe that it is not up to scratch, they will arrange to make a visit.

Unfortunately, no one is immune from receiving a ‘Business Record’ check, however you can take steps to avoid a full-blown investigation.  How?  Stay tuned for our next tip – Keeping the Tax man at bay!

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