Do I need to complete a tax return?
This page looks at what a tax return is and whether or not you need to complete a tax return.
If you are in Self Assessment, you must complete a tax return (SA100) each year, on which you need to show your income and capital gains, and claim allowances and reliefs. We explain how this might apply to you.
Self Assessment is not a tax – it is a way of paying tax.
The idea of Self Assessment is that you are responsible for completing a tax return each year if you need to, and for paying any tax due for that tax year. It is your responsibility to tell HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) if you think you need to complete a tax return.
If you complete a Self Assessment tax return, you include all your taxable income, and any capital gains. You also claim any tax allowances or reliefs that you are entitled to on the tax return.
You send the form to HMRC either on paper or online. The information on the tax return is used to calculate your tax liability. This process is called Self Assessment.
Most people in the UK pay all their tax ‘at source’, for example, through Pay As You Earn (PAYE) if they are employed, and are not required to file a tax return. Self Assessment therefore does not affect everyone and you will normally only need to complete a form if one or more of the following apply to you:
- You are working for yourself – that is, you are self-employed (unless your trading income is exempt under the trading allowance – we cover self-employment in detail on our main LITRG website);
- You are a partner in a partnership business;
- You are a minister of religion – any faith or denomination;
- You are a trustee or the executor of an estate.
You also might need to complete a Self Assessment return if:
- You are a company director, if you have income that is not taxed under PAYE;
- You have untaxed income. This could be, for example, interest that is not taxed before it is paid to you or property income (unless the property income falls within the property allowance). If you are an employee or a pensioner and the income is less than £2,500 a year you might not have to complete a tax return but it is still your responsibility to report such income by contacting HMRC. But if you receive other untaxed income and the tax due on it cannot be collected via your PAYE coding notice you will need to complete a tax return;
- You receive regular annual income from a trust or settlement, or you receive income from the estate of a deceased person and further tax is due;
- You have taxable foreign income whether or not you are resident in the UK. This includes non-UK resident landlords. You can find out more on GOV.UK;
- You have income from savings and investments of £10,000 or more before tax;
- You have annual income of £100,000 or more before tax;
- You or your partner receive child benefit and your income is over £50,000. This is because of the high income child benefit charge;
- You have tax due at the end of the year that cannot be collected via your PAYE coding notice in a later year;
- Your untaxed income is £2,500 or more – but if you are a pensioner you may be able to pay your tax through your PAYE Coding Notice;
- Your claims for expenses are £2,500 or more;
- You have capital gains where:
You have given away or sold assets worth £48,000 or more for 2019/20; or
You have a capital loss but your gains net of any losses are more than the annual exemption for 2019/20 of £12,000; or
You have no losses to claim but your gains are more than the annual exemption for 2019/20 of £12,000; or
- You need to make any other capital gains tax claim or election for the year.
HMRC may also want you to complete a return for other reasons.
Note that if HMRC have sent you a tax return or a notice to complete one, then you must fill it in and return it by the due date unless there is a good reason you do not need to be in Self Assessment and HMRC agree to cancel it. See below – What do I do if I no longer need to complete a tax return?.
There is a tool on GOV.UK to help you understand if you need to do a tax return.
When we talk about dates for tax, often the date is said to be ‘during the tax year’ or ‘following the end of the tax year’. A UK tax year runs from 6 April to the following 5 April.
So, when we talk about the tax year 2019/20 it starts on 6 April 2019 and finishes on 5 April 2020. The 31 January during the tax year is 31 January 2020, the 5 October following the end of the tax year is 5 October 2020 and the 31 January following the end of the tax year is 31 January 2021.
Not all of the dates listed below may apply to you. You can follow the links that give you more information to help you decide if you need to take some action by that date.
31 January (during the tax year)
For example, the first payment on account for the 2019/20 tax year is due by 31 January 2020.
Not everyone has to pay these payments on account.
April (after the end of the tax year)
The tax year ends on 5 April and shortly after this date anyone who is required to file a tax return will receive a notice advising that you must file a tax return for the tax year just ended. You may also need to file a tax return even if you have not received such a notice.
31 July (following the end of the tax year)
If you have to make payments on account, the second payment on account for the tax year ending the previous 5 April is due.
For example, the second payment on account for the 2019/20 tax year is due by 31 July 2020.
Not everyone has to make payments on account.
5 October (following the end of the tax year)
Find out more on GOV.UK.
31 October (following the end of the tax year)
31 January (following the end of the tax year)
Your balancing payment of tax is due at this time. For example your balancing payment for 2019/20 is due on 31 January 2021.
You may also have a payment on account to make at this time. For example, you may have a payment on account to pay for the 2020/21 tax year on 31 January 2021.
Not everyone has to make payments on account.
31 January (following the end of the tax year ) + 1 year
For example, if you need to amend your 2018/19 return you have until 31 January 2021 to make the amendment. This applies whether you filed manually using a paper return or completed it online.
There is a legal requirement for people in Self Assessment to keep records. If HMRC check your tax return, they may ask to see some of your records.
You can keep records on paper or digitally.
HMRC can charge you a penalty if your records are not complete and accurate.
In Self Assessment but not self-employed
If you submit your tax return on time, you should keep your records for at least 22 months after the end of the tax year. For example, you should keep records for your 2017/18 tax return until at least 31 January 2020.
If you submit your tax return late, you should keep your records for at least 15 months after you sent your tax return.
There is more information on record-keeping for Self Assessment on GOV.UK.
The normal rule for the self-employed and those letting property is to keep business records for at least six years.
If your circumstances have changed and you think you no longer need to complete a tax return, for example, because you pay all your tax under PAYE, let HMRC know as soon as possible. You can contact HMRC using the details on GOV.UK.
If you have already received a tax return for a year, HMRC might agree to cancel it, if you explain your circumstances to them over the telephone. If they agree to withdraw the return, you will no longer need to submit it and any penalties for missing the filing deadline will be set aside.
If HMRC do not agree, however, they may ask you to complete the return and to tell them about the change in your circumstances in the Additional Information boxes.
They might also agree to cancel the tax return, but instead issue you with a Simple Assessment, if they think you have not paid enough tax.
If you have not received a notice to file a return for the year but think you might receive one, contact HMRC and let them know why you think you no longer need to complete a Self Assessment return – you might be in time to stop them issuing one.
If you normally file a tax return, any refund that you are due is automatically calculated as part of the tax return process. However, if you are no longer within Self Assessment, but still think you are due a refund, you may need to claim a repayment of tax each year. If you think this applies to you, take a look at the tax refunds section of this website.
If you have not received a tax return but you had income or capital gains on the list above you need to notify HMRC by 5 October following the end of the tax year in which you had the income, or you may face a penalty. HMRC will then send you a tax return to complete.
There is information on how to register for Self Assessment on GOV.UK.
It is worth noting that if you notify HMRC after 5 October, provided you have paid your income tax liability in full by the usual 31 January payment deadline, HMRC may reduce the late-notification penalty to zero. Note in these circumstances that you should also make sure you file your tax return on time (see below). You can find out more on our penalties page.
If you have to file a Self Assessment tax return, you normally have:
- until 31 October to do so, if you choose to submit a paper tax return;
- or until the following 31 January if you file online.
This means you have an additional three months for online filing compared with paper.
HMRC take the date of the first return received by them and this also triggers any late filing penalty. For example, if you file a paper return for 2018/19 after 31 October 2019, you cannot avoid a late filing penalty by filing the return online before 31 January 2020.
When you first register for Self Assessment, you may need to consider the following submission deadlines too:
- If you want HMRC to calculate your tax –
- If HMRC issue you with a tax return before 31 August, you have until 31 October to submit it on paper;
- If HMRC send you a tax return to complete on or after 1 September, you have two months from the date of issue to complete and submit the paper form;
- If you are happy to calculate your own tax liability (if you submit online, the software will automatically calculate the tax due) –
- If HMRC ask you to submit a tax return before 31 July, you must submit the return on or before 31 October (paper) or on or before 31 January (online);
- If HMRC ask you to submit a Self Assessment tax return after 31 July but by 31 October, you must submit the return within three months of the date of the notice (for paper returns) or on or before 31 January (for online returns);
- If HMRC ask you to submit a Self Assessment tax return after 31 October, you must submit the return (whether paper return or electronic) within the three months beginning with the date of the notice.
Alfie 1 – not completed return previously – new sources of income
Alfie notified HMRC that he would need to complete a 2018/19 tax return on 17 September 2019. HMRC issued a return on 1 October 2019. Alfie needs to send the form to HMRC by 1 December 2019, that is, within two months of the date of issue of the return, if he wants HMRC to calculate his tax liability for him.
Alfie 2 – submission date for return – calculating own tax
If Alfie is asked to send in a Self Assessment tax return after 31 July 2019 but before 31 October 2019 – let us say 1 September 2019 – he will have a period of three months beginning with the date of the notice to get the form to HMRC – so by 1 December 2019 if he is using a paper return or on or before 31 January 2020 if he is filing online.
If Alfie is sent a Self Assessment tax return after 31 October – the return, whether paper return or online filing, must be sent to HMRC within three months from the date of issue of the return. So, if he gets the return on 1 December 2019 he must send it in before 1 March 2020.
If you receive Self Assessment returns and file on paper rather than online but have simple tax affairs, you may be able to receive the short tax return instead of the full Self Assessment tax return. For example, this might apply if, as an employee you are in receipt of employment income, self-employment profits and your turnover was below £85,000 (2018/19), and you have straightforward investment income, or a reasonably small amount of income from property.
The short tax return is four pages long and so is around one-third the size of an average Self Assessment tax return with supplementary pages. The guidance is also much shorter and simpler. There is no need to calculate the tax on the form, but there is a two page simple calculation to give you a rough idea of your tax liability.
Filing dates are the same as for the full Self Assessment return.
The short tax return is normally issued automatically based on the information in the previous year's return. However, you need to tell HMRC if your circumstances change. There is a list of who is able to use the short tax return at the front of the guide notes, so that you can see if you still qualify.
You cannot download the short tax return. You can only use the short tax return if HMRC ask you to. If you are not issued with an actual tax return but instead you are sent a notice requiring you to complete a tax return, you can request that a short tax return be issued to you, if appropriate.
HMRC introduced Simple Assessment for certain taxpayers with only a state pension for 2016/17 – there is more information about who this affects in the news article of September 2017 on the LITRG website.
Individuals in Simple Assessment do not have to submit a tax return to pay tax on the taxable part of their pension. Instead, HMRC send the individual a calculation of tax owed for the tax year (PA302). This will also be available to view in the taxpayer’s Personal Tax Account.
HMRC base the Simple Assessment on information that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and various banks and building societies provide to them. It is therefore important to check the figures on the Simple Assessment calculation carefully.
If you disagree with the Simple Assessment, you have an initial period of 60 days from the date of the Simple Assessment in which to raise queries with HMRC. Once those queries have been dealt with, if you still do not agree with HMRC’s figures you can appeal to a Tax Tribunal, but be careful because you only have 30 days in which to make that appeal.
Tax payable under a Simple Assessment is due on 31 January following the end of the tax year – the normal payment date for Self Assessment income tax, or three months after the date of the Simple Assessment, if that is later.
Payment must either be made online via your Personal Tax Account, or by sending a cheque, made payable to ‘HM Revenue and Customs only’, to
You must put the reference number from the Simple Assessment letter on the back of the cheque. There is no payslip to send with the cheque but if you contact HMRC they will arrange to send you one. Make sure you make this request in plenty of time so that your payment is not late. Alternatively you could send a brief covering letter with the cheque explaining you are making the payment to settle a Simple Assessment tax bill for the relevant tax year. You may also wish to staple the cheque to the letter.
You can find more information on Self Assessment in the self-employment section of the LITRG website.
There is also more information on who needs to complete a Self Assessment tax return on GOV.UK.
There is more information on how to reclaim tax if you do not need to complete a tax return in the tax refunds section.