Why the self-assessment deadline always creeps up on you


All business owners know the self-assessment deadline – who can forget 31 January? But why does it seem to be so difficult to get on top of this task and submit your accounts in good time. We’ll explore the reasons why the self-assessment deadline always seems to creep up on you and what you can do to change things in 2024.

Why is it so difficult to get your tax return submitted early?

The earliest date you can submit a tax return for the year ending 5 April is 6 April. HMRC online portal will not allow you to access your previous year tax return form until the new tax year has started. According to HMRC figures more than 65,000 taxpayers submitted their tax return on 6 April in 2022.

An obvious advantage of getting your tax return done early is that you can forget about it and concentrate on running your business and living your life for the rest of the year without it hanging over you. On top of that, early submission gives you useful planning information – you’ll know how much it’s going to be nine months before you must pay the bill. Which means you have time to save up if you haven’t already got sufficient funds set aside.

So, why doesn’t everyone get it done in April?

A survey of business owners on LinkedIn showed the following reasons for not getting the tax return done early:

  1. I can’t be bothered to do it now, I’ll get to it later
  2. I don’t have time to get the paperwork together
  3. My accountant hasn’t asked me for my figures
  4. I have no clue what I need to do (first timers)

What about over the summer?

People are generally busier during the summer months in the UK when the weather is a bit more welcoming for outdoor activities. For business owners who are also parents, the summer term at school is often one of the busiest of the year, with exams, end of year plays, proms, sports days and school trips. We’re often going on holiday, dealing with kids and seeing friends and family more. Not many people would rather be doing their tax return than going out on a pleasant summer evening to the park, for a walk or a riverside bar. So, it gets left with the intention of getting it done ‘once the schools go back.’

So, September arrives with all good intentions. In business, September is often an extremely busy time as the back-to-school fever also hits companies who have targets to hit for the end of the year. Efforts are renewed to find new clients, win more deals – generally business activity is stepped up a level and the tax return is something you’ll get round to in a month or two.

New school year – new resolve?

But the reality is that it doesn’t quieten down. If anything, it just gets busier in the run up to Christmas, especially for product-based businesses who do a big portion of their sales in November and December. So, once again the tax return slips down the to-do list.

By late October, most accountants are dreading the coming three months and are badgering their clients for paperwork so they have a hope of hitting the January deadline. It makes for a lot of stress all round.

At the time of writing, we are now less than 2 months away from self-assessment deadline day. Dealing with your outstanding bookkeeping and paperwork is probably not top of your list to worry about when you have the Nativity play, Christmas fair, presents to buy and wrap, Christmas food shopping and travel arrangements to make. Once again, the tax return is consigned to the ‘later’ pile.

So, when WILL you get to it, then?

According to HMRC, 3,725 people actually filed their tax return on Christmas Day in 2022 – I guess the festive TV viewing didn’t float their boat!

And so, we are into January and now you can’t avoid it any longer. Your accountant has gone grey and hoarse trying to get a response from you and finally your thoughts focus on the self-assessment deadline. You’ve got 3 weeks to gather all your documentation and make sure your bookkeeping is correct and complete so the tax return can be finished – at last.

How to be more organised in 2024

Here’s the thing.

It’s really not that hard to file your tax return in April. The data for tax year 6 April 2023 to 5 April 2024 can be ready to enter on your return within a day or two of the new tax year starting. If you keep your bookkeeping up to date and you take some time in March to pull together all the documents. Here are some ideas to help you stay more organised:

  1. Invest in a receipt capture app on your smartphone. These apps are very easy to use – take a photo of the receipt and push a button to send it to your accounting software.
  2. Don’t have accounting software? Make 2024 the year you change this because not only will it make your tax return much easier, but it will also make your business life more productive and profitable as you’ll get a more current view of how your business is performing.
  3. If you are receiving receipts electronically, set up a simple filing system so you can find them easily. Attach them to the right transaction in your accounting software as you go – this is a good job to do once a month. If you don’t have time or inclination to do this, pay an admin to manage it for you – it will be money well spent.
  4. Dedicate 2 sessions during the year in April and October, to double check that all transactions have the appropriate backup attached to them.
  5. If you are filing your own tax return, take some time to think about whether anything has changed since the last return. You may be able to claim additional reliefs or deductions. If you leave it until the last minute you are unlikely to be able to get your situation checked and could end up paying more tax than necessary.
  6. Employ a bookkeeper to help you stay on track, especially if you have a large volume of transactions each year. As well as ensuring that all your paperwork is in order, a bookkeeper can also chase outstanding payments and deal with bad debts for you, so your business finances will be healthier.
  7. Don’t leave it until mid-January to contact an accountant to ask for help. Chances are that they won’t have the capacity to support you because they are already committed to other clients. Get an accountant at the start of the tax year and they can ensure you claim all the deductible expenses, reliefs and allowances. Many accountants will save their clients far more in tax than they charge in fees.

Meeting the self-assessment deadline for 2024/25

It’s incredible to be already writing 2025, but it’s not long until the 2024/25 tax year begins. At Adams Accountancy, we love clients who want to work with us in the first half of the year to make the second half stress free – is that you? If you want to sort out your business finances early in 2024 to avoid the chaos at the self-assessment deadline, call us on 01322 250001 for a no-obligation, free chat.