By Daniel Hunter

850,000 penalties for late tax returns will be issued over the next fortnight, 550,000 fewer than the same time last year, HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) announced today (Monday).

Letters containing the £100 late-filing penalties are being sent to people who failed to send their 2010/11 Self Assessment returns to HMRC on time.

Anyone who still hasn’t sent their return to HMRC should do so now or risk further penalties. For example, anyone whose return is more than three months late will be charged an additional £10 penalty for each day it remains outstanding, up to a maximum of 90 days.

Although the deadline for receiving online returns was 31 January, this year HMRC is not issuing penalties to people who sent their 2010/11 return online on 1 or 2 February, following strike action at HMRC’s call centres on 31 January.

People who get a late-filing penalty can appeal against it if they think they have a reasonable excuse for not sending back their tax return in time, or they think a penalty should not have been issued for any other reason. Appeals should be made in writing by 31 March.

Examples of a reasonable excuse could include a family illness or bereavement, or a delay in HMRC sending out an online activation code.

Under a new initiative to help its customers, HMRC has confirmed that anyone who receives a penalty, but who believes they don’t need to be in Self Assessment, can call the department on 0845 900 0444.

If HMRC agrees, the return and the penalty will be cancelled. Full details are contained in a leaflet that will accompany the penalty notice.

“We want the returns, not the penalties. So anyone who still hasn’t sent theirs should do so as soon as possible," HMRC’s Stephen Banyard said.

“People who receive a penalty notice should act now to avoid further penalties. They should send in their return, appeal if they think they have a reasonable excuse, or contact us if they think they shouldn’t have been in Self Assessment.”

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