By Daniel Hunter

Around half a million people who still haven’t sent their 2010/11 tax returns to HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) will start to receive additional penalty letters from this week.

The number of outstanding returns has almost halved in 2012, down to 5.9 per cent, compared to 10.7 per cent in 2011. This means 518,000 fewer penalties are being issued. HMRC has also taken 273,000 people out of Self Assessment this year.

New penalties were introduced in April 2011 to boost the incentive to file and reduce the costs to taxpayers of chasing up missing forms. As a result, anyone who ignores their Self Assessment filing obligations is now liable to higher penalties than in previous years.

The penalties being issued from today will be for a minimum £1,200, comprising:

- the maximum £900 in daily penalties for non-filing
- a further late-filing penalty of £300 or 5 per cent of the tax due (whichever is higher).

People who receive a late-filing penalty can appeal against it if they think they have a reasonable excuse for not sending their tax return; for example, a family illness or bereavement.

Anyone who has received a late-filing penalty and has not sent in a return, but thinks they don’t need to be in Self Assessment, can still potentially apply to be taken out of Self Assessment. They can visit to check what to do if they think they don’t need to be in Self Assessment. If HMRC agrees, the return and any penalty will be cancelled.

“We want the returns, not the penalties. This year, half a million more people have filed their return — which means we are issuing 44 per cent fewer penalties," HMRC’s Director General for Personal Tax, Stephen Banyard, said.

“But, despite several reminders, nearly six per cent of people have not sent their 2010/11 tax returns to us and they’ll be getting a penalty.

“Where someone has a reasonable excuse for not sending a return on time, we will waive the penalty. We also recognise that there will be some people within this group who don’t need to be in Self Assessment, and we will be happy to remove them from the Self Assessment system and cancel their penalty.”

The penalties being issued over the next few weeks are in addition to £100 late-filing penalties for missing the 31 January filing deadline, which were sent out in late February and early March.

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