PLEASE NOTE: The charity TaxAid advises only those people on low incomes whose problems cannot be resolved with HMRC.

On-line or on paper?

Help with your Tax Return guide


Income Tax returns may be filed on-line or on paper. There are significant differences between paper and on-line filing. Key issues are:

  1. You must register in advance to use the on-line system. You will be sent an activation code through the post, so allow for possible delays. You can register for on-line filing on the HMRC website at . You will need your 10 digit Unique Tax Reference Number (UTR) and your National Insurance Number or Post Code
  2. You can file your return later if you file on-line. Paper returns must be in by 31 October following the end of the tax year. On-line returns may be submitted three months later – by 31 January. Eg the tax return to 5 April 2016 is due by 31 October 2016 on paper, and by 31 January 2017 if submitted on-line
  3. The on-line system gives an immediate acknowledgement that the tax return has been received by HMRC, and you should receive an email as proof that the return has been submitted. No such confirmation is given by HMRC for paper returns.  This means that if you send in a paper return and it is lost, you may find it difficult to prove that you submitted it
  4. Late filing penalties run from the filing date, so penalties kick in faster for paper returns. Penalties for paper returns run from 1 November after the end of the tax year, but for on-line returns the penalties won’t start until the 1 February following. Eg. For 2015-16 paper returns, penalties run from 1 November 2016. But for 2015-16 on-line returns, penalties start from 1 February 2017.

Some pages are not currently available on-line via the HMRC’s free software (eg Ministers of Religion, Non-resident pages and Trust income).  You will also need commercial software to submit a partnership tax return on-line; but paper partnership returns can be submitted until the usual paper deadline of 31 October without penalties.

There is more to self assessment on-line than just submitting a tax return. Once you are registered for self-assessment on line, you can:

You will have your tax calculated automatically and will receive repayments faster than if you submit a paper return.