'Tax still not top of the form' - Neasa MacErlean reports back on the frustrations of readers who responded to our campaign for simpler returns.
'Tips for happier returns'
1. The strict deadline for avoiding the £100 penalty for late tax returns is 31 January - but the Revenue says it will not fine people if the return arrives on 1 February, or, at a pinch, if it has been put through a tax office letterbox by the morning of 2 February.
2. Put down estimates with your best explanations, suggests John Whiting, if you do not have all the actual figures for completing the form. Then inform the Revenue as soon as you get the right amounts.
3. Do not forget these crucial points: make a copy of the return, so you can answer any questions arising from it in the future, and write in explanations if your income has fluctuated, so you can avoid being the subject of an inquiry.
Barbara Tatton has a maths degree but still struggles with the 15-page tax calculation guide sent to her with her annual tax return by the Inland Revenue. 'I cannot follow the logic of it,' says Tatton, an Ofsted schools inspector from Birmingham. 'We have a system that even intelligent people cannot check.'
She is not alone. John Whiting of PricewaterhouseCoopers, who is president of the Chartered Institute of Taxation (CIOT), prefers to work out liabilities on a clean sheet of paper rather than use the Revenue form: 'I can't use it. The Revenue's tax guide leads you on a very convoluted route.'
But many people will spend this weekend struggling to use the tax calculation guides before the 31 January deadline for calculating the tax they may owe. If you can work out your own system for calculating tax, you can use it. The Revenue tax calculation guide, like the tax return itself, has become overly complex because it tries to cater for every eventuality.
Tatton is a supporter of the 'Make it Simpler Tax Campaign', launched three weeks ago by the CIOT and The Observer. Like the other 9 million people who received a tax return, she had to wade through 209 boxes to complete the first eight pages of the return, the standard pages sent to everyone. If your affairs are more complicated, you get supplementary pages and your box quota quickly marches towards the 1,000 mark.
Fred Smith (not his real name) from London, a retired businessman who ran his own company for years, is another supporter of the campaign. He spends 'several days' working on his return.
His affairs are more complicated than Tatton's, but fortunately he gets help from his financially astute son. The two were working last week to get the form in by Thursday's deadline. 'The complexity breeds mistakes in itself,' says Smith. 'I consider myself reasonably sensible and numerate but, nevertheless, I find it difficult. Completing the forms is more complicated than many, many things I had to do in business.'
Another self-employed businessman, Brian Bowles of Crewe, has kept his business affairs as simple as possible to ensure that his tax affairs are correct. Forty years ago, when his family was 'very, very poor', they got hammered by the Revenue for not declaring a £5 bonus they earned by ordering clothes through a mail catalogue company.
Bowles has no intention of getting into trouble again. But to safeguard himself, he takes his tax return to the local tax office in September and gets them to ensure it has been done correctly.
'It's enormously reassuring,' he says. 'And they are very good: I seldom have to wait more than 20 minutes.' But he has had all sorts of difficulties dealing with the forms in recent years? not least all the Revenue jargon such as 'balancing charge'.
Now that he works part-time, he simply cannot afford to employ a tax adviser to handle his affairs and resists the idea that taxpayers might need to pay for professional advice just to comply with the tax laws. He thinks the Revenue should pay for advisers to help taxpayers complete their returns.
Retired civil servant Norman Jenkins of Middlesex had to read 71 pages of notes this year before completing his tax return.
His affairs are not complicated? and he worries how older pensioners in their eighties might struggle through the process: 'It's particularly hard on OAPs ? and I don't suppose their income varies much from year to year.'
A simplified form for pensioners is an aim of the CIOT.
John Whiting believes that a shortened two-page form and two or three-page calculation guide could be used for people with simple affairs rather than the current forms, which cater for eventualities including 'the Lloyds-underwriting, capital gains-realising minister of religion who has been abroad for half the year and sold a property at a loss'.
Perhaps the Revenue has spent too much time catering for the exotic and too little looking at the ordinary cases? the thousands of disabled former soldiers, for instance, who, it emerged last week, have been wrongly paying tax for the past 50 years.