Self-assessment statistics highlight the need for software under MTD

HMRC statistics, which show that only almost 60% of self-assessment return filings made during the past tax year were by agents.

According to HMRC, a record-breaking 11.5 million taxpayers submitted their self-assessment tax returns for the 2022/23 tax year by midnight on 31 January.

More than 12.1 million taxpayers were expected to file a tax return and pay any tax owed. Of those that met their obligations by the deadline, 778,068 beat the clock to complete it on 31 January, including:

  • 61,549 taxpayers who filed between 16:00 and 16:59 – the peak hour for filing;
  • 32,958 taxpayers who filed between 23:00 and 23:59.

AccountingWEB has obtained data from HMRC which shows that, of the 11.2 million self-assessment tax returns filed before the deadline of 31 January 2024, 59% (more than 6.6 million) were filed by agents – a term which includes professional tax agents and family members or similar completing the return on behalf of someone else.

The figure of 6.6 million returns filed by agents is similar to its 2020 equivalent (the last year HMRC provided data for), and in percentage terms has slightly declined in those four years.

When looking at the past four self-assessment deadline years split into who is making the filing (agent vs taxpayer) and how the return is filed (HMRC’s self-assessment portal vs third-party tax filing software), AccountingWEB found that the split in terms of agent vs taxpayer seemed roughly equal. This suggests a high number of individuals are not relying on agents to deal with their tax returns.

In addition, the figures highlighted the growth in individual taxpayers using HMRC’s self-assessment portal, with almost 4.5 million filing in this way – close to a million more than the corresponding figure in 2020. 97% of individual filings were made using HMRC’s self-assessment portal. In comparison, just 2.91% of individuals used third-party tax filing software, with the percentage figure for this actually in decline since 2020. This statistic alone highlights the scale of the challenge ahead for HMRC’s Making Tax Digital (MTD) ambitions. 

The current timetable for MTD income tax self-assessment (MTD ITSA) mandation – please see our earlier Bulletin – means that HMRC’s self-assessment portal for in-scope, unrepresented, taxpayers will be shut off from April 2026, and instead, more than 700,000 taxpayers (with a qualifying income of more than £50,000) will be required to buy third-party tax filing software, with a further 900,000 (above the income threshold of £30,000) brought in for the following year.

Qualifying income is the combined income that an individual gets in a tax year from self-employment and property income sources. It is the individual’s gross income or turnover before they deduct expenses. Sources of income such as income from employment, dividends or savings, do not count towards qualifying income.

An estimated 1.1 million taxpayers missed the deadline. As a reminder, the penalties for late tax returns are:

  • an initial £100 fixed penalty, which applies even if there is no tax to pay, or if the tax due is paid on time;
  • after three months, additional daily penalties of £10 per day, up to a maximum of £900;
  • after six months, a further penalty of 5% of the tax due or £300, whichever is greater;
  • after 12 months, another 5% or £300 charge, whichever is greater.

There are also additional penalties for paying outstanding tax late. These are 5% of that unpaid at 30 days, six months and 12 months. Interest will also be charged on any tax paid late.

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