The Agony and Ecstasy of Tax Return Time

When I suggested a piece on the emotional marathon of completing my first tax return for xoJane, Rebecca said ‘you’d better get that to me before the 31st of January then.’ HOW WE LAUGHED.
Publish date:
January 28, 2013
self-employment, Tax return, 31st January, HMRC

I’ve been self-employed for a year, and the stress of knowing I’d have to complete my own tax return loomed over me, with the hard lump of fear and unquantifiable dread in the pit of the stomach tempering the otherwise joyful experience of having no boss and the freedom to develop an addiction to afternoon bathing.

I’ve never actually read any of HMRC’s self assessment guidelines, preferring instead to patch together different vague anecdotes from my other self-employed friends and acquaintances, dispensed mainly in pubs. I knew I had to save my receipts, and add up all my invoices each month. That bit was EASY. So easy.

Now it’s January, all I have to do is log on to the website, enter my financial records and it won’t be long before I’m cracking open a celebratory gin (to be consumed in the bath, naturellement). What a piece of piss this is turning out to be . . .

But wait?! WHAT’S THIS????? In order to file your tax return and hand over your cash to the Revenue, you first need to enter multiple details, upon which, HMRC send you a code in the post (takes up to seven working days to arrive, fact fans). Until you have it, you can’t do nothing.

Days later, a Highly Confidential envelope arrives in the post, and I get to work entering my secret, soon-to-self-destruct code into the machine. Computer says no. Try again. Still no. After checking the caps lock and a few more tries, it still won’t work.

Now begins what will quickly descend into an undignified, needy, one-sidedly dependent relationship with the self-assessment telephone helpline. The kind lady at the other end of the phone assures me I’ve entered my code incorrectly and for that reason I’ve been ‘shut out of the system for 2 hours’

WHAT? Confused, I double check with the nice lady that the code IS what came in the post in the sealed wrapper. ‘No, that’s not your code. That’s your activation PIN’ she wearily advises me. ‘The code is something you entered yourself when you registered for the service. You enter the PIN after you’ve logged in using the code’.

Against her better judgment, she asks if there is anything else she can help me with. My request for suggestions for what I might spend the next two hours doing is not met with amusement. I while away two hours, then take random guesses at my ‘password’ until the system finally relents and grants me access. Hooray! I punch the air in jubilation.

This is followed by a period where I repeatedly enter details onto the system, become insecure about what each box is actually asking me and phone the helpline. After numerous enquiries, one of the operators offers to make me an ‘appointment’ with a technical advisor who will phone me at 9am in a few days time.

Oh God. They think I’m one of those people who try and befriend call centre workers to assuage their own loneliness and social inadequacies. How MORTIFYING.

What a huge anticlimax. I’ve spent hours on this, still haven’t finished, and still have ALL my savings in my account. How rubbish.

Still, on the bright side, I have at least established which tax year it is I’m supposed to be filing. This was rather nerve-wracking when I first found out, because I had to locate a p45 I had no recollection of receiving, but when I did find it, stuffed down the back of a bookcase, it gave way to such an intense moment of elation and natural euphoria that I had to lie on the sofa, breathlessly re-living the sensation of coming up on my first ever E. Every cloud, I suppose.

Over the ensuing days I receive a call from the Revenue every single time I am out, actually earning my tax money, and receive a voicemail telling me I have missed my appointment. I then reschedule, but every time I am at home, sitting cozily next to my computer and financial records, the phone remains stubbornly silent. How infuriating.

Then, two weeks after my first attempt, the phone rings when I am cycling home for the afternoon. I beg the nice man to call me back that day – I am only 10 minutes from home. Although he tells me that the system doesn’t function like that, he relents and, agrees to call me back.

In only 16 minutes, Wayne and I have flown through my return, establishing a friendly rapport. My final calculation, with Wayne’s help is £500 lower than it had been with me manning the controls alone. What a result! It’s only taken 20 days, 15 phone calls and approximately four gallons of tea to get through it.

Now I’ve completed it, I feel invincible. Like I can achieve anything. Or, at the very least; have a nice bath, while drinking wine from a mug.