Note to selves - do tax by 31/01/17

HMRC office in Whitehall; Matt Salusbury

HMRC's head office in Whitehall

IT'S THAT time of year again. Already? Yes, already! You have already missed the deadline to do your tax return on paper, although unless you have a date of birth sometime earlier than the late 1940s, HMRC already assume you're doing you tax return online.

If you're doing you tax return online for the first time (if - for example - you became self-employed and got a brand new Unique Tax Reference number between April 2016 and April 2017), now's the time to register for HMRC online and request a password for Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) online thing. It's actually a lot more user-friendly that the words "Government IT project" would suggest.

For reasons of security, your password has to arrive by post, and HMRC recommend you allow up to a month after requesting one. In the run up to the 31 January 2017 deadline for sending your tax return, callers to HMRC with enquiries can expect to be on the line waiting for about 45 minutes, so request a password now, please. If you've used HMRC online to do your tax return before, your password will still work this tax year - if you can still find it. Check now, please.

You have until 31 January to submit your completed tax return online or face automatic fines for late filing - these start at £100, so don't say we didn't warn you.

You may wish to consider sending your return in a couple of days earlier than that, to avoid the time and hassle of arguing with HMRC after you've tried to send in your return in at the last minute, only for its website to crash. This has happened a lot in recent years. HMRC did retrospectively grant a grace period for those affected, but you'd rather spend your time in those late January days doing paid work than pleading with HMRC, wouldn't you?

There are an increasing number of online tools and apps that promise to make doing your tax easier, some of them for free. Check these out now rather than in the dying days of January 2017, by which time it's probably too late. Simple Tax is just one service you may wish to consider looking into: others are available. Accountants HW Fisher & Company have a free tax advice line for the self-employed who are NUJ members on 020 7874 7875. HW Fisher also have tax guides for self-employed journos.

As HMRC goes after the low-hanging fruit of relatively low-earning self-employed taxpayers to make up the shortfall in the tax take that it is (ahem!) not getting from the well-advised super-rich tax-advantageous corporates and big fish, we've heard from members that in recent years there have been more and more entirely random HMRC investigations into freelance journos like us.

If you are also a member of the Society of Authors, they offer a very reasonably-priced insurance policy against the costs of being investigated by HMRC. Again, you'd probably rather be doing paid work than spending a potentially limitless number of hours having to defending to the HMRC and evidence every little bit of money coming into your bank account, and every expense going out.

None of the products listed above have yet been tested by the Freelance: their inclusion should not be considered an endorsement.