Our sister site, AccountingWEB.co.uk, is reporting that the UK Self Assessment Online portal has been restored to service in the mid-afternoon on Thursday after breaking down on the busiest day of the tax year.
An HMRC (Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs) spokesman confirmed that the Self Assessment online filing service experienced "technical difficulties" on Thursday morning, which meant that some taxpayers could not file online.
Just after 3:30 p.m. Thursday, the department advised: "The system is now rapidly returning to normal levels of service." Because of the disruption, it also promised that no-one who files electronically or by paper by midnight Friday 1 February will face a penalty. The normal filing deadline is midnight, January 31.
In spite of the system crash, 104,000 people filed returns on Thursday, the department said. So far, 3.6 million returns have been filed online, and more than half a million returns have gone through the system since it broke the 3 million mark at the end of last week.
The disruption to the SA Online site first emerged on AccountingWEB at 10.15pm on Wednesday evening in an Any Answers post from a frustrated Nicholas Myles.
By Thursday lunchtime, 17 other members had reported similar experiences. The normal SA Online page was replaced with a message stating: "The Self Assessment on line system is temporarily unavailable to some customers. We apologise for any inconvenience caused and are working to restore the service as soon as possible"
Several AccountingWEB members using commercial applications commented that they appeared to have fewer problems than those logging in directly to SA Online. James Smith wrote: "I have actually been very impressed with the filing speeds this year - since January I am sure they have actually been somewhat quicker going through than during the other 9 months of the year, the only slow thing being the email reply which has taken a while to come through in the last 2-3 days rather than instantly arriving as it normally does."
On Thursday, HMRC announced it was issuing an extra day of "grace" in response to the SA Online filing service problems. There is still however, some confusion surrounding penalties.
HMRC takes any disruption of service very seriously and to reflect this, no one who files electronically or by paper by midnight Friday 1 February 2008 will face a penalty.
This is, of course, the normal position. Keith Gordon, barrister was quick to respond:
"Steeden v Carver suggests that anyone filing up to 24 hours late will escape the penalty in any event. The only risk in filing late is that HMRC have an extra three months to open an enquiry."
Gordon then adds:
"Do HMRC really mean to say that the deadline is now deemed to be 1 February? In which case, that means that one can file electronically up until midnight on Saturday (to avoid a penalty) and (as before) by paper until the tax offices open on Monday morning? Will HMRC reflect this in ensuring that such returns are still subject to an enquiry window which closes on 31 January next?
And will HMRC humbly request Her Majesty in Parliament to pass legislation to ensure that this is all above board so that we are not in the murky world of unlawful extra-statutory concessions?"