You could escape a penalty for paying your tax late if you could prove you had a reasonable excuse for the delay. What does that mean? Like an elephant, it is difficult to describe but you know a reasonable excuse when you see one. But this is for sure. The law does not provide shelter for mistakes - even mistakes which are not culpable.
A 70 year old man has just appealed against a penalty of £147 which was calculated at 5% on the income tax he paid a couple of months late. He had sent in a self-assessment return online. His excuse for the delay? For the first time he had used the online facility and requested online reminders. Because he was always expecting a letter though the post, he was not vigilant in opening all his e-mails. He was also forgetful from time to time due to the medications he was taking.
The tax tribunal which has just announced its decision on the appeal accepted that a genuine mistake had been made and that there had been a lack of vigilance. However, the tribunal decided this did not amount to a reasonable excuse.
The decision may seem harsh but, in law, it was inevitable.
HMR&C does have the power to reduce a penalty it it thinks it is right to do so in view of special circumstances. It had refused to do so in this case.
All this reminds me that if I want to submit my tax return for 2015/16 on paper, I have got to get it in by 31 October 2016. Otherwise, I will be condemned to doing it online. Blimey, you might not hear from me for a couple of days. Or you might. There's not much to declare.