Time for a rant. Let's talk about money. Not about getting rich, saving it or the warmth of happiness when you find a small stash down the back of the sofa. I mean tax. A horrible, three-letter word that strikes fear into the heart of all adults. The bogeyman to most grown-ups.
If you're a Brit and you haven't filled in your tax return, you will (hopefully) be painfully aware that the submission deadline is this week. If you had forgotten that we are already at the end of January you might be having a few sleepiness nights as you scramble to gather your paperwork in time. If you are an expat and filing an online tax return for the first time, I'm afraid my friend, you're stuffed. So here are some observations, and please also allow me to use it as an excuse to get a few things off my chest.
Expats are not exempt. While you soak up the sun in your expat homeland, the drizzly, grey UK days might be a distant memory. Put the Mojito down. You still need to fill in a tax return even if you don't have any earnings. You have to account for any interest you make on savings (fat chance), and any income if you rent out your UK home.
You have to register. If you haven't filled in an electronic UK tax return before, you will have to register in order for your name to be on the system. The process involves HMRC sending you an activation number...by post. Now given the wonderful world of technology, and the fact you wish to file an electronic tax return, presumably because you're late, don't want it to get lost in the post, don't have a postal system that works where you live, or all of the above, this seems a daft system. I have to admit to waking up in a cold sweat at 3am one night last week because despite living abroad for four years I had forgotten all about the UK tax system – it’s not at the top of my thoughts usually. I have my excuses, don't we all: we've just moved country (third time in four years) and my husband has changed job. This means all our stuff is on a ship somewhere.
You need more than the HMRC. I’m not a rule breaker. I feel a little uncertain if the grass in the park is not clearly marked to tell me whether I’m allowed to walk on it or not. I panic on stairs – do I keep left or right? And don’t ask me to put a glass bottle in a rubbish bin. In essence, I try to do the right thing. The HMRC online system isn’t helping me to do this. It’s not the end of your taxing journey. It’s just the beginning. If you’re an expat, there is additional paper to fill in, not available on the HMRC system, which means you have to buy a commercially available product. And if you have a Mac, the number of products is limited.
Gathering tax receipts in one problem; Some banks only provide electronic information, some only provide it by post. However, actually filling in a tax return is another problem.
I’m feeling a little lighter sharing this burden. It’s time I found a Mojito. Good luck.