The time has arrived when you should be gearing yourself up to open the large pack the Inland Revenue sent you at the beginning of April - the one marked 'please open immediately'. As a true professional, I've just opened my own to check what it says. (Detailed research has shown that only 2% of tax return packages are opened immediately - while 3% aren't opened at all. ) Assuming you are not among the 2% who have already dealt with their return form, you are going to have to steel yourself. The first thing to remember is the size of the package may be daunting but this is because most of the bumph is not likely to be relevant to you personally and can be ignored.
So, open the package and check that you've got your actual tax return form with any extra schedules you need to record details of income from employment, self-employment, partnership, share options, capital gains and so forth.
There is a list on the second page of the return form for you to check and a number you can call to order any missing pages (0845 9000 404). Most people who miss the filing deadline and get fined do so because of the practical difficulties of getting hold of actual forms and information when they've left it until the last minute.
Then get together all of the information you need for your return, P60s, P11ds, certificates of interest received, dividend slips and so forth. If you're self-employed or have done any freelance work you'll need your accounts for the self-employed schedule, so get in touch with your accountant or prepare your own accounts sooner rather than later.
If you're preparing your own return and have difficulties then call the Revenue help line - (0845) 9000 444 - for advice.
If you're selfemployed, you or your accountant will find it a lot easier to prepare your accounts if you have kept good records - it is a legal requirement to keep records but there is no prescribed form.
You can set up a system to suit yourself but you should keep a written or computerised record, which is backed up by the original receipts or invoices. You want to be able to identify easily the amount you have invoiced and the bills you have incurred for the year.
When you have completed the return, sign it and send it to the Revenue; if it is received before 30 September, it will guarantee to have worked out your tax bill in time for the 31 January payment.
The final deadline for 2000 returns and payment of any 1999/2000 tax due is 31 January 2001.
Filling in tax returns is like painting and decorating; you should be able to do it for yourself but if you don't want the hassle or don't have the time, get a professional to do it for you.
Eileen Doherty works for independent financial adviser Fiona Price & Partners, tel (020) 7430 0366