Getting things wrong

Penalties are fines issued by HMRC where a person has not done something they should have. They are generally charged for either not doing something at the correct time, or not doing something accurately

Employment status
Sending in your employee information late (or not at all)
Paying your PAYE tax and NIC late
Generic notification messages
Sending incorrect employee information
How will HMRC find out that my information is incorrect?
Correcting payroll errors
Keeping good records
Appealing penalties

Employment status

Employment status means whether your PA is employed or self-employed.

To get the status ‘wrong’, means either that you have treated your PA as self-employed when the relationship suggests they should be employed or – more rarely – you have taken on your PA as employed when the relationship suggests they should be self-employed.

You can find out more about what to expect if you get the status wrong in our tax employment status section.

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Sending in your employee information late (or not at all)

Under RTI most employers must submit information electronically to HMRC each time they make a payment to an employee. There used to be a relaxation for very small employers (i.e. those with nine or fewer employers)  who paid their employees more frequently than once per month (say, weekly, or fortnightly) so that submissions were only required once a month, but from 6 April 2016, this no longer exists. 

For paper filers exempt from online filing, a return must be made once a quarter.

The only exception to these rules is that brand new employers can send their first submission within 30 days of first paying an employee without incurring any penalties.

If you do not send in your payroll information on time (or at all) the position regarding penalties is as follows:

Penalties apply to all employers for late filing of PAYE submissions (introduced from 6 March 2015). The three-day grace period which was in place during 2015/16, will be continued throughout 2016/17, meaning that HMRC may not charge a late filing penalty for delays of up to three days after the statutory filing date. However employers who persistently file after the statutory filing date but within three days, will be monitored and may be contacted or considered for a penalty.

In all cases, the first late submission is ignored. However second and subsequent failures may attract a penalty – the details of how the penalty will be calculated are on GOV.UK, but broadly the penalty will be determined by the number of employees. The minimum penalty is £100 (applied per month, but charged quarterly). An additional tax-geared penalty may be applied if a return is outstanding for three months or more.

Please note that late filing penalties will not be charged if the taxpayer has a 'reasonable excuse'. HMRC have suggested that they will accept reasonable excuses from taxpayers who are generally compliant without further investigation. This is so that they can concentrate their efforts on the more serious defaulters on a risk-assessed basis.

In addition, if you do not submit your payroll information on time, HMRC can make an estimation of what you owe based on your previous PAYE submission history. You can find out more about this on GOV.UK.

Strictly, there is no difference in treatment for late filing whether you are operating on-line RTI or paper process RTI. However, HMRC have indicated that they will take a sympathetic view and try and help educate care and support employers who look like they may be struggling, as opposed to turning to penalties.

Saying that, if you have any difficulties with completing the forms we recommend calling HMRC to ask for help before you submit them. It is always better to contact them first rather than waiting for them to contact you.

You may find it useful to know that care and support employers are not necessarily distinguishable from other employers on HMRC’s systems. HMRC are currently trying to identify who care and support employers are, so that a signal can be set on your records. You do not have to agree to any signal put on your employer records, but we believe it may be helpful to you if you need extra help and support to deal with your payroll, or if penalties become a factor. This will allow HMRC to identify you quickly and deal with you appropriately.

Benefits and expenses

Penalties are also charged or late filing of forms P11D (and P9D for tax years up to and including 2015/16). For each form, there is an initial penalty of up to £300 plus £60 a day if the failure continues. You will get a penalty of £100 per 50 employees for each month or part month a P11D(b) is late.

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Paying your PAYE tax and NIC late

Interest and penalties will be levied where a person is late in making payments of PAYE tax and Class 1/Class 1A NIC in the tax year. You should note that late payment penalties can be levied even if the associated payroll information has reached HMRC on time.

The amount of the penalty will depend on the number of late payments (known as ‘defaults’) in the tax year and can range from 1% to 4%. The first late payment does not count as a default. 

In addition, if any amount of tax/NIC is more than six months late, a further penalty of 5% of the amounts outstanding will be levied and another 5%, if the tax/NIC is still outstanding after 12 months. These penalties apply to the first late payment of tax even though the first late payment does not count as a default.

You can find more information about this on GOV.UK.

Until further notice, HMRC will continue to review late payment penalties manually, instead of imposing them automatically (as intended from 6 April 2015) as announced here on GOV.UK. Please note that HMRC allow a ‘tolerance’ of £100 for PAYE in-year late payment penalties.

Where the difference between the total for all the amounts that the employer is due to pay to HMRC for a tax period and the amount paid over for that period is no more than £100, the employer will not be liable to a late payment penalty. 

Penalties will also not be charged if the taxpayer has a 'reasonable excuse'  for the late payment.

However interest may be applied to late payments, even if no penalties are levied. The current official interest rate is 3% per annum.

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Generic notification mesages (GNS)

Online filers may get a GNS if they don't send their payroll submissions on time (or at all), or they are late making payments, or full payments to HMRC. These messages are intended to help employers get things right and avoid incurring penalties.

Some of the notifications you may see are as follows:

A non-filing notice

Every PAYE scheme will have a filing expectation based on the frequency of previous submissions.

As such, this GNS will be sent to an employer who appears not to have sent one or more of the Full Payment Submissions (FPSs) that HMRC expected for a particular period. It will explain that the employer is running the risk of incurring penalties – and what to do to avoid them.

These GNS messages will be issued on or around the 12th calendar day of the following tax month.

This is to allow an employer to file a Nil EPS by the 19th of the following month, where no payments were actually made to an employee, which will then cancel the ‘failure’ in the system.

A late filing notice

In a similar vein, this will be sent to an employer who appears to have submitted an FPS late HMRC will compare the date of the submission of the FPS with the date of payments of individuals within it.

If an individual(s) payment date within an FPS is earlier than the submission date, the GNS message will be triggered.

An employer will receive a maximum of one late file GNS message in a tax month irrespective of the number of times they submit late RTI returns during that period.

A late payment notice

HMRC carries out payment checks after each monthly (or quarterly) payment deadline is passed.

This GNS will be sent out by HMRC if, an employer has not made their PAYE payments (as shown as due from their records) in full by their due date. It will explain that in order to avoid potential penalties in future, employers should bring payments up-to-date and ensure future payments are made on time and in full.

It will also explain what to do if no payments were actually due.

Most users of commercial payroll software who make their submissions over the internet will receive the notifications through their software automatically. If the payroll software is not compatible or HMRC’s Basic PAYE Tools are used, the notifications will be available by logging on to PAYE for employers and selecting the notification from within the ‘Notice summary’ section.

You can find out more about GNS and what to do if you get one on GOV.UK.

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Sending incorrect employee information

Where HMRC discovers careless or deliberate errors in pay and tax information submissions, including P11D(b) forms, the penalties that could apply will be based on the behaviour that led to the error and the amount of potential tax lost because of the inaccuracy.

Of course, an incorrect submission may just be a mistake you have made innocently when you run your payroll. These things can happen and HMRC recognise that. As such, errors that arise, despite taking reasonable care, attract no penalty at all and penalties for errors due to failure to take reasonable care can be reduced to zero with full and unprompted disclosure to HMRC. For information about disclosure see HMRC’s guidance.

It is important to understand that errors that lead to no lost tax cannot, by definition, attract a penalty.

Benefits and expenses

Incorrect forms P11D and P9D are not dealt with by these rules. If an incorrect form P11D or P9D is filed fraudulently or negligently, a penalty of up to £3,000 can be levied in respect of each from. However this will only be seen in the most serious cases.

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How will HMRC find out that my employee information is incorrect?

From time to time HMRC undertake PAYE audits (Employer Compliance Reviews) to make sure that employers are operating PAYE correctly. You can be randomly chosen for a PAYE inspection or you could be specifically selected if you do things like file tax returns late, pay tax late or make errors that need correcting. 

The first step is a letter or phone call from HMRC announcing its intention to visit and inspect your records.

They will probably want to concentrate on common problematic areas such as correct use of employee codes, correct treatment of new employees and leavers, expense payments, employee benefits and their correct disclosure on forms P11D and employment status

You can read more about what to expect in a PAYE audit in our section on getting employment status wrong.

In general, you should try and assist the HMRC officers as much as possible. This will typically make their visit a shorter, more pleasant experience for all parties and if the worst happens and some error is discovered, minimise the penalty level. In a similar vein, if your preparation has highlighted any problems or mistakes, let the officers know. They will be more sympathetic, and you are far less likely to have to pay any penalties.

If it looks like a penalty may be in point but you have made a genuine mistake and are willing to meet conditions aimed at avoiding further inaccuracies in future, you may be interested to know that, HMRC can suspend the penalty. Find out more about this in HMRC’s factsheet.

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Correcting payroll errors

In an ideal world, you would not need to correct errors, but occasionally even the most diligent employers will forget to process something or deal with something incorrectly. Whatever the reason, and even if you will get a penalty anyway, you must try and correct the mistake so that HMRC have payroll information and figures that are accurate.

You can find some guidance on what to do on GOV.UK. Below we outline what to do in a few common scenarios:

  • If you have made a small mistake with your employee’s personal details, e.g. spelling mistake in name, you should correct it in your next FPS. If it is a substantive error, e.g. you have used the wrong date of birth or surname, it is probably best to contact HMRC's Employer Helpline to report the error
  • If an employee’s name or address changes, they must contact HMRC to report this - as well as you updating it in your payroll software.
  • If you put the wrong start date for an employee in your FPS, update your payroll records with the correct date. Do not report the amendment in your next FPS as this may create a duplicate record for the employee.
  • If you have sent an FPS with the wrong payment date in, send an additional FPS with the correct payment date – write ‘H – correction to earlier submission’ in the ‘Late reporting reason’ field.
  • Your last FPS of a tax year should have ‘your final RTI submission for the year’ box ticked. If it was sent without the box ticked you need to resend the FPS. This needs to be submitted before the 19th April. Tick the option for final submission and select the reason for late reporting as ‘H-Correction to earlier submission’.
  • If you've submitted an EPS with incorrect values, for example to do with statutory payments recovered, you should submit a new EPS to replace it.
  • If an employee(s) pay is incorrect – how to correct this situation depends on if the employee actually got paid the incorrect amount or not. 
    1) If your employee’s pay was reported incorrectly and they actually got paid this amount, in this situation the FPS is not technically wrong. The FPS for this period should not be amended and corrections should be made in the next payroll run as far as possible. So in case of an overpayment of £100 to an employee, a corresponding deduction of £100 should be made in the next period and reported then. If you have underpaid an employee £100, you could add this amount on to the employee's pay in the next period and report it then. (If this is going to cause hardship, and you need to make an additional payment to the employee outside of the regular payroll cycle then in this instance you must submit an additional FPS on or before the date of the additional payment.)
    2) If your employee actually got paid the correct amount but you’ve reported the wrong values - update the year-to-date figures in your next regular Full Payment Submission (FPS).

The above guidance applies to current year errors, there are different rules for previous year errors – you might need to send an Earlier Year Update (EYU) for example.

If your error means that you have paid HMRC too little, you should pay the balance as soon as possible. If you’ve paid HMRC too much, you can balance your account by paying less in your next PAYE bill.

If you are paper filing, guidance on what to do to correct payroll errors can be found in RT7

Benefits and expenses

If your benefits and expenses information is incorrect, send HMRC a new version of the form (e.g. P11D) with the correct information.

Put all the benefits and expenses for the tax year on the form, not just the ones you want to correct.

You must submit a paper form, even if you originally submitted online.

For more on correcting errors on benefits and expenses, see GOV.UK.

Keeping good records

There are also penalties that HMRC can charge if you fail to keep proper records. It is important that you are aware of this.

You can find out what happens if you do not keep proper records on GOV.UK.

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Appealing penalties

Late filing penalties/Late payment penalties

If you do not agree with the PAYE penalty notice you receive because the penalty is not due or because you had a reasonable excuse you have the right to appeal against it.

A reasonable excuse is normally something unexpected or outside your control that stopped you meeting a tax obligation, e.g:

  • your partner or another close relative died shortly before the tax return or payment deadline
  • you had an unexpected stay in hospital that prevented you from dealing with your tax affairs
  • you had a serious or life-threatening illness
  • your computer or software failed just before or while you were preparing your online return
  • service issues with HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) online services
  • a fire, flood or theft prevented you from completing your tax return
  • postal delays that you couldn’t have predicted

If you have a disability and claim to have a reasonable excuse that prevented you from meeting a deadline, HMRC will consider whether you made a reasonable effort to meet your obligation on time.

You can also appeal against HMRC's decision not to accept your reasonable excuse if you still think you have a reasonable excuse.

Online filers are able to appeal online against a filing or payment penalty, using HMRC’s Online Service. Once you’ve logged in, select ‘Appeal a penalty’.  From the options you are given (A-H) ‘G’ is the one to use if you think you have a “reasonable excuse”. HMRC may ask you some questions about your ‘reasonable excuse’ before accepting it, however as stated above, HMRC have suggested that they will accept reasonable excuses from late filing taxpayers who are generally compliant without further investigation.

You can also send a late filing appeal in writing to:

National Insurance Contributions and Employers Office
HM Revenue and Customs
BX9 1BX

You should send a written appeal against a late payment penalty to:

Southend Debt Management
6th Floor Alexander House
21 Victoria Ave
Southend on Sea
Essex
SS99 1AA

Inaccuracy penalties

If there is something that you do not agree with, you should tell the officer you have been dealing with so they can consider the position.

See HMRC's factsheet on penalties for inaccuracies in returns and documents for more information.

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