United Kingdom

Individual - Tax administration

Last reviewed - 24 June 2021

Taxable period

The tax year commences on 6 April and ends on the following 5 April in the United Kingdom.

Tax returns

The United Kingdom has a self-assessment (SA) tax system. As part of this system, the majority of UK taxpayers settle their tax liability entirely through tax withheld at source on earnings and savings and do not need to make any further declarations. However, around a third of taxpayers need to complete a tax return, which will be issued by HMRC each year. Married couples and those in civil partnerships are independently taxed and responsible for their own affairs, and each files his or her own return.

Tax returns must be filed, and all outstanding tax paid, by 31 January following the end of the tax year. This filing deadline is brought forward to the 31 October after the end of the tax year for individuals who are filing on paper (although the tax is still due on 31 January). The UK SA system is moving towards being fully online, and paper returns are now only accepted in limited circumstances.

HMRC have recently issued a number of consultation documents to consider ideas such as more timely tax payments and the use of third-party data.

The deadline for a non-UK resident notifying HMRC of a disposal of UK property or an interest in a property-rich company is 30 days after the completion of the sale. Penalties will be charged if this deadline is missed, even if no tax was due. A similar provision was introduced for UK residents disposing of UK properties not covered by CGT main residence relief from 6 April 2020.

Payment of tax

Income tax is normally withheld at source from salaries under the PAYE system. PAYE for expatriates can be a complex area. In principle, the worldwide earnings for a UK resident employee should be subjected to PAYE, but there are a number of special schemes and reliefs that can be used to help deal with the issues this may cause. These schemes can allow PAYE to be operated on an estimated or, in some cases, an annual basis, limit PAYE to expected UK earnings, and, in some situations, to remove the obligation to operate PAYE at all. Further advice should be sought as penalties apply for the incorrect operation of PAYE.

Savings income from most other UK sources is received either gross or after basic rate tax has been deducted. Under the self-assessment regime, any tax not collected through withholding is paid by payments on account and the final balancing payment due on 31 January after the end of the tax year. All CGT is due by 31 January following the tax year in which the gain arose.

Individuals who do not pay at least 80% of their tax liability at source are required to make tax payments on account for the year, based on the level of income in the previous tax year. Payments on account are due in two instalments, on 31 January during the tax year and on 31 July following the tax year. Any outstanding tax due is payable by the filing deadline of 31 January after the end of the tax year.

Employers are required to notify HMRC of total pay, benefits, and expenses paid or reimbursed, and the employee then makes a claim for allowable business expenses.

Any tax due on a sale of UK property, whether by a non-UK resident or a UK resident, is due within 30 days of the disposal in line with when the property return must be submitted (see above).


Automatic penalties are charged where returns are filed late, and interest is chargeable where tax is paid late. There is a penalty regime specifically intended to reduce the UK tax lost through offshore transactions and structures. The highest penalty is up to 200% of the undeclared tax.

Tax audit process

HMRC is able to enquire into an individual's tax return and anything (including any claim or election) contained in it. The Inspector must give notice that shows intention to enquire into a tax return within 12 months of the return being filed (as long as the return has not been filed late). If the return has been delivered to HMRC after the filing date, an enquiry must be made by the ‘quarter day’ next following the first anniversary of the delivery date. 'Quarter days' are 31 January, 30 April, 31 July, and 31 October.

Where HMRC considers tax to have been lost by a taxpayer's fraudulent or negligent conduct, it will seek to recover that tax and, in such cases, the normal time limits for enquiries are extended (see Statute of limitations below for more information on normal time limits).

Statute of limitations

The normal time limit for making assessments is four years following the end of the tax year. This is termed a 'discovery' assessment. The time limit for making an assessment on a person in a case involving a loss of income tax brought about 'carelessly' by that person is six years following the end of the tax year. This is the position unless it is in respect of an 'offshore matter' or an 'offshore transfer', under which HMRC will have at least 12 years to enquire. The time limit for making an assessment on a person in a case involving a loss of income tax brought about deliberately by that person is 20 years following the end of the tax year.

Topics of focus by the UK tax authorities

HMRC look very carefully at a claim to be non-UK domiciled, especially if the individual has been resident in the UK for a number of years. Individuals must be able to demonstrate to HMRC, with strong evidence, the circumstances in which they will leave the UK to be able to show they are non-UK domiciled.

The UK tax authorities have a 'spotlight' system that highlights the characteristics of tax planning that they ask taxpayers to be wary of and warn that they are likely to look into if implemented. Some of the characteristics include:

  • artificial or contrived arrangements are involved
  • it seems very complex given what you want to do
  • there are guaranteed returns with apparently no risk
  • there are secrecy or confidentiality agreements
  • taxation of income is delayed or tax deductions accelerated
  • offshore companies or trusts are involved for no sound commercial reason
  • a tax haven or banking secrecy country is involved without any sound commercial reason
  • tax exempt entities, such as pension funds, are involved inappropriately
  • it involves money going in a circle back to where it started, and
  • the scheme promoter lends the funding needed.

In addition, the tax authorities have identified specific tax planning schemes that are likely to be challenged.


The United Kingdom has a large number of targeted anti-avoidance rules, such as those dealing with 'disguised remuneration', 'personal service companies', and 'enveloped dwellings'. It has also introduced a general anti-abuse rule (GAAR).

General anti-abuse rule (GAAR)

The government published legislation in respect to the GAAR in the 2013 Finance Act.

It applies to income tax, corporation tax, CGT, petroleum revenue tax, IHT, SDLT, and ATED, but not VAT, although VAT has its own anti-abuse provisions. The GAAR applies to arrangements entered into on or after 17 July 2013. The GAAR was also extended to cover NIC as of 13 March 2014, Diverted Profits Tax (DPT) from 1 April 2015, and the apprenticeship levy with effect from 15 September 2016.

The government has stressed that the GAAR is only intended to apply to abusive tax avoidance arrangements. The indicators of abuse do not specifically include arrangements that contain non-arm's-length terms (as this was considered impractical for many bona fide transactions that were not centred around avoiding tax). However, the legislation is broadly drafted and includes the subjective ‘double reasonableness test’, under which arrangements are regarded as abusive if carrying them out “cannot reasonably be regarded as a reasonable course of action in relation to the relevant tax provisions".

Another addition is an indicator that arrangements might not be regarded as abusive if they accord with established practice at the time they were entered into; HMRC is aware of that practice and has not challenged it. It isn't immediately clear how taxpayers will demonstrate this in practice, but this will develop.

Disclosure of Tax Avoidance Schemes (DOTAS)

The DOTAS regime is designed to tackle attempts to avoid tax and introduced the concept of 'notifiable arrangements'. The term 'arrangements' is widely defined and includes any scheme, transaction, or series of transactions. Promoters and users of schemes that, in summary, contain defined 'hallmarks' of tax avoidance and provide a tax advantage are required to notify HMRC of the arrangement.

Accelerated tax payment

There is legislation to extend accelerated payment of tax to users of arrangements disclosed under the DOTAS rules, and to taxpayers involved in planning held to contravene the GAAR, so that the tax amount in dispute is held by HMRC until the dispute is resolved. Legislation also requires taxpayers who have used arrangements that are defeated in another party's litigation to pay the disputed amount to HMRC on demand.

Personal tax offshore anti-avoidance legislation

The United Kingdom has anti-avoidance rules that are broadly designed to attribute the income of a 'person' abroad (e.g. a non-UK company or trust) to either an individual who transferred the funds to the person abroad and has the power to enjoy the income of the overseas person (e.g. they hold shares) or an individual who received a benefit from the person abroad. These rules are referred to as the 'Transfer of Assets Abroad' provisions, and they only apply to UK resident individuals.