Q. I have received a late filing penalty for not submitting my self-assessment return but I have been seriously ill and have been unable to deal with it. Can I challenge this?

A. HMRC are not always fair when it comes to issuing late filing penalties or indeed reversing them on appeal. A recent case, however, highlighted just this and demonstrated that HMRC can be successfully challenged.

HMRC issued fines to a man called Mr Pokorowski for submitting his tax return late despite a serious illness which resulted in him becoming homeless and then resident in a hostel.

HMRC said this was not a valid excuse for the late returns! Mr Pokorowski appealed to the First-tier Tribunal. In cancelling the fines, the judges remarked that HMRC’s actions were “scandalous”, “ridiculous” and showed “absurdity”.

If you do want to appeal against a penalty for sending your tax return late or paying your tax late you must do so within 30 days of the date HMRC sent you the penalty notice and have a reasonable excuse for late filing. There is guidance on the HMRC website about appealing and appeals can be made online or by post.

The moral of Mr Pokorowski’s story is to persist with an appeal if you believe you have good grounds and not allow yourself to be bullied by HMRC. Ultimately, you have the right to refer your appeal to a tribunal. HMRC can be unreasonable in not accepting appeals against late filing penalties even where you have good grounds. Remember, you always have the option of asking a tribunal to overturn a penalty.