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HMRC internal manual

Compliance Handbook

HM Revenue & Customs
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Penalties for Failure to Pay on Time: reasonable excuse: reliance on another person

Where a person has asked somebody else to do something on their behalf, that person is responsible for ensuring that the other person carries out the task. They cannot claim they had a reasonable excuse merely because the task was delegated to a third party and the third party failed to complete it.

We expect the person to take reasonable care to explain to the third party what they require them to do, to set deadlines for the work and to make regular checks on progress, reminding where appropriate. We expect the person

  • to be able to tell us what action they took to ensure that the obligation to make payment on time was met, and
  • normally, but not always, to know the reason why the failure occurred.

If the person does this and still fails to make payment on time because the third party failed, they may have a reasonable excuse. However, the person must remedy the failure without unreasonable delay after the excuse has ended, see CH155900.

Remember that there is no statutory definition of ‘reasonable’ or ‘unreasonable’. Each case must be judged on its own merits in view of the person’s abilities and circumstances. See CH155600 and CH155650.


Mary is due to submit her VAT return, and pay her VAT, electronically by the due date. Her accountant is authorised to act on her behalf and is engaged to calculate liability and submit the return and payment.

Mary provides the accountant with all relevant information three weeks before the due date. One week before the due date Mary checks with her accountant that he will submit her payment on time. One week after the due date Mary checks her business bank statements and realises that he has not submitted her VAT return and payment. Mary immediately contacts HMRC and submits the return and full payment.

Mary has a reasonable excuse because she took reasonable care to explain to the third party (her accountant) what she required him to do, took reasonable steps to check on progress, checked whether or not the return had been submitted soon after the due date and immediately contacted HMRC to correct her tax affairs.

FA09/SCH56/PARA16 (2)(b)