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HMRC internal manual

Self Assessment: the legal framework

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HM Revenue & Customs
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Self Assessment Tax Returns: other taxpayer obligations: requirement to keep records on which Return is based

Taxpayer must keep and preserve records relevant to tax liability

Section 12B(1)

Under Self Assessment taxpayers are required both to keep and preserve the records needed to make a correct and complete tax return for any period.

It is virtually impossible to produce an accurate return of profit without keeping records of one sort or another. Many taxpayers already keep records, often for business management purposes and general reasons of prudence, if not specifically for tax purposes. But the formal requirement to keep records discourages taxpayers who might otherwise choose not to keep or retain records of an adequate standard in the hope that HMRC would then only have evidence to support a relatively low estimate of profits made.

Period for which records must be kept

Section 12B(1)(b) & (2)

Where a notice to file is issued at the normal time the relevant records must be kept until the later of:

  • the date on which a formal enquiry into the tax return is treated as complete (see SALF500)
  • the date on which it becomes impossible for any such formal enquiry to be started
  • in the case of a taxpayer with a business the fifth anniversary of the 31 January next following the year of assessment (the five-year time limit applies to all records, not simply the business records)
  • in any other case, the first anniversary of 31 January next following the year of assessment.

Section 12B(2A)

Where a notice to file is issued after the normal time, but before:

  • the fifth anniversary of the 31 January next following the year of assessment (in the case of a taxpayer with a business))
  • the first anniversary of 31 January next following the year of assessment (in any other case),

the record keeping requirement is the same as that in the first paragraph of Period for which records must be kept above.

But where the notice to file is not issued until after the dates given in the second paragraph of Period for which records must be kept above the record- keeping requirement only extends to those records still in the taxpayer’s possession at the time the notice to file is received. These will be the only records, if any, that the taxpayer uses to complete the tax return. Any such records must then be kept until the later of:

  • the date on which a formal enquiry into the tax return is treated as complete
  • the date on which it becomes impossible for any such formal enquiry to be started.

For example, most employees are correctly taxed under PAYE and do not need to be issued with notices to file a tax return each year. Where, exceptionally, an employee is issued with a notice to file a tax return after the first anniversary of 31 January next following the year of assessment concerned he or she would only be expected to retain those records used when completing the tax return.

Business records to be kept

Section 12B(3) & (6)

In the case of a business (including the business of letting a property) the records that must be kept include records of:

  • all receipts and expenses
  • all goods purchased and sold
  • all supporting documents relating to the transactions of the business, that is accounts, books, deeds, contracts, vouchers and receipts (and computer records - FA08/S114).

Other records to be kept

There are no specified rules for other sources of income other than the general requirement to make a complete and correct tax return. But typically taxpayers are expected to keep evidence of the income that they have received, such as bank statements or dividend vouchers. Employees need to keep their P60s and evidence of the taxable benefits they have received. Where someone returns a chargeable gain (or loss) they need to keep all the records relating to the asset in question and the calculation of the gain (or loss) on its disposal.

Records may be preserved as copies of the originals

Section 12B(4) and (4A)

Providing all the original information is retained, it may be retained in a form other than the original documents. This allows original documents to be retained as copies, including copies maintained in electronic form on computer-based optical imaging systems, providing the images that are retained are complete and full copies.

There are exceptions to the general rule in the paragraph above and certain original documents must be retained (section 12B(4A)). This includes certificates of tax deducted and vouchers showing tax credits.

Penalty for failure to keep records as required

Section 12B(5)

A penalty of up to £3,000 may be charged for each failure to keep or to preserve adequate records in support of a tax return.

Where record keeping failures come to light during the course of HMRC enquiries, they are likely to be a factor to be taken into consideration in determining the extent to which any penalties are to be abated in respect of other offences, for example, where incorrect accounts have been submitted and a penalty is sought under Schedule 24 FA 2007. A penalty under Section 12B(5) will normally be sought only in serious cases, for example, where there has been a history of record-keeping failures or records have been destroyed deliberately to obstruct an enquiry. The amount of any penalty will depend on the nature of the offence.

The taxpayer has the right of appeal against the determination of any such penalty.

Failure to keep records on which a claim is based

Section 12B(5A)

Where a particular claim, election or notice is made in a tax return any failure to retain the records relating to that claim etc falls within the terms of Section 12B(5), but where the claim etc is made independently of a tax return then a failure to retain the relevant records falls within the terms of Schedule 1A (see SALF600).