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HMRC internal manual

Senior Accounting Officer Guidance

Reasonable excuse: overview

A person is not liable to a penalty for a failure to notify details of a Senior Accounting Officer (SAO), see SAOG18300, a failure to carry out the main duty, or a failure to provide a certificate on time, see SAOG18500, if

  • they satisfy us that they have a reasonable excuse, see SAOG20200, for the failure, and 
  • they put right the failure without unreasonable delay after the excuse has ended, see SAOG20800.

Reasonable excuse does not apply to an inaccuracy in an SAO certificate because the penalty is for a careless or deliberate inaccuracy, not a failure.

The onus is on the person who made the failure to satisfy us that they had a reasonable excuse at the time of the failure.

There is no statutory definition of reasonable excuse, which is a matter to be considered in the light of all the circumstances of the particular case. See the more detailed explanation at SAOG20200.

What is reasonable will differ from person to person depending upon their particular circumstances and abilities. However, there are some excuses that are not normally accepted as reasonable. These are

  • shortage of funds, but see the exception at SAOG20600, and
  • reliance on another person, but see the exception at SAOG20700.

If the reasonable excuse for the failure ends, we will treat the excuse as continuing if the person

  • puts right the failure, and
  • does so without unreasonable delay after the excuse ends.

If the person does not put right the failure without unreasonable delay after the excuse has ended they remain liable to a penalty.

What is unreasonable delay depends upon the facts and circumstances of each case, see SAOG20800. If the person does delay unreasonably then, whatever the reason for the failure, they do not have a reasonable excuse.

If we decide not to accept the person’s excuse as reasonable, they have the right to appeal against the penalty, see SAOG22000. If the person had a reasonable excuse for a failure under the SAO provisions and corrected that failure without unreasonable delay, then we don’t need to consider penalties.