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More than 2,700 taxpayers chose Christmas Day to file their online self-assessment returns to HM Revenue & Customs, using the quiet festive period to get ahead of the January 31 deadline for returns. 

The peak period for dispatching online returns was between 2pm and 3pm, when more than 200 people hit the Send button. As in previous years, Christmas Eve and Boxing Day were busier times for online tax filing, with 20,200 filing the day before and 8,500 the day after Christmas Day.

Karl Khan, HMRC’s interim director general for customer services, said: “Online self-assessment means customers can do their tax returns at any time, day or night — even on Christmas Day if they want to.”

Overall, however, the number filing their return over the three-day period was down by 5 per cent on 2019. Nimesh Shah, chief executive of Blick Rothenberg, a tax and accounting adviser, said the coronavirus restrictions had given people an opportunity to file their tax return earlier than usual.

“The drop in numbers is not a surprise, as many of those who might previously have done their return at Christmas have been living and working at home and could get it in much sooner,” he said.

The pandemic has led to a rise in fraud, with criminals exploiting the increase in online financial activity to trick people out of their money. As it published the Christmas self-assessment numbers, HMRC gave extra prominence to warnings about the risks of being scammed when filing returns online.

People should be on the alert for copycat HMRC websites designed to elicit sensitive financial information, it said, or phone callers who claimed to be from the tax authority offering tax refunds or demanding money be paid ahead of the self assessment deadline. 

It responded to more than 300,000 reports of phone scams in the 12 months to October, an increase of 47 per cent on the previous 12 months, with 45,000 phone scams reported in October alone, HMRC has previously said. 

The economic chaos caused by the pandemic has led accounting bodies to urge HMRC to ease the January 31 deadline for self assessment filing or to delay the imposition of penalties for failing to meet it, arguing some taxpayers and accountants are struggling to file amid the disruption. 

HMRC has resisted these calls, but said it would accept Covid-19 as an excuse for failing to submit a return on time, as long as taxpayers gave a reasonable explanation as to how the pandemic affected their ability to file as required.

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