HMRC has just announced a mild analgesic for the tax return migraine that many will suffer this year.

Busy contractors working through their own limited companies have an additional headache at this time of year with HMRC’s self-assessment tax return deadline due to slam into place. It is tomorrow, of course, which means that, as with every year, there will be a frantic flurry of last minute online filing as 600,000 contractors and other self-assessors scramble to get their self-assessments in the bag before the guillotine drops and hefty £100 penalties come into force.

This year is different in one important respect: if you are one of the 90,000 people who have a query about tax liability, you are going to find it virtually impossible to get through to the HMRC helpline, thanks to a strike by the PCS union which will see call centre staff drop by 80%.

Thankfully, HMRC has decided to effectively extend the deadline to 2nd February. Previously, the Revenue had insisted that the 31st January deadline would remain in place, although automatic fines would be waived for those unable to get through to the strike-hobbled call centre.

Rather than getting buried beneath an avalanche of complaints, our venerable tax collectors have decided that it would be more pragmatic to make a blanket extension to the deadline after all. Stephen Banyard, the Acting Director General for Personal Tax at HMRC, said:

“We’ve always been very clear that we want the returns – not the penalties. For that reason, we don’t want anyone who can’t get through for help and advice on 31st January to be disadvantaged in any way.”

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