There are always newspapers on my desk. They lie carelessly abandoned, the detritus of everyday journalism. Once, in the days before hygiene and marketing, they would have been chip wrappers. Now, they litter my desk, randomly berating me for my lack of order and discipline; bits of headlines, side bars, basements and nibs poking out.
Independence reads one vertical running the height of a glossy front page. Sturgeon passes…..Sarwar demands…..Sunak flies….Knights to re….Braverman….Morton 0. And there, away over in the far-left hand corner, in a land rarely visited and little understood, I see it. It is all in upper-case caps, in a 95-point font. One terrifying word.
It’s nearly November. Across the land the self-employed, the freelance, the small business entrepreneur, the armies of one-person consultancies, the artist who’s sold a few paintings this year, the crofter who runs one-day-a-week fishing trips for three months of the year, all shudder at what must be done. Then there’s me. We must all complete our tax return in time to meet the 31 January 2024 deadline and now comes the last chance, because we’ve missed the 31 October deadline for online filing.
There are two things necessary to successfully completing a tax return. First comes gathering the information. This is tiresome. So tiresome that even to write down a list of the principal items needed is beyond contemplation. Consequently, if you want to know the nature of the things required ask a self-employed friend. After all, this isn’t a free service for the ill-informed. This is the memoir and confession of an angst filled very, very small, indeed miniscule cog in the enormous engine that is the economy of the United Kingdom. Anyway, it’s a lot of paper. Some of it is obtainable online and require usernames, passwords and a Sherpa with a PhD.
Other parts of the puzzle are also of paper but are very small, usually scrunched and in some cases the printing has faded, thereby rendering it useless. But it records outgoing expenses that have been incurred and is therefore deductible. The odds are it’s a petrol receipt from Asda, Tesco or Sainsburys (why do Lidl and Aldi not have filling stations? We could do with really cheap fuel). I’ll guess how much I spent and then worry for the next 10 years that two mean-eyed inspectors from His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs will loudly bang on my front door, demanding I account for the claim I made for £63.44, when it turns out, after rigorous investigation and at vast expense, the British state has established that in fact the sum spent was £58.32. Pray with me as I am led to the scaffold.
Astute observers among you will have concluded that in the time it has taken me to write these words I could have been well along the road to completing the hateful task. No. No and thrice No. Prevarication is the thing. Delay. Idleness. Distraction. Rest. “I’m glad you called,” you spout to the woman offering a review of your pensions and investments. If you stay on the call long enough, she’ll realise you are an impoverished waster and try to hang up. This must be resisted at all costs. The alternative is ploughing ponderously through your bank statements trying to find pay outs for an obscure piece of software the client that never paid insisted was necessary to the efficient management of her account.
Eventually, of course and for fear of incurring a fine, the tax return will be completed and submitted. Then comes the second part of what is necessary to conclude that year’s tax affairs between me and the government. The money. One knows, one needs no help to know that the government will waste one’s money. Most likely it will be used by Rishi Sunak to fly from No10 Downing St to No11 Downing St. The possibility that his government might actually do some good with my meagre wedge of dosh is simply incredible. Of course, this presupposes the money, the moola, the siller, the gravy, the wad, the dough, the wherewithal is actually available to be electronically transmitted from my bank to that of H M Treasury. Even assuming it is, the pain will be great. The future will dim a little when it is realised that eating at The Ritz on Piccadilly is unlikely this year. The Ritz in Montrose may stretch the budget to breaking point. Ritz-free, I return to the shabby task of stapling taxi receipts.
May the Lord bless the self-employed (can I claim that back?).
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