My wife died but she is being fined by HMRC for overdue tax return

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I recently received a letter from HM Revenue and Customs warning me the fine on my wife’s overdue tax return was increasing at £10 a day and I already owed it more than £300.

My wife died in May 2021 after a long illness. Like me, she was a methodist minister, but had to retire early due to her deteriorating health. She had two small pensions and some savings, and did not earn enough to pay tax.

From December 2020 she was receiving end-of-life care either in hospital, in a hospice or at home.

In March 2021 we received a letter from HMRC stating her return for the 2020 tax year was late, and there was a £100 charge. But staff I spoke to confirmed she did not need to file one, and the penalty was cancelled.

After her death, I used the government’s Tell Us Once service to notify HMRC. However, in March of this year, I received a letter warning of a £100 late-filing fine for her 2021 return.

I phoned HMRC’s bereavement helpline and was told this was an error and it would be sorted out. However, I recently returned from holiday to find a “daily penalty reminder”.

I called again and was told that the information I supplied in my previous call had not been dealt with by the appropriate team, and HMRC would send a reminder.

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I was reduced to tears by this conversation. It is hard enough dealing with the loss of my wife without HMRC chasing me for more than £300.

Can it make me pay this?

PP, Leyland

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This has been very upsetting for you and you question the point of a bereavement helpline given the insensitivity you have experienced. You asked HMRC to close your wife’s self-assessment (SA) record last summer and successfully appealed against a late-filing penalty for 2020.

Unfortunately, while the fines were cancelled, her SA record was not closed, resulting in penalties being automatically issued when no return arrived for 2021.

HMRC says: “We’re sorry for incorrectly sending late-filing penalties. We have written to apologise and explain that we have cancelled the penalties and closed the relevant SA record.”

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