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The Inland Revenue will waive its £100 late filing penalty for some people who were unable to complete their self assessment forms online by the 31 January deadline.

A problem with the IR's email system meant that a backlog of "submission failed" messages built up over the weekend. Normally the messages would be delivered almost instantly, advising taxpayers that their forms were incorrect in some way, and that they would need to resend them. However, the backlog meant that by the time some got the failure message it was too late to resubmit their forms.

Anyone who received a "submission failed" message will have two weeks grace, from the time the message was sent, to resubmit their return. A spokesman said that this was in line with the policy for paper returns. Returns that are submitted in time, but are not signed, or don't have all the stated forms attached, for example, are considered invalid. However, taxpayers are granted a 14-day extension to correct any errors.

In a notice on its website, the Inland Revenue said:

We recognise that if the submissions failed our validation, you may be unable to rectify and resubmit before the deadline. We hold a complete record of all submissions over the weekend and if any of those failed submissions are re-submitted within 14 days of the date when we sent out the 'submission failed' message we will waive any late filing penalty notices. Any payments due should still be made by 31 January.

We apologise for the disruption to the service and can assure you that no details have been lost and there is no need to resubmit successful returns.

Over a million people, maybe as many as 1.25 million, completed self assessment forms online this year, up from 780,000 the year before. The sheer numbers of people trying to meet the deadline - as many as 5,000 per hour over the weekend - meant that the site was extremely slow, driving many users to distraction.

An IR spokesman said: "We'll learn the lessons from this year, and will take action to get it done better, next year."

He added that the best advice he could offer was that people should file their returns in plenty of time: "Avoid September and January, if you are filing online. The first week in October is usually very quiet." ®

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