Of course the lifestyle of any ocean vagabond such as ourselves is fraught with various complications, dangers and difficulties – it’s not all about tropical islands, sunshine and frolicking with fishes! The most pressing difficulty for us over the previous 6 weeks has been how to fill in our UK tax return.
I, having submitted self assessment tax returns in the UK many times before, thought I was quite familiar with the system and knew exactly what I needed to do to comply with the rules and regulations of Her Majesties Revenue & Customs. Bah! How naive of me. It turns out that I am, in fact, no longer a UK resident at all despite having no residency in any other country. This means that instead of filing the online tax return by the 30th January 2018, HMRC are requesting I send them ORIGINAL paper copies in the post by 31st October 2017 or risk a hefty fine. Is this not a little backwards? Surely being out of the country means there’s a good chance that I don’t have access to a reliable postal service that will successfully deliver documents to the UK, such as in our current location – the northern islands of Tonga. Still, it was nice of them to tell me about this new deadline when I registered myself as overseas back in February 2016. Oh! Wait a second….. no they didn’t! Moreover, Alex’s overseas registration documents apparently never reached the HMRC, despite being sent at exactly the same time and from the exact same post box as mine.
Ah, the joys of HMRC and British bureaucracy. For a very meagre profit (so meagre, in fact, that we’re a long way from being liable to pay any tax in the first place), Alex and I have had to make about 4 Skype calls (in the middle of the night because of the time difference between the UK and Tonga) which has required us to borrow other peoples phones as we don’t own a long-distance-capable one ourselves, after sailing for half a day to reach an island where the phone signal is good enough to make the call in the first place. Of course it’s not as simple as just filling in our tax return, we first had to fill in a form that issues us with a ‘magic number’ that will then allow us to fill in our tax return. We wait. One week goes by, then two…. still no ‘magic number’ and the deadline is looming ever closer. We make another Skype call to find out where it is.
“Good morning Miss Brooks” (it’s actually almost midnight here)
“You can sign up for an online account which will show you your [magic number] and allow you to fill in your tax return”
The next day we make our way to the internet cafe to sign up for our online account. The webpage reads:
“Please provide a phone number so that we can send you a [magic code] so that you can log into your online account” (We have no phone).
“Otherwise, please download our ‘app’ which will generate a [magic code] so that you can log into your online account” (luckily, this is something we can do on our tablet).
45 minutes later and the ‘app’ has finally managed to download itself onto our tablet through the frustratingly slow internet connection. So, let’s log on to our new online account. We bring up the login page, enter our details and use the ‘app’ to generate a magic code that will allow us to enter our online account so that we can retrieve our elusive ‘magic number’ so that we can then, finally, file our tax return. We enter the code shown in the app…
“Sorry, the [magic code] you have entered is incorrect” (You’re fricking kidding me! It IS the correct code)
We do this 10 more times, still no luck.
We tried to use the online help function, but it didn’t work. We tried to speak to someone using their online ‘chat’ service, but it didn’t work. Eventually, we did manage to logon using the magic code from the ‘app’ and guess what! Our long awaited ‘magic number’ that will actually allow us to file a tax return is NOWHERE TO BE SEEN! At this point Alex slits his wrists and throws himself from the top window of the internet cafe. Only kidding, but I will say that he may have uttered one or two choice phrases that had the rest of the customers either smirking or covering their children’s ears.
After another midnight Skype call we are eventually given the fantastical ‘magic number’ that allows us to actually fill in our tax return. Finally, after a frustrating and painful 6 weeks, our forms are ready to go. We’ve had to fill in a total of 8 forms between us and many of the seemingly straight forward questions were in fact rather difficult for us to answer. For example, “Do you have a home abroad?” Is our boat classed as a home? If so, what’s the address?
We filled in the forms in the most accurate way we possibly could, structuring our answers in a style that HMRC should be very familiar with. Now we just have to figure out how to get them to the UK by the worryingly close deadline in 20 days’ time.
Do you think these answers will suffice…?