Updated 2 July 2021
Payment on account refers to additional Self Assessment payments that self-employed people need to make towards their next tax bill.
Download your free in-depth guide to payments on account. Read more about what they are, when you need to pay them, and whether you can apply to reduce them.
Payments on account are tax payments made twice a year by self-employed Self Assessment taxpayers to spread the cost of the upcoming year’s tax.
They’re calculated based on your previous year’s tax bill. In other words, HMRC is making a prediction about your future income based on your past income. They’re due in two instalments – the deadlines are 31 January and 31 July.
This means the first instalment is due on the same day you submit your Self Assessment tax return and clear your bill for the previous year, so it’s important you have enough money set aside.
HMRC has designed payment on account to help the self-employed stay on top of their payments – and so that they don’t benefit too much from paying tax in arrears.
Whereas employed people are taxed at source through PAYE, the self-employed don’t pay their tax bill until the January after the end of the previous tax year.
But payment on account ends up catching many newly self-employed people out. It’s easy to see why – after the annual rush to complete a Self Assessment, it’s not fun to be presented with a bill that’s a lot higher than you’re expecting.
And while in theory payment on account helps the self-employed spread out their tax bill, it can lead to more financial hardship for those who’re already having difficulty paying.
Each of the two payments on account will normally be 50 per cent of your previous tax bill. Gov.uk uses this example calculation:
Your bill for the 2019 to 2020 tax year is £3,000. You made two payments on account last year of £900 each (£1,800 in total).
The total tax to pay by midnight on 31 January 2021 is £2,700. This includes:
If your tax bill for the 2020 to 2021 tax year is more than £3,000 (the total of your two payments on account), you’ll need to make a ‘balancing payment’ to settle the bill by 31 January 2022.
You won’t need to make a payment on account if:
You’ll need to use your payment reference when you pay your payment on account. This is your Unique Taxpayer Reference (UTR) number followed by the letter ‘K’.
Here’s how you can pay your payment on account:
As mentioned, you’ll need to make your first payment on account by 31 January, giving you the opportunity to pay at the same time as clearing your bill for the previous tax year.
You’ll then have to remember to make your second payment on account by 31 July.
If you file your return on paper, you’ll get a paper bill along with a Bank Giro form that you can use to make a payment.
HMRC is committed to moving as much of the tax paying process online as possible. This means that from April 2023, Self Assessment taxpayers will need to keep digital records and send returns using the appropriate software.
Being self-employed, your income can fluctuate from year to year. If you think that your income for the next tax year will be lower than the previous tax year, you can apply to have your payment on account reduced.
In practice, many people choose to do this if they’re having trouble paying their tax bill. Some reduce their payment on account, presuming they’ll be in better financial shape later and that they’ll find it easier to settle the remainder of their bill.
But you should think carefully about this – if your income is the same or higher in the next tax year, you’ll still have to pay the same amount, meaning you’ve only delayed the burden.
And if you reduce your payment on account and it then turns out you’ve underpaid, you’ll have to pay interest on the outstanding amount. This can significantly increase your tax bill.
On the other hand, if you overpay, HMRC will refund you. You can use form SA303 to reduce your payments on account and request a refund. Credit should then show up in your Self Assessment account, which you can then request to be repaid either online or by calling HMRC.
If you’re looking for a payment on account calculator, you can actually check your payments on account during the year by signing in to your personal tax account using your Government Gateway ID and selecting the option to view your latest Self Assessment return.
Click 'View statements' and you'll see any payments on account you've already made, alongside payments you need to make towards your next tax bill.
If you’re having trouble paying, don’t ignore the situation. It’s important that you get in touch with HMRC – you might be able to use HMRC’s Time to Pay service to set up a payment arrangement.
HMRC is committed to working with taxpayers to clear their tax debt as soon as possible following the coronavirus pandemic. But it says that if you can pay, you should.
As ever with tax, if you’re unsure, you should get in touch with an accountant or HMRC directly for guidance. Please use this article as a guide only.
Still unsure about payment on account? Ask your questions below and we'll do our best to help.
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