Around half a million people who still haven’t sent their 2010/11 tax returns to HMRC will start to receive additional penalty letters from this week.

The number of outstanding returns has almost halved in 2012, down to 5.9 per cent, compared to 10.7 per cent in 2011. This means 518,000 fewer penalties are being issued. HMRC has also taken 273,000 people out of Self Assessment this year.

New penalties were introduced in April 2011 to boost the incentive to file and reduce the costs to taxpayers of chasing up missing forms. As a result, anyone who ignores their Self Assessment filing obligations is now liable to higher penalties than in previous years.

The penalties being issued from today will be for a minimum £1,200, comprising:

the maximum £900 in daily penalties for non-filing

a further late-filing penalty of £300 or 5 per cent of the tax due (whichever is higher).

People who receive a late-filing penalty can appeal against it if they think they have a reasonable excuse for not sending their tax return; for example, a family illness or bereavement.