EE customers in London and the South East who left it to the last minute to complete their online self-assessment tax return were prevented from logging in to their HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) account last night, after a blip in the network meant text messages were blocked. HMRC has promised you won't be penalised if you've been affected, though.

The cut-off for completing an online self-assessment return was yesterday (31 January) at 11.59pm, but EE customers in certain parts of the country were left in a panic after they realised they were unable to send or receive texts – causing them to miss the annual deadline.

The HMRC online account, like many bank accounts, has a two-step security process. The second part of the process involves a unique code being sent to a mobile phone number associated with the account to verify the person logging in is who they say they are.

Some EE customers were unable to complete the second part of this process and so were unable to log in to their HMRC online account to submit their self-assessment tax return.

HMRC has told the issue only impacted EE customers in London and the South East.

We asked the communications company whether customers in other parts of the country have also been affected, but it refused to provide a specific breakdown of affected locations.

However, it did state it was an intermittent issue which affected a limited number of customers.

In the meantime, HMRC has assured us that affected taxpayers will be given an extension to complete their return and so will not have to pay a fine for missing the original deadline. But it's important you complete your return ASAP now the issue at EE has been resolved.

What went wrong?

At approximately 10pm yesterday, a blip in the EE service meant a number of its customers in London and the South East (according to HMRC) were unable to send or receive text messages.

This had a knock-on effect for those who still needed to submit their self-assessment returns.

Has this issue now been resolved?

EE has confirmed the problem has been rectified. A spokesperson says: "Some customers were affected by an issue yesterday which caused some text messages to not go through or be delayed.

"We're sorry for the inconvenience this may have caused but can confirm we fixed the problem last night. In the meantime voice calls and other messaging services over data including iMessage and Whatsapp were not affected."

EE glitch blocks customers from filing tax returns on time – file ASAP to avoid a fine
A blip in the EE service meant that a number of its customers were unable to send or receive text messages

Will I be penalised?

Ordinarily you'd be charged a £100 penalty if you failed to submit your return by the deadline, with further penalties of £10 a day applied after three months. If you pay late, you'll be charged an extra 2.75% of whatever you owe.

However, HMRC has told us that affected EE customers who were not able to log on to their self-assessment accounts will not be penalised as long as they submit their return and pay any tax due ASAP.

An HMRC spokesperson says: "Anyone with a reasonable excuse for submitting late won't have to pay a penalty but they will need to submit their return as soon as possible and also pay any tax that is due."

I wasn't affected by the EE glitch, but other reasons meant I couldn't submit my return on time – will I be fined?

HMRC says anyone with a reasonable excuse will not be penalised.

A reasonable excuse for not paying your tax on time is normally something unexpected or outside your control. For example:

  • Your partner or another close relative died shortly before the tax return or payment deadline.
  • You had an unexpected stay in hospital that prevented you from dealing with your tax affairs.
  • You had a serious or life-threatening illness.
  • Your computer or software failed just before or while you were preparing your online return.
  • Service issues with HMRC online services.
  • A fire, flood or theft prevented you from completing your tax return.

Meanwhile, if your bill is correct but you can't afford to pay it, contact HMRC ASAP as you may be able to avoid late payment penalties by coming to an arrangement to spread your payments over a period of time (see our Free Tax Code Calculator to ensure you're on the right tax code).

HMRC says whether or not it allows taxpayers to avoid late payment penalties "depends on individual circumstances". If you're struggling to pay, you should call 0300 200 3835.