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Best UK tax software 2020: self-employed tax returns for HMRC

Best UK tax software
(Image credit: Pexels)

The best tax software can be a great way to simplify your life when you don't want to pay for an accountant to file your tax returns. This is especially if you are self-employed and want to keep on top of everything.

Working for yourself as a contractor can be a challenge enough at the best of times, especially keeping on top of your day-to-day admin tasks, but tax software can at least ensure that you're paying the right level of tax.

This means you also need to keep on top of your accounts, so having good billing and invoicing software or even a complete accounting software package can be a real help here.

Luckily, there are a number of software packages available specifically developed to ensure that you don't just file your taxes with HMRC but also ensure you cover your allowances and other tax deductions that will ensure you don't end up over-paying your tax.

Be sure to check that the accounting package you’re interested in using is fully compatible with HMRC’s Making Tax Digital vision. 

Increasingly, small business owners, freelancers, sole traders and, in fact, anyone who needs to file a UK tax return will be affected by Making Tax Digital. This is particularly relevant if you have to submit VAT returns.

Here we'll look at the best in accounting and tax software, both personal and business, currently on the market in the UK.

(Image credit: Sage)

1. Sage Business Cloud Accounting

A great all-round accounting and tax package

Reasons to buy
+Covers tax and accounting+Frequent deals on packages+Swiftly file returns with HMRC
Reasons to avoid
-Sage website rather bewildering

Sage Business Cloud Accounting is just one part of a larger portfolio of products from Sage, which is a very well known name in the UK. As you’d expect, it’s therefore up to speed when it comes to HMRC’s Making Tax Digital campaign, while offering something for business of all sizes.

Sage often has deals available on its packages, so prices change quite often. However, there’s currently a Start accounting package, which offers entry-level accounting and is aimed at sole traders. Next up is a Standard accounting package, which is aimed firmly at small businesses. Sage also has a Plus package, which offers more advanced features for small business needs.

All of these editions allow you to add on Payroll functionality for an additional monthly fee on top of your subscription cost for the package itself. The accounting tools also allow you to build up a dynamic picture of your business prior to filing your tax return each year.

You can submit VAT returns to HMRC with all of the packages, while other key features include being able to connect to your bank accounts, send and track invoices along with being able to share your accounting data with your accountant. There’s a good degree of support too including online, email and phone. The cloud-based software works across all platforms too.


(Image credit: QuickBooks)

2. QuickBooks

A comprehensive tax solution

Reasons to buy
+No contract+Various packages+Good support
Reasons to avoid
-Getting to grips with it initially

QuickBooks doesn't just cover one tax solution because it’s actually a brand name that is applied to a variety of digital compliant software options from Intuit. Therefore, one of several QuickBooks packages might fit the bill for tackling your tax affairs, because each of the different models has been tailored to suit various kinds of user. 

Crucially, QuickBooks gets updated regularly, with several new features added recently, such as a built-in income tax estimator and a new month-end tool for professional accountants.

The good thing about all of your options is that QuickBooks has been designed to keep things as simple as possible, while also ensuring that you’ll be well equipped for dealing with the government's Making Tax Digital plans for the future.

Staying on top of your accounts and ensuring you’re ready to handle any subsequent dealings with the tax man means QuickBooks is a solid choice for handling everything from self-assessment through to tracking, calculating and submitting VAT returns.

You can choose from Simple Start, Essential, Plus packages or a dedicated Self-Employed option. In addition, QuickBooks often runs promotions, which could see discounts over your monthly payments for using your chosen service.

All plans include free award-winning UK phone support, no contract, mobile apps for iOS and Android, plus free and easy data migration. QuickBooks is HMRC recognised and can be integrated with over 700 add-ons.

QuickBooks also has the capacity to help you with payroll, with a selection of add-ons designed to ease that side of your business activities. Those continuing updates also mean that you can be sure you're using a software package that functions in harmony with the latest developments surrounding tax legislation and so on.


(Image credit: Xero)

3. Xero

Cloud-accounting that handles tax and other small business tasks

Reasons to buy
+Reasonably priced+Making Tax Digital compliant+Very decent app
Reasons to avoid
-Additional costs for extras-Premium costs add up

Xero is cloud-accounting software that lets you cover many different bases within one package. It allows you to carry out invoicing, inventory control, payroll and even expense claims as well as covering all of your bookkeeping and accountancy tasks.

Usefully, Xero is also fully compliant with HMRC’s Making Tax Digital strategy, which is especially practical if you’re in the position of having to file VAT returns.

There are three different packages. The cheapest package has the most limitations so, for example, you can only send 5 invoices and quotes. The costlier editions don't have these constraints.

At the other end of the spectrum, the Premium edition can handle multiple currencies. However, all versions allow you to submit VAT to HMRC for Making Tax Digital. Xero can connect to your bank accounts too, which provides an invaluable way of keeping your accounting overview dynamically up to date ready for tax filing time.

The cloud-based software is intuitive, user-friendly and works via any desktop web browser and on any platform too. Xero also boasts a very good iOS and Android app edition, making it a solid all-round tax software solution.


(Image credit: FreshBooks)

4. FreshBooks

A great jargon-free tax and accounting solution

Reasons to buy
+No-nonsense tax help+Straightforward interface+Making Tax Digital compliant
Reasons to avoid
-Empty List

FreshBooks is a cloud-accounting solution that’s fully Making Tax Digital compliant and is aimed at small business owners of all sizes. FreshBooks comes in four different packages, starting with Lite, which is aimed at self-employed professionals and starts at under £10 a month.

The Plus package is targeted at growing small businesses and a Premium edition is aimed more at ventures that have growing numbers of staff. FreshBooks also has a Custom Pricing option for businesses that need to scale up their accounting and taxation requirements.

However, even the basic Lite package features a sizeable list of functions, such as integration with bank accounts, practical tax time reporting and all of the tools needed to meet Making Tax Digital for VAT requirements. Move up through the packages and each one delivers more functionality as your business needs it.

FreshBooks comes with a comprehensive suite of support options, and while it can be used online on any platform via a web browser the mobile app editions for iOS and Android are also very easy to use.


(Image credit: Zoho)

5. Zoho Books

Zoho Books is cloud-based accounting software for all

Reasons to buy
+Easy to use+Many features and functions
Reasons to avoid
-Lack of payroll-Limited for larger organisations

Zoho Books forms just one small part of a much greater business concern based in India that offers all manner of solutions for anyone and everyone. With its clean and simple cloud-based interface the latest incarnation of Zoho Books makes a great cost-effective option if you’re a freelancer, sole trader or someone running a small business. 

The benefit with Zoho Books is that it’s also quite scalable, so therefore offers beefier versions for those with larger business concerns, or anyone intent on expanding their operations. While the desktop route is a solid one Zoho Books also has an impressive app presence, making it a good mobile bet too.

Zoho Books has, it explains, a pricing plan for everyone and the service has actually become a little cheaper than it used to be for each of the current packages. There’s also a free 14-day trial available. Choose from Basic, Standard and Professional options, or give it a test run for nothing.


(Image credit: Freeagent)

6. Freeagent

Tax and much more besides

Reasons to buy
+Know what you owe at all times+Easy to use for you and your accountant
Reasons to avoid
-Lacks some advanced options

Freeagent is a fully featured accounting suite that covers tax records as well, and is a powerful, comprehensive option that suits small to medium businesses or individuals with a lot of records to keep. You can either opt to manage everything yourself or grant your accountant access to Freeagent as well, with the software able to make life easier for both of you along the way.

It's certainly one of the most modern tools here, with a slick and stylish interface on the web and mobile, and a pile of useful features: automatic bank feeds, project time tracking, support for invoices and payroll, and so on.

For tax management specifically, Freeagent keeps records of everything as you go, so you know exactly what you owe and why at the end of the year. You can submit your returns directly to HMRC through Freeagent with just a few clicks of the mouse, with tax forecasting and real-time updates included too.


(Image credit: GoSimpleTax)

7. GoSimpleTax

Smart intuitive tax filing software

Reasons to buy
+Simple interface anyone can use+Tips on how to make tax savings
Reasons to avoid
-Doesn't offer other accounting features

Unlike Sage or Freeagent, GoSimpleTax isn't a complete accounting solution for freelancers and businesses – it focuses specifically on getting your taxes in order, and it does a very good job of this. Depending on your setup though, you'll have to do more work or get extra software to handle all the other components like invoicing and payroll.

The software takes you step-by-step through the process of filing your taxes, making sure you're using the right terms and preparing the right forms, and looking out for any errors that might be creeping in (which could really cost you). You'll also get suggestions on where you could make some savings, which is always welcome.

Everything slots in neatly with the online HMRC interface, so you don't have to waste time jumping from one app to another. As well as the web interface, you've got mobile apps you can use to input figures and get a handle on how your tax burden is looking (the mobile apps can even scan in receipts).

What we like most about the software though is that you don't really need any expertise to complete a self-assessment of your tax responsibilities. As much as possible, the interface is written in jargon-free language, with clear indicators for where you need to input figures and how they get processed.



(Image credit: TaxCalc)

8. TaxCalc

Filing taxes doesn't get much simpler

Reasons to buy
+Integrated error checking measures+Help available at every stage
Reasons to avoid
-No mobile apps

TaxCalc is on a mission to make filing your taxes as simple as possible, and we'd say it's doing a pretty impressive job of it: the software is packed with useful features for getting your documentation in order, and the system is officially recognised by HMRC, so all submissions should go smoothly.

Whether you're an individual, a limited company or an accountancy firm, TaxCalc has a software solution tailored specifically for you, and it can even plug straight into bigger accounting packages such as Xero. In some cases you can get your documentation in order in as little as 30 minutes, TaxCalc claims.

The intuitive, step-by-step web interface guides you through the process of filing your taxes from start to finish – from picking the right form, through entering all the details about how much you've earned, to submitting the form and making sure there are no errors. The tax you owe is calculated in the background as you go.

This isn't the most comprehensive or the most well-designed tax software we've ever come across, but it is friendly, functional and accessible, and comes with all the tools you're going to need to hit that tax deadline.


(Image credit: Nomisma)

9. Nomisma

A beginner-friendly way to keep on top of tax

Reasons to buy
+Clean and modern interface+Optional bookkeeping module
Reasons to avoid
-Not as polished as some rivals

No one wants to spend an age getting their tax affairs in order, and few products take you through the process of filing returns as quickly and as simply as Nomisma does. It also gives you a variety of basic bookkeeping tools, so if you're looking for something that does more than just taxes, Nomisma might be it.

On the business management side, the software lets you track invoices and orders, keep on top of bills and contracts, and produce a variety of reports on the state of your financial affairs (including VAT comparisons where needed). Not only can it save you time, it can save you money by letting you know where everything is at any given point.

In the tax filing and self-assessment components, you'll find the software is fully HMRC compliant and registered with the government, so you can submit your documents without leaving Nomisma. A lot of the data you're going to need can be auto-populated from the bookkeeping module, but you can buy the tax module separately if needed.

Throughout, Nomisma gives you a clean and modern-looking interface to work with on the web, and if you've got a mobile phone there's an app available for keeping tabs on expenses while on the go. It can also help your accountant calculate the figures at the end of the year, if you've got one.


(Image credit: ABC self assessment)

10. ABC Self-Assessment

Get basic tax filing tools for a low cost

Reasons to buy
+Easier than the HMRC website+Simple form-filling help
Reasons to avoid
-Few automated features

As we said at the outset, tax software packages come in all shapes and sizes, from very basic tools to get you over the line right at the end of the process, to fully fledged accounting suites that include everything you need to run a small business. If you just want some straightforward help as tax deadline day approaches, give ABC Self-Assessment a try.

Whether you're submitting your self-assessment as an individual or a partnership, or you have some other complication to contend with – you're non-resident in the UK maybe – ABC Self-Assessment will point you towards the right form.

While ABC Self-Assessment presents an interface that's not much different to the one you'll get if you log into the HMRC website and do your self-assessment there, it does streamline the process so you only see the questions and fields that are relevant to your circumstances. It's perfect if you don't want to spend much money but find the HMRC site a little overwhelming.

What you don't get are any accountancy or bookkeeping features, so the onus is on you to have kept decent records up until this point. You might find that ABC Self-Assessment works well with your existing financial software (or just your existing Excel spreadsheet).


(Image credit: Crunch)

11. Crunch

Crunch combines online software and real advisors

Reasons to buy
+Real person support+Quite convenient+Slick interface
Reasons to avoid
-Phone consultation required

Crunch is an interesting proposition, especially for the likes of freelancers, contractors, those who are self-employed and small business owners. 

Crunch offers a free tier that allows you to try out the software with a small range of features. After that, there are three paid tiers: one specifically for self-employed traders, and two different ones for limited companies depending on the number of features required.

The Sole Trader package provides simple online accounting software, support, HMRC registration, as well as a Self Assessment submission tool.

The first limited company tier also offers online accounting software and support, as well as year end accounts, VAT and Corporation Tax filing. The final tier adds Self Assessment, an annual health check, as well as IR35 solutions.