P85: How to Claim Tax Back When Leaving the UK

I don’t hear many fellow expats swapping stories about how much they got back from the UK tax man. Or about the P85 form except from Europeans moving back home to places like France and Sweden and asking ME about the form as a HR professional. Thanks to them and my South African friend moving from London to America that also mentioned the P85 form to me, I got £1149 back and so did my partner. After three weeks travelling around Europe as a last hurrah before hitting home soil, it was just what we needed to keep us afloat until we secured jobs.

Tax return UK

It doesn’t happen automatically, you need to complete the P85 form. That’s why this form is so important. At first I thought it would be too difficult to do ourselves and looked into using a company like 1st Contact. Turns out the P85 form is easy to complete (shock I know) and given that the percentage that these companies take from your return is quite high, we did it ourselves from our hostel in Ljubljana, Slovenia.

Why do you get tax back?

The tax year in the UK is 6 April to 5 April. Because we finished working at the end of September we’d only worked 5 months of the tax year. How much tax you pay for the year is based on how much of your income is above the tax free allowance and how much of your income falls within each tax band. Given that tax is deducted each pay assuming you’ll be earning that income for the full financial year, we were owed tax back due to being taxed at a higher tax band.

How to complete the P85 form

Instead of setting up a Government Gateway account we selected the option to ‘claim by post’. You still input your information and answers to the questions directly into an online form. Then, once it is all completed, you print, sign and post it. You can easily find the P85 form online. The first page looks like this.

P85 Form

What do you need?

You’ll need your P45 from your last job in the UK to prove you are no longer working and other details such as your National Insurance Number, most recent address in the UK and date you are leaving the UK.

When can you fill it out?

You can fill it out before you leave the UK as long as you are no longer working. And you don’t need to wait until the end of the tax year. Because the postal address to send the form to is in the UK, we saved time by posting the form while still in the UK. If you post the form from outside the UK, factor in international post timeframes before your claim is assessed and you receive your return. Or you could just do it online, I gave up after having issues with setting up a Government Gateway account.

How long does it take?

We posted the P85 form from London after our three week Interrail journey around Europe, so the last week in October. The £1149 went into our bank accounts around one month later on 24 November. The form itself takes about 15 minutes to complete if you have all the information you need at hand.

How do you receive the refund?

It was easier and avoided any delays to keep a UK bank account open for the tax return. There are other options however so don’t let this put you off if you’ve already closed your UK bank account.

Can you still claim if you left the UK a few years ago?

Obviously the best thing to do is claim as soon as you can but if you weren’t aware of it before, it seems from a few different sources online that you can claim for up to four years. So from today, as far back as March 2014. Don’t quote me on that but you have nothing to lose! 

Other important things to note

If you were self-employed instead of a PAYE employee, you would still complete the P85 form but you would also have to file a self assessment tax return within a certain period.

If you’re an expat living in London or an ex-expat (hopefully within the last four years) you’ll know that London is an expensive place to live. If you’re anything like me you probably spent quite a few pounds at the old English pubs on every corner. If you got £1149 back, what would YOU spend it on? Can I suggest at least one celebratory pint at an English themed pub?

March 2018