What is a tax code?

Anyone who is employed, or has income through PAYE, is given a tax code by the tax office (HMRC). Your tax code is important because it tells your employer how much income tax should be taken from your salary.

As an employed person you should understand and check your income tax code. The tax office places the responsibility on you to check your own code. If your tax code is later to be found wrong, you could miss out on a tax rebate, or be landed with an unforeseen tax bill.

Income tax codes explained

A tax code is usually made up of three or four numbers and one letter, for example 123L, and can be found on your payslip. The numbers reflect the Personal Allowance amount that you are entitled to in that tax year. You do not start paying Income Tax until you are earning over your Personal Allowance figure.

How is my tax code worked out?

The tax office works out your tax code by:

  1. Firstly, your tax allowances are worked out. Normally this will be your personal allowance added to any other allowances, and job expenses if you have any.
  2. Secondly any income that you have not already paid tax on is calculated, like working part-time or particular state benefits. These are called your ‘deductions’.
  3. Your deductions are then subtracted from your total tax allowances. The figure that is calculated is the total income you are allowed to earn before you start paying tax. The calculation for the maximum you can earn tax free is: ‘total deductions’ minus ‘total allowances’ equals Personal Allowance.
  4. This Personal Allowance figure is multiplied by 10 and becomes the number section in your tax code.

As an example, the tax code 1100L would mean:

Your Personal Allowance is £11,000

£11,000 will be subtracted from your total taxable income. The figure that is left you will need to pay tax on.

What does the letter in my tax code mean?

The letter part of your tax code is used to show a change to a code which is particular to your circumstances.

Common tax code letters and definitions:

L – you are younger than 65 and get the basic Personal Allowance.

K – Most commonly used if you have a company benefit like a car and means you don’t have any tax free personal allowance.

BR – Stands for basic rate, currently set at 20%. If you have a second job, this is the most likely code you will receive.

Y – You are older than 75 and get the maximum Personal Allowance.

DO – You are a Higher Rate Taxpayer, currently set at 40%.

NT – You have income that is Not Taxable.

When do I get a new tax code?

You will usually be issued a new tax code from the tax office as the new tax year begins. Both you and your employer will be sent your new tax code. You will receive your new tax code on a form called a P2 notice of coding.

Why would my tax code be wrong?

An incorrect tax code has one of two possible outcomes: you are owed money back from HMRC because you have paid too much tax or, you owe HMRC because you haven’t paid enough tax.

Income tax codes can be wrong for lots of reasons like:

  • You have changed jobs and were given an emergency tax code.
  • You no longer have a company benefit, like a company phone.
  • You have work expenses that you are not claiming tax relief for. Income tax code allowances can be put into your tax code meaning you will pay less tax because you have work related expenses. You can also get a tax rebate back  dated for the last four tax years.

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