Late P11D penalty warning despite submission on time?

A client yesterday received an HMRC warning letter headed 'P11D(b) interim penalty letter' and, in big, bold letters, 'Outstanding expenses and benefits forms P11D and P11D(b): you need to act'.  It goes on to say that HMRC had written in June to remind the client of the 6 July P11D deadline and warning of a penalty. Then: "We are writing to all employer and their agents who have not submitted returns ..."

The client was angry that his P11Ds had not been submitted, so he called.  They had gone in, and they had been acknowledged, but HMRC had sent the letter anyway.

If the client had continued reading, the letter said lower down 'If you have already filed ... thank you. Please ignore this letter.'  But he didn't get that far before he saw red.

It took a member of staff about an hour to deal with (pacify) the client, check the files, speak to HMRC to get to the bottom of it and give the story to the client.  A total waste of time for all concerned.

HMRC told us that they won't have logged all the P11Ds until late August, so it doesn't know yet who has submitted and who hasn't.  This presumably means that the letter was simply sent to everyone who was expected to submit, as a reminder of the penalty for late filing.  This is understandable, given the timescales for logging and contacting employers, but the wording chosen was very poor.

Knowing that they were writing to everyone, including the compliant (who will now be totally hacked off), why didn't the letter start with "Please ignore this letter if you have submitted all your P11Ds"?  In big, bold letters?  

After all the effort that went into agreeing a good P35 warning letter this year, it is frustrating and disappointing to receive such an ill-thought-out, unnecessary warning that has wasted so much time.

It would be interesting to know how many others have had the same problem with an irate client.  A local practitioner emailed me this morning about six cases in her practice alone.  It wasn't just her clients' blood that was boiling.
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  • The letter says "We are writing to all employers and their agents who have not submitted their returns in case you now realise returns are due". 

    The letters I've seen have come from cases where returns have been filed on paper, but the letter itself goes on to say "If you have already filed online ... please ignore this letter", so somebody at HMRC expects it to be going to people who have e-filed as well as the paper filers.

    Maybe the extra postage cost was seen as a small price to pay for ensuring that nobody could claim before a tribunal that they hadn't been warned of the late filing penalty?  Any appeal soaks up manpower, and there have been lots, nearly all unsuccessful so far, over late PAYE penalties.
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