my management accountant
My Management Accountant

Brown Envelope Anxiety


Date posted: 2021-08-05

We don’t often get physical post these days. Much of our personal and business admin is done online. Many of us strive for a paperless desk. But one organisation that does still contact businesses and individuals via post is HM Revenue & Customs. And, you guessed it, letters from HMRC arrive in a brown envelope.

For most of us, opening a brown envelope isn’t a big deal. But some people suffer from “Brown Envelope Anxiety”. This is a term used to describe the fear of opening communications from the likes of HMRC. And it can be very real.

Where does Brown Envelope Anxiety come from?

Brown envelopes tend to be used by government department such as the DWP, or HMRC. Just seeing these envelopes arrive in the post can be extremely stressful for some individuals. People assume that they’re writing with bad news, so put off opening them. In some cases, people who suffer from brown envelope anxiety don’t open them at all – and hoard the unopened letters for years.

This type of anxiety can stem from existing mental health conditions. People who have experienced depression and anxiety in the past might find themselves falling victim to spiralling thoughts about tax investigations or mistakes on their returns. But HMRC can also be fairly aggressive in their communications; threatening investigations or requesting payments. So, sometimes, the fear is based on past experiences.

Not opening letters from HMRC can be very detrimental to your business, or to your personal finances. In many cases, if HMRC require a response from you, it’s within a set time frame. And if you miss their deadline, it’s likely that things will escalate. It’s best to just bite the bullet and open the brown envelope.

Tips for combatting Brown Envelope Anxiety

A fear of opening letters about your tax affairs can be very real. But there are things that might help.

1. Get organised

Self-assessment tax returns are often the most stressful aspect of dealing with HMRC. And it’s something that all business directors need to deal with. The self-assessment deadline is 31st January, but that doesn’t mean you should leave it until the 28th!

You can submit your self-assessment at any time from when you get your P60. So why not save yourself some stress and get your self-assessment sorted with plenty of time to spare?

2. Timing is everything

As with everything relating to mental wellbeing, don’t pile too much on yourself at once. If your kids have just scribbled on the walls, or the vacuum cleaner has packed in, it might not be the right time to open the dreaded brown envelope.

Another consideration if you’re anxious about letters from HMRC is; maybe don’t open them on the weekend? If you’re going to need to speak to somebody, you won’t be able to until Monday morning, so you might end up worrying about it for days when there’s nothing you can do. Put a note in your calendar or a reminder on your phone to look at it on Monday.

3. Ask for help

If you’re feeling panicky about dealing with HMRC or completing your self-assessment tax return, you can always ask your accountant for help. They can deal with HMRC on your behalf, or file your tax return for you. There will be a fee involved, but if you’re really suffering with brown envelope anxiety, it’s probably worth having somebody help you sooner rather than later.

For more information on how we can help with your tax returns, or deal with HMRC on your behalf, get in touch with our team today.


Contact us

    I agree to receiving news and insight emails from My Management Accountant.