As a self-employed freelancer you’ll need to report your earnings to HMRC and pay tax on them. To make sure that HMRC identify your tax records correctly, they’ll assign a Unique Taxpayer Reference number (UTR for short) once you register the business.
Your 10-digit UTR number is, like the name suggests, completely unique to you. For instance, if you operate a limited company you’ll receive a UTR for the company, but this will be different to the UTR you use to report your own finances through Self Assessment.
If your self-employed income is more than the £1,000 trading allowance, you’ll need to register for a UTR number even if you’re only freelancing on the side at the same time as working for someone else.
How do I get a UTR number?
Obtaining a Unique Taxpayer Reference is simple and fairly quick. If you register a company with Companies House they’ll automatically notify HMRC who will send out the company’s UTR ready for when you need to submit a Company Tax Return.
If you need to sign up for Self Assessment you’ll be sent your UTR in the post once you register.
To register for Self Assessment and get your UTR number:
1. Go to the HMRC Self Assessment registration page
2. Create a Government Gateway account (if you don’t already have one)
3. Enter your personal details. You’ll need your National Insurance number along with other information such as your employment and income status
4. Submit your registration and wait while HMRC reviews the application
5. Once your application has been confirmed, HMRC will send your UTR number to you in the post, or check it using your Personal Tax Account.
A note on Partnerships
If you’re registered as a sole trader, you’ll only need one UTR number. In the case of partnerships, each individual partner will be required to have their own UTR, and then the partnership itself will have a separate one.
How long will it take to receive a UTR number?
Receiving a new UTR number through the post normally takes around 10 working days, although this can take longer during the busy tax season. Once issued, you’ll also be able to view it through your Personal Tax Account too.
If your UTR number doesn’t arrive after a few weeks and you’re concerned, contact HMRC and they’ll be able to help.
It’s essential that you register well before you need to use your UTR number for anything. The last thing you want is to start the process late and not receive your UTR until after the tax return deadline! Missing deadlines almost always leads to financial penalties from HMRC.
What is a UTR number used for?
The main purpose of a UTR number is to identify you as a taxpayer so that HMRC can ensure you’re compliant with submitting and paying tax on time. Think of it as a passport number for the business.
- Filing your tax returns: HMRC uses your UTR number to track and process tax payments and declarations accurately.
- Claiming tax refunds: UTR numbers are used to ensure that rebates and refunds are credited to the right taxpayer account.
- Allowing your accountant to act on your behalf: Your accountant will need your UTR number if they act as your agent to HMRC.
- Registering for the Construction Industry Scheme (CIS): If you work in the construction industry, you’ll need a UTR to register as a contractor or subcontractor for the Construction Industry Scheme (CIS). Subcontractors will also need to provide their UTR to the contractor so that they can confirm their registration status, and make CIS deductions at the correct rate.
What a UTR should NOT be used for
The most important thing to remember is that your UTR number should never be shared publicly and your customers will never need access to this private code. This means you should never include your UTR number on things like invoices or client-facing documents.
Some business owners can get confused between the dos and don’ts of UTR numbers versus things like CRN (Company Registration Number) or VRN (VAT Registration Number). While CRNs and VRNs are readily circulated, UTRs should remain confidential.
If you’re ever asked to share your UTR number with anybody other than HMRC, a contractor that you’re subcontracting for, or your accountant, think twice as this could be a scam. If your UTR gets into the wrong hands, you run the risk of falling victim to fraudulent activity or cyberattacks.
What if I forget my UTR number?
Looking for your UTR number? You should be able to find it through any of the following routes:
- By logging into your Personal Tax Account online
- With the HMRC app
- By checking on a previous tax return
- Statement of accounts
- Other types of HMRC documents (e.g., tax payment reminders)
- Your original SA250 welcome letter (if you still have it to hand)
If you don’t have access to any of the above and you can’t find any HMRC documents or correspondence with your UTR number on, don’t worry.
Sole traders should call HMRC’s dedicated Self Assessment helpline (0300 200 3310) and request to have the UTR posted to you – it should normally arrive within 10 working days.
If you have a limited company, you can request your UTR online and HMRC will send it to your business’s registered address by post.
Top tip: Keep a note of your UTR number in a locked note on your phone so you can access it easily but it stays secure. That way, you won’t have to go through the pesky process of requesting and waiting for your lost information when you need it.
Find more of the latest news and guidance for freelancers in our info hub.