Emergency tax codes

Sometimes your employer or pension provider will have to put you on an 'emergency' - or 'special basis' - tax code until HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) has worked out what your correct tax code for the year should be. This usually happens when they don't know enough about your income or tax details for the full tax year.

On this page:

What is an emergency tax code?

An emergency tax code is a code that your employer or pension provider uses on a special basis until HMRC has enough information about your income to enable HMRC to send them (and you) your correct code. It normally makes sure that you get the basic Personal Allowance (and therefore some tax-free pay) but doesn't take into account any other allowances or reliefs you may be entitled to. Your employer or pension provider will normally keep using it until HMRC tells them what your correct tax code should be.

The emergency tax code is set each year and is a number followed by the letter L. The number is the basic Personal Allowance (£10,000 for the tax year 2014 to 15) divided by 10. The emergency code for 2014 to 15 is therefore 1000L.

Depending on your frequency of pay, it may be displayed on your payslip as '1000L W1' or 1000L M1' (meaning 'Week 1' or 'Month 1' - whereby you get a proportion of the Personal Allowance over the remainder of the tax year).

1000L also happens to be the tax code you'll get if you are entitled to just the basic Personal Allowance but in this case it is not an emergency code and you will receive the right amount of tax-free pay. See the section 'When you might be put on an emergency tax code' to help you decide whether the emergency tax code might apply to you.

Find out how tax codes work

Find out more about the Personal Allowance

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When you might be put on an emergency tax code

You might get an emergency tax code if:

  • you've started a new job and haven't got a P45 from your previous employer for the same tax year or you haven’t completed a Starter Checklist or provided your employer with relevant information before your first pay day
  • you've started your first job since the start of the tax year and haven't been receiving any taxable state benefits or a state or company pension
  • you've started a new job but you've had another job or other jobs or received taxable state benefits during the year
  • you've started a new job and were previously self-employed
  • there's been a change in your tax code during the year because, for example, you've started to get company benefits or the State Pension

Learn about tax codes and company benefits

Read about tax codes and your pension

Starter Checklist (PDF 747K)

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If you're put on a cumulative emergency tax code

You'll usually be put on a 'cumulative' emergency tax code if you've completed a Starter Checklist or provided information telling your employer that this is your first job since the start of the tax year and you haven't been receiving any taxable pensions or state benefits.

How a cumulative emergency tax code might affect your wages

The code used in this way will give you your full tax-free Personal Allowance over the remainder of the tax year - that's because your employer can carry forward any tax-free allowance not used in the period before you started your job. (As you've only just started work HMRC assumes that you haven't yet used any of your tax-free Personal Allowance.)

Your tax should be about right at the end of the tax year.

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If you're put on a week 1 or month 1 emergency tax code

You might be put on a 'week 1' or 'month 1' emergency tax code if you've given your employer a P45 Part 3 showing a previously used week 1 or month 1 emergency code or completed a Starter Checklist or provided your employer with information that you've had another job or taxable state benefits during the year - or your tax code has been reduced by a large amount.

How a week 1 or month 1 emergency code might affect your wages or pension

The code used in this way will give you the remainder of your tax-free Personal Allowance spread over the rest of the tax year. HMRC assumes that you've already received some tax-free income in the period before you started your job or your tax code changed.

Week 1 or month 1 emergency codes treat each week or month on its own and give you an equal amount of tax-free pay every payday. As they can't take into account changes in your income or tax which may have happened earlier in the year your tax may not be exactly right at the end of the year.

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How to get on to the correct code - and get a tax refund

Once HMRC has details of your previous income and tax paid for the tax year, they send your employer and you your full correct tax code. Your employer will deduct the correct tax in future and refund any overpaid tax. That's why it's very important that you give HMRC any information they ask you for.

Getting a refund at the end of the tax year

If you think you've paid too much tax because you've been taxed on an emergency code you should claim a refund by contacting HMRC. You'll need to provide them with a form P60.

Find out more about claiming a refund

Contact HMRC

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More useful links

What to do if you think your tax code is wrong

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