Unique Taxpayer Reference (UTR) – What is a UTR number?

A Unique Taxpayer Reference, often referred to as a UTR or a UTR number, is a code used by HMRC to identify self-employed people and their companies for tax purposes.

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UTR numbers consist of ten digits and are unique to each person or business. If you have a Unique Taxpayer Reference, you’ll need it for a number of different things, including:

  • Filing a Self Assessment tax return

  • Registering for the Construction Industry Scheme

  • Making prepayments towards your tax bill

  • Working with an accountant or financial advisor who has been given the authority to act on your behalf

Who needs to apply for a UTR number?

Everyone that’s required to submit a Self Assessment tax return needs to apply for a UTR number.

Sole traders have unlimited liability, which means that their personal income is not separate from their company. As such, sole traders only need one UTR number.

On the other hand, for partnerships, each partner needs their own UTR number and the company itself also needs a Unique Taxpayer Reference.

How to get a UTR number

A Unique Taxpayer Reference is automatically sent to anyone that registers for Self Assessment. The most common way to register for Self Assessment is online through HMRC’s website, but, under some circumstances, it's also possible to fill in the form online then send it to HMRC in the post.

After you’ve registered, you’ll be sent a letter containing your UTR number. This letter can take up to 10 working days to arrive if you’re in the UK, and up to 21 working days if you’re abroad.

In order to register for a UTR number, you’ll need to provide the following information:

  • Your name

  • Your date of birth

  • Your National Insurance number

  • A contact address

  • A contact phone number

  • A contact email address

  • Your business address

  • Your business telephone number

  • The date you became self-employed

  • The structure of your business

What to do if you’ve lost your UTR number

As few people keep the original letter confirming their UTR number, it’s fairly common to think that a Unique Taxpayer Reference has gone missing. However, UTR numbers can also be found on previous tax returns and payment reminders from HMRC, as well as in your online HMRC account.

If you don’t have copies of any documents from HMRC and can’t access your online account, you should contact the Self Assessment helpline to get a copy of your UTR number.

Sharing UTR numbers

Like National Insurance numbers, UTR numbers are highly confidential, and there are only a few circumstances in which you should give your Unique Taxpayer Reference to someone other than HMRC.

For example, the most common reason to share your UTR number would be if an accountant or financial advisor has the authority to act on your behalf. They’ll need your UTR number to submit your tax returns or contact HMRC.

Another reason that you might share your UTR number is if you’re a subcontractor registered for CIS. Subcontractors need to be verified by the contractors they work for, and the verification process requires a few pieces of information, including the subcontractor’s UTR number.

There are very few others reasons for sharing your UTR number with anyone else. UTR numbers have been used for identity theft, so be wary of anyone asking you to share it without good reason.

UTR numbers, Company Registration Numbers, and VAT registration numbers

A Unique Taxpayer Reference isn’t the same as a company registration number (CRN) or a VAT registration number (VRN), and there are a few key differences:

  • Number structure: UTR numbers consist of 10 numbers, CRNs consist of 8 numbers or 2 letters followed by 6 numbers, and British VRNs consist of 2 letters (GB or XI) followed by 9 numbers.

  • Who needs the number: Everyone that completes a Self Assessment needs a UTR number. Only limited companies or Limited Liability Partnerships (LLP) have CRNs, and only companies registered for VAT need a VRN.

Confidentiality: Whereas UTR numbers are highly confidential, CRNs and VRNs aren’t. There are many instances when you must provide your CRN or VRN, but UTR numbers should only be shared in very specific cases.