The final countdown…
With the self-assessment deadline looming, the pandemic over a year in and accountants stretched to the brink, how can you ensure a smooth transition to the filing deadline at a historical moment in time?
“You have to be organised and send out mailshots and reminders to all clients regularly. They must understand the onus is on them to provide everything to the accountant with enough time to fi le and check the work”, explains Loubie Westaway, client tax manager at My Management Accountant.
“As an accountant you have to be on top of the situation. Send emails and mailshots first and include links to the government website, but you have to ensure responsibility is more in the client’s court,” she says.
An issue for accountants this year is that clients are focusing on keeping their business afloat and looking at their cashflow, rather than worrying about paperwork for their tax bill. However, the accountant needs to keep them focused. Setting early deadlines is one option in the accountant’s toolkit, says Alex Falcon Huerta, CEO of Soaring Falcon. “We set a deadline of 15 January and have advised clients we cannot be held accountable if information comes in after this date,” she says.
Some accountants set their deadline even earlier in the year, outlining to their clients they can expect a different level of service if information is provided after the deadline date, explains Mark Lee, chairman of the Tax Advice Network. “The accountant needs to help divert the client’s attention away from the 31 January deadline,” he says, reiterating that clients also need to take responsibility for when information is supplied to the accountant.
HMRC's director general for customer services, Karl Khan, says to both agents and those providing their own self-assessment: “Give yourself plenty of time. OK, it’s not fun or exciting, but don’t put it off to the last minute. Rushing to get your information to us as the clock is ticking makes it more likely [clients] will make a mistake or forget to include some ... allowances.”
Another tactic is to incentivize earlier submission, such as making a charitable donation if deadlines are met. “We have seen anecdotal evidence that at Christmas time this works better than offering a discount to clients,” explains Mark Lee.
Alex Falcon Huerta’s practice starts the process as early as April 2020. “Each year we start early to try and have a lot of the work completed by November/December, so there isn’t this massive deadline looming in January,” she says. Huerta created the process after years with fi rms, which required employees to pull all-nighters and fostered a pressured environment around deadline day. “I was thinking [about] what can we do to mitigate this situation from happening again,” she says.
Another initiative is to employ someone on a contract basis whose sole responsibility is to chase clients for paperwork. “We hired a project administrator to chase clients and ensure the accountants have all the information they need.” says Falcon Huerta. This can be implemented quickly by redeploying resources across the team. Having a dedicated person to work on ensuring the paperwork is all in can make the process extremely streamlined and time-efficient.
Having this extra person can help accountants ensure there are several people ensuring the work is completed accurately. “You must double check this information when filing on behalf of your client because, inevitably, the accountant gets the blame when there is a financial penalty,” says Lee.
Rachael Singh is a freelance journalist