How was it for you?

 I started typing this just after Midnight on 1 February, having just filed the last 2 Returns. There were good reasons why I delayed these to the last minute and the clients concerned have been good as gold, so it was a pleasure.

I’m not so impressed by the serial late-submitter who phoned my mobile at Five to Midnight ! We had a chat earlier in the day and he promised to phone in his figures, but he clearly hadn’t bothered – I didn’t answer but listened to his voicemail. Does this guy get off on the thrill of being in trouble with the Tax Office?

Then there was the guy who phoned at 8pm wanting a ‘code’ so that he could file his own Return – it doesn’t work that way as our login codes give us access to all our clients for VAT, PAYE, Self Assessment, Corporation Tax and CIS (clients can have their own online access alongside us, but that requires a separate process – memo to self: get clients signed up to this because they can check their own payments online)

I am taking a little break – back on 14 February

As soon as I get back I will review everyone’s tax payments, as I always do in Mid February. If you have nothing to pay, or have paid your bill, I will not bother you. There is a potential 5% surcharge on 28 February, so I will be looking to warn anyone who may be affected.

In the meantime I hope I have told you what you have to pay. If you are unsure you can phone 0845 900 0444, quoting your 10-digit Tax Reference. Don’t worry too much about delaying a little - HMRC charges interest at 3% per annum, so on £10,000 that is 82 pence a day and on £500 it is 4 pence a day. Although it is not tax-deductible, a cynic might say that HMRC is the best place to borrow money.

So how did the year go?

Well the sharp-eyed among you will have noticed that, in contrast with last year, I have not been publishing the graphs of work progress through the year. Quite frankly, this was because I did not want to create alarm and despondency, but being open with you all is a core principal - to keep me honest with you. I have put this year’s graph up on the website and you can see it at this link

http://www.fairbalance.co.uk/book/book/Work_Progress_2010.html

I have all the statistics from when Self Assessment began in 1997, but to load all 14 years would be a mess so I have just shown the last 4.

The yellow line for 2009 was a proud achievement – the best ever. I will work to improve on it in 2011. This year’s blue line falls well below it. I promise you that I was not being lazy in the Summer of 2010, so why did the line dip?

I did spend some wonderful afternoons with Colin, who died of cancer on 13 July, but obviously a few hours, precious as they were to me (and I hope to him) did not make that much difference to the progress of my work.

I did spend some time publishing my eBook, but again the hours were not that significant. Here again is the link to that page

http://www.fairbalance.co.uk/book/book/FairBalance_Publishing.html

So I cannot give a very good answer to why the blue line fell below last year’s yellow line, but I did buckle down in the Autumn. I am no stranger to the process, or to hard work. I did not have to rush anything, and indeed I slowed up at the end - I kept back some clients because I wanted to give them my full, relaxed attention. In the last few days it was not a ‘numbers game’ but a ‘think job’.

The Authorities imposed a change

Companies House brought forward its filing date by one month, to 31 December. This was a blessing in disguise. I had to devote all my attention to the most complex work around Christmas, and so I had my mini-nervous breakdown in early January instead of early February.

Sarah asked me why, as I am always a cheerful chap, I was sad and tearful in the car – “what have you got to worry about”?  I truly am a glass half-full person, so this only lasted a day or so and I was back in harness. The wife and family both benefit and suffer from having an in-house accountant. I’m an ever-present childminder, but everyone falls over the paperwork by the front door that is on its way in or out.

A 14 year experience

Self Assessment started for the Tax Year 2006/7 which meant that January 1998 was the first deadline we had to face. It was a big job that year because we decided to average 35 months from 1 May 2004 to 31 March 2007 – nearly three years’ accounts in one go. 30 April was the best Accounting Date under the old system – 31 March is the only good date now and we bit the bullet there and then. Other firms left the dates unchanged because it gave THEM an easy life. 31 March means we have 10 months (now 9 for Companies) to get all our work done.

In the intervening years I have had to help some new clients deal with the negligence of their former accountants and convert them to 31 March as painlessly as possible.

Anyway, in the early days this created great stress. With no online system it was a laborious process of printing Returns and physically delivering the last ones to the local Tax Office at about 1AM so that they would be there the next morning when the staff opened the post. You can’t have a drink when you know you have to jump in the car after Midnight, which made it all the more miserable !

When I was reviewing the statistics for my chart, I was surprised – the number of Returns completed in the last weeks of January was not so much more back then than this year, so why all the stress? The answer of course is technology. Even just printing out a 20 page Return takes so much longer than online filing – and there had to be three copies. These days I submit over broadband in a few seconds, download a pdf for myself and email a copy to the client.

The number of Returns filed has ballooned because of all those Gordon Brown Companies we now administer. I am proud to have loudly identified him as a Tax and Spend Socialist in the years when everyone believed the New Labour fiction, but also proud to have taken advantage of his idiocy in delivering to you the most efficient tax options.

I’m not entirely joking about the mini nervous breakdown

I have had to learn to self-medicate the stress of these deadlines.

I have a customer for our payroll software – nice lady – who tells me she has had 4 nervous breakdowns, so I Googled the subject. Nervous breakdowns are not an official medical condition but a colloquial phrase - but some of the symptoms looked familiar !

In the early days I was just so physically exhausted that I went to bed for the day on 1 February. As things seemed to get easier I dropped that, but I was suffering feelings of uselessness that seemed to hit me in late February.

I concluded that I was just bloody tired and that coming off a period of being so hyped-up was like falling off a cliff. So my self-medication has become going on a little holiday and occupying my mind with fresh things – a gentler let-down.

The important thing that the work progress graphs should show you, as our clients, is how straight the lines are. 2009 was as close as one could get to a straight line running from April to January. If the line gets steep then a lot of Accounts/Returns are being completed in a short period. The obvious conclusion? – that things are being rushed and mistakes could be made.

A good example is a former client in the early days of Self Assessment. At about 6.30 pm on 31 January I rang him, begging for his figures for not just the year that had ended 10 months previously, but for the year before that as well. I had to calculate the figures, print the Returns out and put them through the door of the Tax Office in the coming 6 hours – and there were others to complete as well.

It is hard to justify other than that I was bleary eyed through sleep deprivation, but I put the previous years’ figures on the Return.

Thanks for all your support, and Best Regards. I AM going for a holiday, but if you have any genuine panics I will be monitoring my emails.

David Ross

 www.fairbalance.co.uk