Looking back, looking forward

Across the country, it's that "how was it for you" time in many accountancy practices.

For us, I think is consensus is: just about OK. We still have far too many clients leaving things till the last minute (although 30th and 31st January were remarkably quite on most fronts, so maybe not quite till the very last minute in most cases).

What to do differently next year - that is the question. We'll have to let the dust settle, get the rest of the bills out, and then sit down and take a long hard look. One thing we need to address is the excessive overtime required to finish tax returns on time. Just as well we have tax staff prepared to put in the extra hours, but both we and they would prefer to avoid this in future.

The January snow chaos was a salutory reminder for all that we might not be able to do everything at the last minute if we can't get into the office next year, all the more reason to get the returns done sooner.

I can't help thinking that we need to come up with a new fee plan for 2013-14 that rewards clients for getting their stuff in early, as well as penalising the last ones. And maybe we need to make the last minute surcharge higher so it makes them think twice, and covers our additional costs in future.

The other think we need to hammer into the tax team's heads is that they need to stop thinking of their clients as rational, reasonable human beings - experience shows that they are not. If you write to them, do not assume they will a) open the letter, b) read it, and c) certainly don't expect them to reply. So much of the delays are down to tax staff sending information requests or reminders to clients and blithely assuming that they have done what's necessary. Come the middle of January and they haven't responded and you eventually learn what a waste of time that was! If you need information, phone them - use their mobile number if they have given it to us. Speak to accounts staff and bookkeepers and see if they can apply some leverage to get you the paperwork or information you require. And for the larger clients, just go there and collect it yourself! So the comment that will be banned in 2013-14 will be "we're waiting for a reply" - because we all know full well we'll be waiting for ever!

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