Accountants face stormy self assessment season

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Communities in Cumbria, Lancashire, Greater Manchester and Yorkshire are still swamped from the tag team barrage of Storm Desmond and Eva, face more misery as Storm Frank approaches.

Stuart Jones of 3CA Accountants in Kendal, Cumbria has borne the brunt of the twin storms’ fury. According to Jones, residents are bracing themselves for further storms. Kendal was completely cut off three days ago as all the roads leading into the town were flooded.

Jones now has the unenviable task of facing self assessment season with a ruined office. “Our downstairs was about a metre deep,” said Jones.

“We’ve had to move upstairs and we’ve lost all our computers and records.” HMRC has set up a flooding tax helpline - but Jones told AccountingWEB he has struggled to get conclusive answers on precisely what allowances will be made for accountants in his position. “When I phoned the helpline, I was told they couldn’t help me with any client who didn’t owe HMRC money.

“They seem to expect me to write in for every individual client to ask for reasonable excuse - I have 80 returns to file,” he said. “And I bet if I did do that, I’d be told to write in - but HMRC’s response turnaround is 12 weeks.”

He continued, “Their main concern seems to be they don’t want to be seen chasing debts from businesses who are literally up to their necks in water. The rest of us just have to hold on,” said Jones.

“I’m writing my MP today to ask for help.” Jones is requesting for a blanket exception to be made for all accountants who have been severely affected by the floods.

When approached with Jones's concerns by AccountingWEB, a HMRC spokesperson said, "No taxpayer affected by flooding will have to pay a fine if their return is late. We will accept a customer has a reasonable excuse if the delay is caused by flooding at their premises or their agent's premises and the return is subsequently submitted without unreasonable delay".

Jones was complimentary about Companies House, however. “I can’t fault them at all,” he said. “I wrote to Companies House and within two days I had response saying, ‘Yes, you can have an exception’.”

The latest storm warning comes after KPMG estimated that Desmond and Eva have already inflicted insured losses of £1bn-£1.5bn. Storm Frank is accompanied by 47 flood warnings and four severe flood warnings (meaning potential loss of life). The severe warnings are confined to north Lancashire and Yorkshire, next to the rivers Yarrow and Wharfe.

Unlike Jones, north country firm Lamont Pridmore has evaded direct damage from the storms, according to managing partner Graham Lamont. The firm has offices in affected areas but avoided a direct hit from flood waters.

But the situation remains precarious, Lamont told AccountingWEB. “Two or three areas have been flooded for the second time today but it’s mostly constrained to Yorkshire and Lancashire,” he said.

What potential disruption there could have been, explained Lamont, was ameliorated by the firm's technology.

“One of our offices is completely in the cloud,” he explained. “Our other offices have Microsoft Exchange servers so people can work from home - so it’s relatively business as usual.”

Francois Badenhorst
Practice correspondent
Sift Media
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31st Dec 2015 15:56

I guess that the answer will be..

to press on as best as you can and then file reasonable excuse claims for any penalty cases that arise. Tedious, but blanket exceptions would be very difficult to run.

If you use IRIS a standard letter out of Automail can be set up as an appeal.

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04th Jan 2016 08:24

HMRC Shipley affected too

Perhaps HMRC will be more prepared to come up with a more workable solution now that it, too, has suffered directly from the flooding. A post on LinkedIn from an officer at the software developer support team based in Shipley explained that as a result of flooding, the Shipley office has been closed.

"We expect the office to remain closed for at least two weeks. In the meantime we will try to maintain a service as close to normal as we possibly can but please bear in mind that there may be delays in responding to your e-mails and telephone enquiries."

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05th Jan 2016 13:08

HMRC will indeed be maintaining a normal service.....

''Please bear in mind that there may be delays in responding to your e-mails and telephone enquiries."

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By Briar
05th Jan 2016 16:07

Me too- one metre under

I work from home and that and my office just outside was 1 metre under water on 06/12/15. The house we have had to move into has only just been connected by BT both for a landline and broadband (and dongles didn't work either) despite them saying that they would be helping businesses affected by flooding (their call centre in India didn't know anything about it). Are BT the new HMRC?

As soon as I got broadband yesterday I filed accounts and returns due 31/12/15, and RTIs for December. If HMRC or Companies House make life awkward, I shall send them photos of the wreckage which Desmond caused and use the excellent services of our local MP Tim Farron. HMRC should accept "reasonable excuse" and Companies House have assured me that they will be lenient. For any unpaid taxes or penalties if they insist, their bailiffs are welcome to come and clear the rubbish from our front door (Skip prices have gone up from £200 to £700!).

Hopefully, I will hit all my deadlines for 31/01/16 but, if I don't then I shall claim reasonable excuse. 

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