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Educate or disengage? Client with skeleton records

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A sole trade client has sent me her annual bookkeeping "records" in the form of an email  listing a series of monthly expenses and total takings for the year. She didn't say so, but I inferred she expected me to simply multiply the expenses by 12 and put them into her tax return. I responded that I couldn't prepare a tax return from so little information and requested (as a start) the year's bank statements. Now she has replied that bank statements are not available and would it be better if she completed the return herself?

I am fighting an internal battle between a desire to say "Please do" and an almost equal desire to insist on a less lackadaisical attitude to business records and to point out some glaring errors that will result if she does go ahead and simply multiplies the monthly expenses by 12 (eg we provide payroll services so I already know the wages figure is wrong). It's becoming obvious that she is far from our ideal client, so disengagement is tempting.

Do we get rid with no more ado, or do we attempt to educate? How would you word the next email? I want to retain my professionalism, so "Please do" will need padding out! The client is also local, so I want to minimise bad feeling in case I bump into her in the future (village setting).

Replies (20)

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By Truthsayer
24th Nov 2020 10:49

When I've had prospects like this I am blunt with them. I demand they show how they got to the turnover figure, and if they are evasive, I tell them that I think they are trying to conceal the turnover being much higher, so I don't wish to act for them. Just be truthful early on and avoid a lot of trouble for yourself.

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By ireallyshouldknowthisbut
24th Nov 2020 11:04

I certainly wouldn't do it via email, I would speak to the client and impress upon them that what they have sent you is manure, for example you can point out the salary errors and go from there

Either they supply the relevant information, or they take a walk. Their choice, not yours.

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Replying to ireallyshouldknowthisbut:
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By Jackie in Wiltshire
24th Nov 2020 11:16

I would do this - i.e. talk on the phone first. To avoid any future misunderstanding I would then follow up the phone call with an email confirming all points raised and my expectations.

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By williams lester accountants
24th Nov 2020 11:06

Get rid. If not your ideal client type, then just disengage.

Thanks (4)
Replying to williams lester accountants:
RLI
By lionofludesch
24th Nov 2020 13:05

"If" ?

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By CJaneH
24th Nov 2020 11:16

My view is that if the client will not supply bank statements, purchase invoices and sales invoices or taking records etc you will be preparing fiction not accounts.

Even when you have the above the records do not always make sense.

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By lesley.barnes
24th Nov 2020 12:39

Is the client worth spending the time to educate and will they be a good client going forward or are they likely to ignore what you say? What chances are there of getting the information you need to do an accurate tax return or will it be like pulling teeth? It's a busy time of year for accountants you need to weigh up whether you want to take this on and whether it would be financially worth your time and your sanity.

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By SXGuy
24th Nov 2020 14:44

Had someone recently who I've been banging my head against a wall to provide the info I needed to prepare their tax return. Finally after a month she calls to say she has the info.

And then proceeds to give me her net profit figure, she kindly explained she'd done all the work for me.

To which I replied, no that's not how it works. She then left the call to go away and do it properly. Probably receive something on 30th Jan now.

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Replying to SXGuy:
Giraffe
By Luke
25th Nov 2020 11:11

SXGuy wrote:

And then proceeds to give me her net profit figure, she kindly explained she'd done all the work for me.

Don't we all love those, "it's really straightforward, not a lot for you to do really" clients...

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Replying to Luke:
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By Southwestbeancounter
25th Nov 2020 14:16

Oh don't get me started - clients wander in on 26th January, bleating on about how good they are as it was 30th last year then the icing on the cake is 'it won't take you long as I've done it all for you!'. Grrrr...

Well this coming January the same clients are going to have a rude awakening as we've decided we're no longer working 7 days a week throughout December and January for them with only two days off for Christmas! Nope, not this year!!

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Replying to Southwestbeancounter:
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By lionofludesch
25th Nov 2020 14:34

Southwestbeancounter wrote:

Oh don't get me started - clients wander in on 26th January, bleating on about how good they are as it was 30th last year then the icing on the cake is 'it won't take you long as I've done it all for you!'. Grrrr...

Well this coming January the same clients are going to have a rude awakening as we've decided we're no longer working 7 days a week throughout December and January for them with only two days off for Christmas! Nope, not this year!!

Did you ever do that ?

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Replying to lionofludesch:
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By Southwestbeancounter
25th Nov 2020 15:07

Yes every year!

We work like idiots trying to help the idiots out but they never seem to learn!

We usually 'up' our hours in November then do six days a week in December (with two days off for Christmas) then seven days a week in January but this year they can sod orf!!

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Replying to Southwestbeancounter:
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By lionofludesch
25th Nov 2020 15:34

Jeez - I've never done that.

I'll do my best but I never promise. If they don't bring the stuff in soon enough, that's the risk they take. It's only £100 - it'd never get as far as May.

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By Calculatorboy
25th Nov 2020 07:04

Avoid and run a mile
A polite short email saying its probably for the best and it's more cost-effective for her

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By Ben Alligin
25th Nov 2020 10:00

Advise them that you don't start a self-assessment tax return with the words 'Once upon a time...'

Disengage with immediate effect.

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By michaelblake
25th Nov 2020 10:26

I would suggest that what needs to be done is to explain to her what the law expects from her in terms of record keeping; the disclosure that would have to be made on the return if estimated figures were used; what HMRC could reasonably expect to want to examine in the event of an enquiry into the return; the possible consequences in terms of penalties if she were found to be careless in making the return, and finally the limitations imposed upon you by professional standards if she cannot for whatever reason cooperate fully with you in working within the standards imposed by the law and HMRCs interpretation of that law. It might also be worth making the point that you can only provide a valuable service to her by assisting her to comply with her obligations and would be doing her a disservice if you helped her achieve anything that fell short of that. As others have noted this should all be explained in conversation, and whatever the outcome, a copy of the file note sent after the event recording what was said, and any actions agree by both sides following the conversation.

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Replying to michaelblake:
RLI
By lionofludesch
25th Nov 2020 10:36

Whether you can educate your client depends on her desire to be educated.

I have a couple of clients who have kept very good records over the years - once they knew what was required of them.

I have others who think that a pack of SC60s (I still call them that, fifteen years on) and some diesel bills will be grand. I can work from that - but my fee is higher.

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By Wanderer
25th Nov 2020 11:08

'Bank statements not available?' Yeh right!

This is the sort of client who says, "I've done all the work for you, it won't take you long".

Cue hours of working through their tosh, (eventually) getting original documents, putting it all right, working out what they have done wrong, explaining why your figures don't match theirs.

All takes longer than if they had supplied source documents and you worked from them.

Expect the email two months later "Why is my bill so high, I did all the work for you?". Further time spent whilst you explain all that you already have.

Avoid, just avoid, you know deep down that's what you should do.

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By SXGuy
25th Nov 2020 14:08

It's not always bad though. Used to have one of those dump a carrier bag on the desk with screwed up receipts type clients. Used to annoy the hell out of me. But every so often I'd find a screwed up fiver which seemed to calm me down a little haha.

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Replying to SXGuy:
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By Southwestbeancounter
25th Nov 2020 14:20

I had a client who always left National Lottery tickets in theirs!

I took them to the newsagents and came back with a few tenners - the client was quite shocked when I gave them the £s at the next meeting!

Would have been a harder decision is the wins were worthwhile though! LOL!!

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