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Letting clients get late filing penalties

Letting clients get late filing penalties

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Its that time of year again when you're chasing the same clients for their info and then working extra time just to help them avoid a penalty from hmrc.

We all have clients who are last minute types, and I'm sure everyone still gets the return done in time for them even if it means working weekends and late nights.

If you have sent three reminder letters, two text messages and rang them twice, should you then rush around if they bring it in on 29th of Jan or do the best you can and let them get a penalty if you haven't physically got the capacity to do it before the deadline?

I think that, if you always get it done, they know they can bring it in at the last minute so they have no incentive to get it to you early.

What do you all think? Have you done this before, and if you have what was the clients reaction?

And do you charge a premium for last minute jobs?

Replies (14)

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By John Paris
02nd Dec 2011 09:48

The real question

If the client isn't bothered why should you be?

Shouldn't the real question be, do you want this person as a client at all?

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By nigelburge
02nd Dec 2011 10:10

We all have these clients

and some of them get fined year after year after year.

As John said, if they aren't bothered - why should you be? If they up and leave after getting fined then my attitude is "good riddance". They certainly don't want to pay extra for your working overtime to get things done at the last minute.

Leave 'em to get fined. If they want to avoid fines in the future they will get their books to you earlier. It is called client education. :-)  If you work unpaid overtime to get it all done in time, what incentive have they got to change? They simply won't!!

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By ShirleyM
02nd Dec 2011 10:21

Not me!

We send many reminders about the deadlines, and the new penalty regime.

I refuse to work overtime, or rush, for their benefit. If you make a mistake because you are tired, or are rushing the job, these are the people who will complain the loudest!.

Apart from that, I hate to make mistakes and it is more likely to happen in these circumstances, so for my own sake .... they can wait, or go elsewhere!

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By two sheds
02nd Dec 2011 11:11

Last year my father was taken into hospital on Christmas Eve on a ward with norovirus so I was the only one allowed to visit, he died the day before my birthday (24th Jan), My Mum who had had a lung removed the previous january was told her cancer had come back and so i had them both in different hospitals in different parts of london.I am an only child so no siblings to help out.  My dad died the day before my birthday, and I spent my birthday in hospital having tests for an operation that I had this year, as was quite unwell myself.  After my birthday I had to arrange the funereal and still managed to get all the outstanding work done. 

So, here we are again and the same people are still late with their I have decided that I am not knocking myself out for people who cant be arsed or grown up about their own affairs and am taking a weeks holiday in January, if i can i will get stuff done, if not tough!

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By andy.partridge
02nd Dec 2011 11:22

The client experience

We all know that our practice would function so much better if it weren't for these damn clients.

What's the client's perspective on this?

1. Hey, there's plenty of time between now and 31 January - the client does not know what you do, how long it takes or your workload

2. I don't think there will be any tax to pay so I can be relaxed about this - the client does not appreciate the new penalty regime for late filing

I don't think I could 'let' my client get a fine if they were not aware of the the points above AND they had missed my final deadline. If I hadn't advised them of a deadline, despite reminders for information, then the professional thing would be to do my best to ensure they didn't get a penalty.

Yes, the client should plan better, but so should we. Now all I have to do is practice what I preach.

@Twosheds - you deserve a medal and better clients. Enjoy your holiday with a crystal clear conscience, you've earned in tenfold.


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By nigelburge
02nd Dec 2011 11:27


I too am off on holiday from 10th January and wrote last week to all of my "laggard" clients informing them of this.

Surprise, surprise - I have already got in three sets of books that I would normally have got in late in January. Some clients (always the same ones every year) just can't be ars*d until they are kicked up the ars*!!!

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By justsotax
02nd Dec 2011 11:38

a slightly different perspective....

I need work over the whole that does mean i want to be carrying out work in January - so i try and plan so that the guys who are always late are booked in for January - i then try and manage the workload of the other clients accordingly....not easy and not always succesful but if i had no fee work to do in January I would be concerned.


Secondly I don't waste much time on those who will be a january deadline...sure give them a reminder...and maybe one call.....but sending endless reminders is just pointless.  I recall on many occasions when employed being asked to send yet another reminder but knowing that the client wouldn't why send one - especially if you know you will prepare it anyway.



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By sue.hill
02nd Dec 2011 12:16

Fine vs "Excess" Fees

Give the client a choice.... the fee for late filing is £x.  The fee for ontime completion of late records is £y.  


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By Fidodido
02nd Dec 2011 15:00

Pay a premium

I always inform clients that if not in by x date there will be an additional £x on my bill.

Its in the engagement letter and on the reminders.  I have only ever charged it to one client who was extremely late.

The rest are in to a good routine, and like knowing the tax liabilities early..

I think firm and fair works well with clients.


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By Paul Scholes
02nd Dec 2011 19:08

Me too

Even though the majority of our clients bring in their info by 5 July we still get a handful who leave it till now.  Because we work hard during the summer & autumn to clear the compliance stuff and there's always other work around we do not do overtime or work weekends and so, as has been said above, we just stop chasing and leave them to it.

If they bring it in and we can slot it in without too much grief then we will but I always end up saying "no can do" to 1 or 2 clients (usually after 1 Jan) and I have never had one jump up & down, they just shrug their shoulders and say they know it's their fault & do it when you can.

As you say, if you back them up in always managing to do it just in time, there is no real incentive for them to change.

As far as getting them to bring the stuff to you in good time, we just tell clients they have 3 months from the tax/accounts year end.  We have a sliding scale whereby the quoted fees increase after that but it's giving them your deadline and sticking to it that's the important bit. 

If you tell them 31 October or 30 November many will bring it in just before but that leaves you very exposed to missing info and the bottleneck of Xmas & New year.  If you tell them 5 July, you will get exacly the same only it works in your favour and no reasonable client will claim that 3 months is not long enough.

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Jennifer Adams
By Jennifer Adams
08th Dec 2011 14:55

I'll be working overtime...

'Two Sheds' comments reminded me of my own situation a few years ago. My father ran his own small home-based accounting business and was still working with about 80 clients when he died at the age of 84 years in November (he had been ill for a few weeks before that).

At the funeral a client came up to me with the comment 'I suppose we'll have to find another accountant now - go into town, hell to park, pay over the odds for a high street accountant with no personal service' or words to that effect.

I found myself saying ' I'll get you through 31 Jan and see how we go from there'. My father (believe it or not) produced working papers by hand with a secretary producing the final accounts.

I had to load everything onto Digita, produce the accounts on computer etc etc but I did it with no late filing penalties (as well as doing my usual work of writing tax articles!).

5 years later they are all still with me.

I nag and send emails but as you say, its the same few. My lot wont be attracted by the 'discount' offer. So I will be doing the same as I have for the last few years working overtime trying to get the 'stragglers' submitted ontime. Small accountants need to keep all the clients they have. It is easy for them to leave and go somewhere else. Yes, I know... I spoil them!

January will also see me writing two articles for, a webinar and finishing a tax book.

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By SecretariuS
13th Dec 2011 11:05

Late filing


This year, as I am now semi-retired decided the last thing I wanted was to work over Christmas and New Year so let all clients know that if information not with me by 30th November I would not be doing the Return.  All but one have responded positively. The laggard was always last minute so I won't be sorry to lose that one. I shall have the rest completed and filed by the end of the week so for the first time in years can enjoy the season.

Happy Christmas all



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13th Dec 2011 12:16

Quite like this time of year

 A bit of a rush now means I have a much easier time in spring, summer and autumn, which suits me fine, since the weather is much more conducive to walking the dogs, lazing in the garden, or whatever, than it is during the dire driek dreary old days of mid winter. So long live this mad 31st January tax-deadline lark.

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By alattax
13th Dec 2011 12:41

Be pragmatic.

I have a few late ones the same as everyone else. Straightforward tax returns can usually be dealt with. Those with accounts which can't possibly be finalized in time are submitted with an estimate to avoid a penalty, and amendments sent over the next few months, but I do make sure every client's return is submitted by 31st January.








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