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Putting a stop to the last minute demands

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I have 3 charming clients who are now regularly putting me through the wringer at the end of each VAT quarter, by only getting their data ready for inspection in the week or even on the day the VAT return must be filed. One at least is now suffering regular surcharges for the next 12 months as a result of not filing the resultant return on time. (His fault not mine). They are all very busy, apparently which is why they have to leave it until the last minute. (What a load of tosh.)
I've always wanted to appear helpful, but I sense that if you give this lot an inch, they'll take a mile. Last week was very stressful, and I don't want another week like that again. I noticed I was beginning to act strangely and I don't want a mental breakdown.
So I've got to set some rules that I won't allow myself to break - otherwise they'll just push further.
I've thought of telling them that from now on, if their data isn't completed and ready for checking on the last day of the month following the VAT return period end I'm not going to bust a gut to do my part and it will be their problem if the work isn't done on time.
However, assuming none of them take any notice, I'm going to have to deliberately ignore their requests for help in the week the VAT return's due, to reinforce the point.
How you got any better ideas?

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09th Dec 2018 17:06

I think you are still putting yourself under pressure. We say by the 20th. In fact you could pick any date that takes the heat off you. Say that is the date that all new clients are already complying with and it might stir them to think they are not being reasonable.

Additionally you can say that if they don’t meet a certain date there will be a surcharge of £X to meet the cost of unsocial hours or weekend working.

Basically, a two pronged approach. One emotional, the other financial.

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to andy.partridge
09th Dec 2018 17:35

andy.partridge wrote:

I think you are still putting yourself under pressure. We say by the 20th. In fact you could pick any date that takes the heat off you. Say that is the date that all new clients are already complying with and it might stir them to think they are not being reasonable.

Additionally you can say that if they don’t meet a certain date there will be a surcharge of £X to meet the cost of unsocial hours or weekend working.

Basically, a two pronged approach. One emotional, the other financial.

You could offer to help them review their systems (for a fee, and in between quarter ends) to suggest ways they can be as simple and efficient as possible and they don't incur your rush charges. Win- win...

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09th Dec 2018 17:10

Moonbeam wrote:

How you got any better ideas?

Communicate with them.

Tell then the deadlines that you work to and that, as andy.partridge says, beyond that deadline, additional charges apply.

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09th Dec 2018 17:53

A lot depends on how much you want their money.

Which is something only you can decide.

It's easy for us to say "dump them" but it doesn't put your tea on the table or pay the rent.

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to lionofludesch
09th Dec 2018 18:58

lionofludesch wrote:

It's easy for us to say "dump them" but it doesn't put your tea on the table or pay the rent.

Indeed but he/she did say, not unreasonably, that "I don't want a mental breakdown" so assume that's the priority.

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By SXGuy
09th Dec 2018 18:39

I don't care how busy they are, 1 month and 7 days they have to file a return.

My clients know I expect the work middle of the month after the quarter. If it's not on time then they risk missing the filing deadline.

It's easy to explain, you allocate time each month for regular work clients, anyone late sending work goes to the back of the queue, that simple. If they consistently leave it late, either their not fussed, or you bend over backwards for them and they think they can keep doing it.

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By frankfx
09th Dec 2018 19:54

The local office of national practice leave their clients in no doubt what is expected of them.

The consequences of not meeting the formally agreed timelines ( delivery dates )..... are punitive to client. This harshness is explained and justified. A prospective client who would demur from such a request / instruction would be seen as a risk.

The Practice offered an assurance of excellent timely service, for a suitable fee , in return for client compliance and courtesy.

Win win.

Responders here have already confirmed what you already know. But is useful to share a problem of this nature, as it does tend to jar with our instinct to help.

The referee at a Rugby Union match has a walk in the park compared with his FA counterpart...both have rules and laws ……in one , though, expectations are properly managed !

I certainly took heart when I read the super- strict onboarding letters referred to above, you too should bite the bullet.

Allowing contaminated product onto your production line has entirely predictable consequences for you, and your 'good' clients.

Let us know the outcome . It could be an early Christmas present to yourself.

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09th Dec 2018 19:57

Thank you all so much for these replies. OK I'll go with 20th. Pointless me offering to help them streamline things - their attitude and my doormat mentality are the problems here. Not a good idea to insist they pay more in my case, because that implies I have time to do the work late.
I like the idea that they'll go to the back of the queue if they miss the 20th cutoff point. The cutoff point for personal tax returns can be 2nd Jan - that's another problem that these chaps will cause.
You've stiffened my resolve - thank you very much!

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10th Dec 2018 10:12

Agree with the other replies, set a cut off date at which you feel confident of getting the work done and then its up to the client to be helpful

whilst communication is key, there are always some clients who either wont change their ways or are pushing the boundries of whats acceptable everytime there's work to be done

Life's too short, if these clients are making your life that stressful, bin them. you'll feel a whole lot better for it and you can focus on giving a great service to the clients who do appreciate you

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10th Dec 2018 11:08

Lay down the rules and if they disobey/ignore them disengage and let them find some softy who can have the nervous breakdown

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10th Dec 2018 11:13

Agree with all the above. Setting a reasonable time limit is essential but then what happens when they don't meet it?

We used to threaten to charge huge penalty fees, and actually charged some but, as with the VAT surcharges, it made little difference and so all it did was delay the grief and move their work to clash with other work.

So I just told them that if they were unable to meet the deadline next quarter/year they would have to find another accountant.

This worked with those who value what you do and also those who don't, as they should be somebody else's problem anyway.

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10th Dec 2018 11:39

I normally go for:
1. On receipt, say you will try, but may not meet the deadline as you have missed mine
2. The first time you file on time, normally you get thanked
3. If they keep doing it, file one late, even if you COULD have filed on time.

Don't be afraid to file stuff late. People who are always late with everything are used to paying fines.

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to ireallyshouldknowthisbut
10th Dec 2018 11:48

Yes, this is the most difficult part, but your rules are good ones. I've already filed with 2 minutes to spare for all 3 of them so the next late returns to me will be filed late as otherwise this won't work.

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to Moonbeam
10th Dec 2018 12:13

I also find it takes the stress out of it if you have told the client you may not do it.

ie if you are ill, or just dont have the time you don't feel guilty, its a "told you so", as opposed to a "my failure"

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to Moonbeam
10th Dec 2018 21:30

Our mindset is often that if a deadline is missed for whatever reason it is our failure as accountants. Either we have not managed our time well enough or we have not educated the client sufficiently.

We need to stop being so tough on ourselves and recognise that being late is just how some clients lead their lives. If they will not heed advice, respect your time or pay a surcharge by way of apology you will ultimately have to decide if life will be better without them.

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By Maslins
to ireallyshouldknowthisbut
10th Dec 2018 11:59

ireallyshouldknowthisbut wrote:

Don't be afraid to file stuff late. People who are always late with everything are used to paying fines.


Yes, I'm often surprised how laid back some clients are. It seems I'm far more bothered about them not getting a penalty than they are.
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10th Dec 2018 12:56

If it's causing you mental problems, I think you should just say goodbye to them.

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10th Dec 2018 19:12

My lot know that their lives would not be worth living if they dare send me their stuff even one week before submission date. I tell them that they wont like to see me get upset.
SXGuy is right when he says 'I don't care how busy they are, 1 month and 7 days they have to file a return' = exactly. Same as other accounts - all have 9 months.
The problem I have is those who want to jump the queue with their remortgages - as in needed this week otherwise they go off their fixed onto standard rate and have to pay more etc etc. etc

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11th Dec 2018 10:49

I came from a retail background were the customer is always right and tried this when starting my business
soon learnt that there had to be different ground rules
As soon as I set boundaries with dates and timing not only was it better for me but the client respected me more.
I do a e mail at the beginning of the month and any not in by 20th may or may not get done on time.

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to klerg000
12th Dec 2018 11:41

Apparently it was Spartacus who first pronounced "the customer is always right" but that was in his early days.

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11th Dec 2018 10:50

20th is too late. Go for the 14th.
Try collecting more of the data monthly - these clients will need to go on MTD for VAT and I understand that the "7 days" is disappearing. When this time arrives you are going to start to plan for when everyone is MTD.

So start saying that if all the data is not with you by a certian date that you cant guarantee that the vat return may not go in on time - start using last day of month following quarter end. "Based on the last quarter's vat bill the penalty could be 5% of the vat and that will be £xXX and payable by you"

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to pauljohnston
11th Dec 2018 11:11

Thanks Paul -I've just checked on the internet and the ICAEW advice, last updated 6 Dec 18 says no changes to filing deadlines/dates for VAT

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to pauljohnston
11th Dec 2018 11:03

I have to say, the deadline I set will depend on the size of the job.

If the client keeps good books but is toey about using the HMRC portal, I'd be thinking a week's fine. Bring me a carrier bag of bills and I'd be telling him he needs to call in every month.

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By Ammie
11th Dec 2018 11:20

I call this client behaviour "the homework syndrome", don't do it until it has to be!!

Such circumstances are all too familiar. I set a deadline of 20th to guarantee the work meeting the deadline.

Other than exceptional circumstances, I have taken an increasingly firmer stance on such liberty takers, (to put it mildly), such that I forced out a couple of such clients this year, albeit lost fees. I just don't need it. My well being is far more important than such repeated offenders which bring with them unhealthy levels of stress and grief.

Some sensible suggestions and ideas put forward but unfortunately no ideas will change most clients with this mindset, which leads to more focus on the quality of client being engaged with. This behaviour also questions how such clients run other parts of their business and how much longevity the business has in this mode.

In the future, many such clients will find themselves struggling to appoint accountants if they continue such habits.

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11th Dec 2018 11:22

I am a shopkeeper's son. It is not a lot of "Tosh". Try working six days a week then coming home to sort out a bundle of accounts papers, or spending six days on a building site.
your first problem is you appear to think that persons are in business to do accounts. This a very HMRC mindset.
Second, waiting till the end of the month is daft. Get the client to have the bank send to you direct monthly copies of the statements. on a regular basis. Then ten working days is a reasonable period to get other stuff in.
MTD on the horizon is a useful excuse for training your clients. if you are really getting in a panic about VAT returns, you are in the wrong job. Be similar to a surgeon, learn to turn off at the sight of blood. After all, its not your £blood.

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11th Dec 2018 11:22

I am a shopkeeper's son. It is not a lot of "Tosh". Try working six days a week then coming home to sort out a bundle of accounts papers, or spending six days on a building site.
your first problem is you appear to think that persons are in business to do accounts. This a very HMRC mindset.
Second, waiting till the end of the month is daft. Get the client to have the bank send to you direct monthly copies of the statements. on a regular basis. Then ten working days is a reasonable period to get other stuff in.
MTD on the horizon is a useful excuse for training your clients. if you are really getting in a panic about VAT returns, you are in the wrong job. Be similar to a surgeon, learn to turn off at the sight of blood. After all, its not your £blood.

Thanks (1)
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11th Dec 2018 13:18

Welcome to accountancy, Give them a CM and they take a KM, I do find the more you bend over for clients.... they more they expect it and it becomes the norm.

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