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What constitutes client papers?

What constitutes client papers?

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I have my own accountancy practice and do not do any work on clients' premises.

I was hired to prepare a client's VAT Returns, Annual Accounts and SA Tax Returns, which necessitated devising and writing up an Excel cash book from source documents provided to me. I designed an Excel workbook specifically for this client and never charged for so doing.

The question is this: When returning the client's paperwork, am I obliged to also hand over the Excel-produced cash book as I consider it to be my work product and thus belonging to me not the client even though the client was billed for writing up the books of account?

I realise that I could either print off the cash book or email it as a pdf file, which would avoid me sending the Excel spreadsheet and giving away my handiwork. However, I am more concerned as to whether I MUST hand over the computer-generated cash book.

I can hardly return something I was not given.

The reason why I don't want to be co-operative with the (ex) client is because I am owed fees which are unrelated to any of the above and I'm blowed if I am going to hand over more than I am required to do.

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08th Aug 2013 18:19

Depends on what you were engaged to do
If it was bookkeeping then the spreadsheet belongs the clients if it was final accounts then the source docs and final accounts belong to client.

ACCA have a guidance sheet on this, might be useful.

http://www.accaglobal.co.uk/content/dam/acca/global/PDF-members/2012/343...

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08th Aug 2013 19:08

Why?

Why create a tailored spreadsheet when you are doing bookkeeping for a client? I can never understand why people do this when there are loads of freebie, or low cost, packages that would help both you, and the client. What would do if he did pay? Would you still want to hang on to 'your' spreadsheet? I guess the client didn't ask for you to do this, else you would have charged for it. It was your decision, and you haven't done the client any favours by preparing the bookkeeping on something not generally available and that you don't want to hand over. It is blackmail (in a way)  to stop them going to another bookkeeper.

All I can suggest is that you copy/paste the data values into a new spreadsheet, so the formulas don't exist any more. At least then they stand a chance of being able to import the data into something else, rather than re-enter from scratch.

Take him to the small claims to get your money.

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By SimonP
to DJKL
08th Aug 2013 19:50

Why say anything if you are not going to answer the question?

Thank you for your input.

1.  You surprise me as I rather thought that Excel is "generally available".

2.  Isn't Excel a "freebie"?

If anyone knows of a "freebie" spreadsheet cash book that will entirely suit every client without some modification and fits into one's preferred way of working, please let me know. This one provides quarterly information as well as running totals. A great time saver over handwritten Analysis Books.

I have actually tailor-made other Excel cash books for clients which they use themselves but are password protected to avoid them making entries into "sensitive" areas.

One other reason for not wanting to send my spreadsheet is that I could not accept responsibility for maintaining/updating it. So anyone using it would have to do so at their own risk. Rather than risk possible litigation through misuse, I just won't send it out. Now, if it had been paid for, then that might be another story ... but it hasn't.

 

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By Flash Gordon
08th Aug 2013 20:19

Or alternatively...

Or alternatively, why ask the question if you're going to get shirty over a response which doesn't say what you want it to?! And Shirley has provided you with a alternative solution if you'd bothered to climb down off your high horse and read it.

Possible mitigation? Seriously?! At the end of the day you don't want to hand over the spreadsheet because you've not been paid and you want to be damn awkward. 

Personally I'd sue for the o/s fees and hand over the spreadsheet as they have paid you for that. And as Outofpractice said, if you were engaged for bookkeeping then your spreadsheet is the clients.

 

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08th Aug 2013 20:28

The spreadsheet is yours

The data records belong to the client but that does not mean that they have a right to the cashbook (assuming of couse that they didn't commission you to produce it, which seems not to be the case)

If you write an accounts program, the intellectual property in that remains yours.  Same with the spreadsheet - print out the data and hand it over, but they don't have a right to the spreadsheet itsself/

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08th Aug 2013 20:39

You may be interested in this thread ....

https://www.accountingweb.co.uk/anyanswers/question/do-i-have-pass-copies-all-my-records-my-clients

There was a conflict of opinion there, too.

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09th Aug 2013 13:34

*

Well, I'm with Cloudcounter. I think the spreadsheet is yours unless the client commissioned you to write it or you charged the client for your time in building it (neither of which appear to be the case).

It's no different from doing a client's bookkeeping on your copy of Sage: you wouldn't be expected to hand over your Sage program because it's nothing to do with the client and doesn't belong to them.

And whether you hand back their data in electronic or paper format is entirely your choice unless something else was agreed.

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By Flash Gordon
to bernard michael
09th Aug 2013 14:38

Sage back up, not the software licence

adam.arca wrote:

It's no different from doing a client's bookkeeping on your copy of Sage: you wouldn't be expected to hand over your Sage program because it's nothing to do with the client and doesn't belong to them.

But with Sage you'd be handing over the backup that they'd reinstate using their copy of Sage.

If they're paying you to do the bookkeeping then they're entitled to receive a copy in some format of the bookkeeping records. If you're carrying it out on software then logically you'd provide a copy of that file. And if they don't have the right software then a hard copy of the records. 

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09th Aug 2013 14:57

... or the data in a basic Excel spreadsheet ....

... without the formulas, as mentioned in my earlier post!

Still, they will have great fun, and huge costs, re-inputting all the data from the pdf file, so it will make getting your money that little bit harder if they have to pay for all the bookkeeping to be re-keyed.

 

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09th Aug 2013 16:00

Flash, I think we're saying the same thing

If it's Sage, you give them the backup not the licence.

If it's the OP's proprietory spreadsheet, he gives them the data not his IP.

And (IMO at least) it's his choice what format he gives the data back in unless he specifically agreed with his client to do it in Excel. After all, if a client just asked an accountant to "do the books," then it's perfectly possible that there are still accountants out there writing up Cathedral analysis books.

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09th Aug 2013 16:33

Interesting Question

As I've just written up a sales day book (younger ones may not have heard of that) as part of an accounts preparation exercise. I don't usually involve myself with those sort of jobs but it's a long standing client and I've always done it. Paragraph. Since I don't mention book-keeping on my invoice, I believe the schedule is mine and part of my working papers. However if I mentioned book-keeping on my invoice I suspect any books of prime entry would belong to the client. 

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10th Aug 2013 08:14

seriously

how long does it take to set up an excel cashbook from scratch? 5 - 10 minutes at the most if you know what you are doing

this just sounds like sour grapes because the client is moving on, get a life, give them the cashbook, move on and be happy instead of worrying about such pointless things

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12th Aug 2013 09:54

Well, it depends doesn't it

If you set up a basic spreadsheet which mimics an analysed cash book except it has some formulae in to do the adding up, then it would probably take you about an hour all in from scratch. And in that case I would agree it's better just to let it go.

On the other hand, there's dozens of ways you could be clever and write macros to automate parts of the job. And in this case the OP has every right to preserve his IP; for all we know, he may intend to make it a commercial product and there's no reason why a client who effectively borrowed the IP on a FOC basis should have access to that.

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By SimonP
to GW
14th Aug 2013 00:39

You are quite correct, Adam.Arca

There are indeed several macros which I have written to enhance the cash book.

It took me a darn sight longer than the 5-10 minutes one poster suggested it should take.

 

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12th Aug 2013 14:35

I thought the formulae in excel belong to MS.

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14th Aug 2013 07:00

Macros

It only takes a few minutes to delete macros, or copy the data into a new spreadsheet, and re-reading your OP, you were paid for this work. It was different work that you are still waiting payment for.

But like you said ... you don't to be co-operative, and it shows. 

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14th Aug 2013 13:58

It does take a while to delete macros, especially if the macros are protected with passwords. I  know there are some on-line software which can crack macros' password, but they are not free.

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