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A new strategy to beat the tax return blues

Philip Fisher shares a radical new plan to take away the stress and heartache of tax return season.

21st Jan 2020
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I can't take these late nights anymore
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Everybody seems to be writing about the tax return season this year but nobody else has so far come up with anything like this radical new plan to take away the stress and heartache of what is almost every practitioner’s nightmare.

As always, there will be a smug group of readers who completed all of their clients’ tax returns before Christmas and cannot understand the fuss is about. This is your opportunity to join that group.

There are usually two reasons why the tax return season is hell.

  1. You and/or your staff are inefficient.
  2. Clients don’t deliver.

Nobody can find a solution for number one. If you are middle-aged and naturally inclined to leave things until the last minute, nothing is going to change your behaviour short of a serious health issue.

When it comes to ineffective staff, you are stuck for this year but can at least make changes ahead of the 19/20 tax return busy season.

Anyone whose problems are caused by clients who regularly ignore every entreaty, sending in return information weeks or even months after the designated deadline should read on.

Having established who those clients are, you need to take the following action.

It goes against the grain but ignore them completely until around 30 January and then send a quick email explaining that, as indicated in previous correspondence, they have missed the deadline and unfortunately you will not be able to complete their tax return by the deadline the following day.

They will get a £100 fine and find the tax return enquiry window extended, although the latter point is likely to be moot in most cases.

They could also end up with some interest to pay unless they make a prudent payment on account.

Why is this strategy so desirable? The answer is that it is likely to have one or more of the following consequences.

  • You and your colleagues can go home early in the last weeks of January for the first time in years.
  • Some clients that you didn’t want anyway will huff, puff and then go and pester some other poor accountant. This might reduce your fee income a little but the likelihood is that you will easily be able to replace them with some far more amenable and profitable alternatives or, failing that, spend additional time with the family.
  • Many more clients will ensure that they get their tax return information in on time in the future. That’s a great result which most of us haven’t managed to achieve by any other means.
  • Some really dilatory clients will accept that in future they will pay £100 for the pleasure of messing you around. You can then complete their returns at leisure in February or even later.
  • Using the logic of our esteemed Prime Minister, there might also be a prospect that you could start charging higher fees to those that were disappointed this year, on the basis that they know you will carry out the threats that have always been empty in the past.

The fear has to be that anybody for whom this article is relevant will be too busy torturing themselves to read it. If you know someone like that, save it for a rainy day in February and then help them to help themselves.

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