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Don't extend the agony of the tax return season

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Philip Fisher offers sympathy to those currently embroiled in the January rush but encourages advisers to keep going despite today's announcement and get the nightmare over and done with. 

6th Jan 2022
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If you happen to be in the smug group that managed to complete every client tax return before Christmas, please accept our congratulations.

Regrettably, from conversations with friends in the industry and responses to articles in previous years, it is apparent that you represent a relatively small proportion of those whose practices rely to any great extent on the provision of tax return services to their clients.

Today's announcement that there will be no self assessment late filing penalties for those who file online by 28 February should offer a little relief but while it could be tempting to take your foot off the accelerator, don't let the relaxation spill into your planned time off in February - haven't we been through enough? 

It's been a full blown nightmare

Those of us with long memories will recall the heady days of January 2020 when the tax return season was merely a headache. With the advent of coronavirus, in January 2022 it is potentially a full-blown nightmare.

Harking back to the old, pre-pandemic days, the problem always seemed insuperable. We had been working flat out for weeks, staff members were beginning to take time off to recover from mental health issues or merely catch up on sleep, while dilatory clients had a nasty habit of holding back tax return information until the last minute, despite liberal use of both carrots and sticks, neither of which ever seem to have the desired effect on the worst of the miscreants.

The consequence was round-the-clock working, the sacrifice of weekends and a serious risk of legal action when exhausted colleagues inevitably made mistakes that could prove ridiculously costly.

The horror story continues

Roll on two years and we face a whole new set of problems. Having thought that coronavirus was well under control and begun a tentative return to office working, we suddenly find ourselves plunged into a horror movie in real life.

According to the Office for National Statistics, by the end of last week one in every 15 members of the population was suffering from the virus. That worrying rate increased to 1 in 10 in London and, terrifyingly, it was suggested that this increased to one in six of 27-year-olds aka the age group that might well be at the sharp end of tax return completion.

While many will be asymptomatic, a fair proportion of sufferers really will be suffering. This will mean staff illness and absence, inevitably exacerbated by childcare duties as the youngsters return to school and either discover that there are no teachers available leading to closure or catch the virus and are confined to home, needing lots of love and attention oblivious to the demands of tax return season.

As if all of that was not bad enough, clients will also fall ill and you can bet your bottom dollar that it won’t be the ones who listened to pleading and got their tax returns in last summer.

Don't extend the agony

Due to the current sickness rates, which must be affecting their officers too, it was no surprise that HMRC has decided to waive self assessment penalties. 

But please do not let your clients find out that they can get away with a further delay at no cost. It will only extend the agony.

Embrace the 'free time'

For those who can always see a half-full glass, there are a couple of positives. First, over the last couple of years, we have all been developing our IT capabilities to the point where preparing and filing tax returns from home and checking them at long distance has become perfectly feasible.

In addition, we no longer need to suffer the stresses of travelling to and from work, nor waste valuable hours every week in doing so.

Even if we do not invest all of this 'free' time working, at least partners and staff can get a little more rest during January than would have been the case before the pandemic and work more efficiently.

Ultimately, there are only four more weeks of pain to endure before you can sit back and contemplate a holiday in the sun, assuming that flights are available and your preferred destination will welcome British travellers.

Therefore, try not to kill yourselves, staff members or kids keen to keep getting under your feet and plough on, in the certain knowledge that within the next couple of months grateful clients will bolster the bank balance in return for all of the hard work.

Replies (3)

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By meadowsaw227
07th Jan 2022 09:37

I have chosen to never tell my clients about any extra filing/payment dates - therefore they HAVE to have filed their vat returns by the last day of the next month and pay their paye by NO later than 19th etc etc.
If you let them know about them they will work to them, if they find out about them I say they are for us not them.
I will definitely not be telling the usual suspects that there is any extension of the self assessment date.

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Replying to meadowsaw227:
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By AS44NG
07th Jan 2022 13:05

Same here to your first sentence!

I will also be telling my clients that I am away on holiday the last two weeks of February (in past years the fib had been January), they tend to react to that.

We probably won't have more than 10 tax returns to do by the end of January as we have worked on the assumption that there will be no penalty-free February announcement, though I think the news of one is sensible given that practices up and down the country will have suffered from staff having to self-isolate.

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paddle steamer
By DJKL
10th Jan 2022 10:22

Used to take the same approach with one of my brothers in law (prior to him being my brother in law) when we were meeting in the pub , if we were all meeting for a drink at say 8.00 pm we used to tell him we were meeting at 7.15 pm as he was invariably late.

I actually met my wife (his sister ) due to his dilatory behaviour, she took pity on him one time he was running late, gave him a lift, popped into the bar for a soda and lime and a tad over 32 years later we are still hitched.

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