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A sad pug | AccountngWEB | How the tax return stole Christmas

How the tax return stole Christmas!


It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, which can only mean one thing – self assessment season is just around the corner. What can be done about the clash of the two big winter deadlines? 

14th Dec 2023
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Spare a thought for accountants. They can’t even nip into a supermarket without seeing an inflatable Jolly Old Saint Nick wishing them a happy Christmas, knowing full well that with a truckload of tax returns in front of them, their festive period is going to be anything but happy.

For the accounting profession, this period every year is as bitter sweet as the wine brewing under the stairs since last Christmas. While the box of biscuits and wine are greatly appreciated from clients, they also come with grovelling apologies and barefaced lies that all their information will be handed in well before January. 

So while the rest of the UK sing merrily to Last Christmas, accountants feel fooled again and not even the gift of George Michael’s heart could save them from tears. The same Christmas songs repeated on the radio and Mrs Brown’s Boys on the funny box are just grim reminders that the 31 January deadline is just around the corner. 

It’s no wonder the sound of sleigh bells have caused accountants’ eyes to twitch in a Pavolovian response. Instead, many are spending the days leading up to Christmas like they’re the overworked central character in a Hallmark Christmas movie who has lost the true meaning of the holidays, except without some dreamy small-town hunk coming into their lives to whisk them off their feet and help file some tax returns.    

So what can be done? It may be a bit extreme to suggest that everyone keeps schtum during December. Likewise I can’t see Christmas being cancelled because of a tax deadline in January. So there are two possible options: the first is to move the self assessment deadline. There is no point in delaying the inevitable and kicking the deadline into February. As it is, taxpayers have 10 months to sort all this out. They’d probably prefer this option (more time is, of course, more time), but it’s not likely to make them any more organised. 

Move the date?

Alternatively, HMRC could bring the deadline forward. Say the end of October? The thought of moving the deadline forward is not going to help that eye twitch. Plus having the deadline on Halloween may be a terrifying reminder for taxpayers, but for accountants working late into the witching hour, emerging from their office to see skulls and ghouls will only confuse them into thinking their working life really is a nightmare. 

And let’s not forget that there was already a failed attempt 15 years ago to move the deadline to November. Lord Carter of Coles recommended moving the filing date for electronic returns to 30 November and 30 September for paper returns in his 2006 review of HMRC’s online services. As you can imagine, there was uproar. 

Professional bodies lobbied against the idea while Mike Truman at Taxation launched the No to November campaign. The tax profession argued that there had been “insufficient consultation on this change” and it would involve substantial costs for taxpayers and accountants. Aside from those concerns, what on earth would you do with your tax staff between October and April?

Lord Carter changed his mind by the time of the Tax Faculty’s Wyman Symposium in July 2006 and switched to the 31 January for electronic returns. Paul Aplin, the past president of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) and instrumental in seeing off the plans, remembered there being an “audible gasp” in the room when Carter backtracked and revised his November deadline recommendation. 

Seeing how other HMRC projects have created similar controversy, a move of the deadline doesn’t seem like such a great idea, and the mild irritation of seeing everyone else have a good time during Christmas is just about bearable if your family and friends afford you the occasional “Bah humbug!”

Embrace the date

So the only option is to embrace the positives of the looming deadline. I’m sorry to break the news, but you’re not likely to get a visit from Clarence the Angel on Christmas Eve to show you the disaster that would befall your clients if you didn’t file their tax returns. You’re going to have to find the positives yourself. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to take advantage of the festive season without becoming a Christmas-carol-hating Grinch. 

Before the end of the year, your accounting muggle friends and family will no doubt start sharing their New Year’s resolutions. You can smile knowing that the New Year really starts on 1 February. So while everyone has already given up on the gym come February, you can start your New Year’s resolutions on the first of the month without a 31 December hangover and an empty gym. 

You can also eat as much chocolate as you like during January guilt free, without worrying that you have to gorge your all your selection boxes, Matchmakers and Chocolate Oranges before the end of the month. 

And if you’re someone that gets overwhelmed by the festive period, self assessment season is your ace card to get out of any situation or responsibility. You forgot to buy Auntie Margaret a Christmas present? No need to worry! Just explain that you’ve been really busy with tax returns but you’ll get something in February. Not fancying the post-Christmas-dinner washing-up? Well, I am sure you have important tax returns that need to be taken care of in the office. 

And if that doesn’t work, the only option is to eat as many mince pies as you can and start planning that skiing trip for February. Now where did I put the Baileys…

Replies (10)

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By SteveHa
14th Dec 2023 14:07

So while the rest of the UK sing merrily to Last Christmas...

No-one does that ever since the advent of Whamageddon. Instead, when someone hears it now, they hunt out whoever is responsible and punches them for putting them out of the game.

Or maybe that's just me.

Thanks (3)
David Ross
By davidross
15th Dec 2023 11:58

I have never understood the mindset of clients who think that delivering their records to me in April is somehow 'early', or the mindset of Accountants who think that this time of year is "Self Assessment season". As far as I have always been concerned, the season runs for 10 months from 1 April to 31 January.

Recently, I have found a constructive and empathetic way to view the issue - when April comes, my clients (who love me and know the importance of taxes) realise with horror that they have 'homework' to do. It sets a barrier between us.

But now we have an answer - the client hands the data over to me via a bank feed and there is no homework! Self Assessment season starts a year earlier and is essentially OVER by 31 March. Queries are dealt with as they arise.

Now that we are spared quarterly reporting, this is a golden opportunity for a large proportion of clients. Those who do not want to join in will get the most wonderful reference and the friendliest handover to our successors that has ever been seen.

Changing the date would just move the problem. Changing the process removes it.

Thanks (1)
16th Dec 2023 12:00

My solution has been to train my clients - my deadline for tax-return submission is the last working day before Christmas! I started this 3 years ago, with limited but noticeable success, and the last 2 years have been perfect. So much so, in January 2023 my wife and I spent a glorious month in Egypt, and this time round we're off to the Canaries. As I write, I have only one outstanding return to complete this week - mine! Merry Christmas one and all, and as Happy a New Year as you can make it!

Thanks (1)
By lionofludesch
16th Dec 2023 15:39

Does anyone still have a heavy workload in December and January?

We've had 25 years to train our clients. Sure, there'll always be the odd half dozen stragglers but that doesn't constitute a heavy workload.

Thanks (0)
Replying to lionofludesch:
By mkowl
19th Dec 2023 10:20

The answer is yes - because about 50% of my limited company year ends are 31st March so end of December is full on.

Thanks (1)
Replying to mkowl:
By lionofludesch
19th Dec 2023 11:02

mkowl wrote:

The answer is yes - because about 50% of my limited company year ends are 31st March so end of December is full on.


There are obvious solutions. Change year ends, do the work earlier, train your clients.

I never understood the fascination with March year ends anyway.

Thanks (0)
Replying to lionofludesch:
By birdman
20th Dec 2023 09:58

The fascination with 31 March year-ends matches the frustration with clients not grasping why the accounts and tax return figures for wages and dividends don't match, and/or the rental info to 31 December isn't what I need for their personal tax, and so on....

Thanks (1)
Della Hudson FCA
By Della Hudson
19th Dec 2023 11:13

I'm experiencing tax return season horror for the first time!

Yes, in spite of having built two accountancy businesses from scratch I never had this nightmare as we trained the clients as we onboarded them. With 4 reminders between April and October anybody submitting information in December/January was automatically a D client, and two years in a row was a gentle farewell.

In the Summer I purchased a fee bank from a more traditional accountant who bowed to what his clients wanted. And so we're over halfway through December with nowhere near enough tax returns done but the reassurance(?) that so-and-so "always brings their [paper] records in in the last few days of January but they're always in good order".

Needless to say that, having done this before, I know what to do to ensure that next year really will be better. I'ming look forward to skiiing in January 2025.

That's assuming that I survive the next 43 days!!

Thanks (0)
By JoannaU
19th Dec 2023 11:55

I would hate the deadline to be moved earlier. Not because I can't manage my workload (the returns get done when they come in and I only have 33 returns left to do) but because I prefer to work longer hours when the weather is cold, dark & miserable. In February & March I do a good hit on my limited companies as well.
I take it a little easier over the summer months and would hate to be working / feeling more stressful in order to get the returns completed in a shorter time when I would rather be out in the garden!

Thanks (1)
By Tom+Cross
19th Dec 2023 13:15

I realy don't mind working quite long hours in January.

What really does make my skin itch is the lack of "support" which we receive from HMRC, as an organisation. I've just spent over 40 minutes correcting a situation whereby I'd left box 2 on page 6 of a clients tax return unticked. In other words, carry the underpayment, through to the following years code. Apparently, HMRC's systems are not correctly dealing with these requests for 2022/23, 2023/24.
The volume of time wasted on this type of contact is inefficent and wholly avoidable. And no, you can't solve the problem online.

Thanks (0)