An accountant’s ode to a Brexit-Covid nightmareby
Sue Penney rages against the tribulations of the past 18 months, as an accountant in practice working tirelessly to support clients through Brexit and Covid.
Accounts were on the front line from the very start of the pandemic, grappling with furlough, Bounce Back Loans, VAT deferment etc brought in overnight – and clients often expected us to be instant experts.
Then there was Brexit. My practice alone spent over two days trying to obtain information for clients affected by Brexit. HMRC was absolutely no help, and they were telling business owners to contact their accountants.
Information was scarce or non-existent and, at one point, the only option for clients to follow legislation seemed nonsensical. They had to register for VAT in different countries and pay extortionate fees to have fiscal representation. Or change the customer experience of purchasing from them from seamlessly inclusive to haphazardly gambling with high customs fees.
Clients turn grizzly
Certain clients have gone from valuing their accountant’s help and support to being over-demanding and, in some cases, even abusive as they strive to cope with their own problems. It can often feel that some don’t perceive their accountants as human but inhumane androids sat behind their desks waiting to serve at a moment’s notice.
For the first 12 months of the pandemic, accounting professionals worked tirelessly without a break to deliver for their clients. They spent time learning new procedures, supporting their often worried and stressed clients as much as they could. The majority of accounting firms did charge for these additional services, opting to swallow them themselves in order to support their clients, but at what cost?
Many accounting firms barely broke even in the last 12 months. The extra workload has created tired and stressed staff, amongst whom mental health issues became more frequent. With limited recovery time from the constant stress of delivering the same high standard of work, coupled with additional headaches dreamt up by the government, many accounting professionals are at their wit’s end.
Thank you, HMRC
HMRC has contributed to the pressure imposed upon us massively. From taking, on average, 1hr45 to answer the phone, then not being able to speak to anyone who can actually help and having to arrange a technical call back that never seems to happen.
VAT registration is now taking on average 101 days to be completed. CIS reclaims submitted in September 2020 have still not been dealt with and Corporation tax refunds are taking an average of six months to be processed.
When we manage to speak to HMRC we are being given conflicting information, depending on who answers the phone. We are given deadline dates, which we give to our clients, which then pass and, on calling HMRC again, are given new deadline dates which again pass without result.
The time we waste dealing with HMRC is not chargeable to our clients but eats into the time that we have available to do fee-paying work thus lowers the profitability of the firm.
Legislation, regulation, equivocation
Not being permitted to help our clients complete their SEISS grants has also led to a multitude of problems that we are then expected to sort out for them.
The very way that the Anti Money Laundering legislation is worded leaves many accounting professionals unable to sleep for fear of accidentally transgressing a rule unwittingly and then being carted off to prison. The thinly veiled threats in the way that the legislation is worded cause anxiety and stress for already mentally vulnerable individuals.
This on top of being overworked, underappreciated and stressed out due to deadlines, work pressures and unhelpful clients is taking its toll on everyone in the accounting industry and leading to a huge increase in mental health issues.
Where do we go from here?
In my team of seven, five of us have experienced mental health issues within the past 18 months, from anxiety to OCD. Trying to recruit new staff to spread the load of work is proving difficult. Where have all the candidates gone?
So, where do we go from here? We need to be alert to the state of our team’s mental health. We need to be supportive and ensure that we deal swiftly with clients who try to bully our staff or are just plain rude.
We need to educate our clients to honour our deadlines for providing paperwork and help them to understand that we are always only doing our best to help and support them and that we do have more than one client.
If we ask for a piece of information, we need it then. If it is received two weeks later, we may very well have other deadlines that need to be adhered to for other clients and will not always be able to jump onto their piece of work the minute they send us the information we have requested.
Above all, we just want to be treated with respect and understanding and be valued for what we do and the high level of service that we are giving.