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Are you a checklist sceptic?

8th Jul 2013
Practioner Unknown
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Checklists, don't you just love them? There's something sadly satisfying for an auditor to tick his or her way through some sort of checklist, or at least there was during my big firm audit training days.

These days we have largely forgotten them in smaller, general practices. For one thing, they take chargeable time to fill in and usually add nothing of value as far as the client is concerned. Secondly, 'checklist fatigue' invariably sets in after a few minutes and the user simply ticks the yes boxes mechanically with little or no reference to the actual questions. And, of course, a lot of the old checklist functions have been replaced by clever computer software which can check for a lot of basic company accounts disclosures, and can highlight issues in tax returns.

So we've been pretty sceptical of HMRC's tax toolkits. They may be useful as a training tool, but should we be using them on every job? Well apparently the advice from a number of tax experts is "yes".

I can see the logic: the checklists enable us to demonstrate that we are working to the required standard. Perhaps not the only way to do that, but an easy solution - if you or your staff have the time and patience to complete them conscientiously.

The only way to find out is to give them a try, so we have combined the main HMRC toolkits into a series of checklists that the personal and corporate tax teams can use on every job initially. What we don't know is how long they are going to take, or the impact on chargeable time and workflow. They will initially create quite a bit of non-chargeable time, so we'll have to monitor that and make sure they are not significantly reducing the speed of throughput of jobs. Managers have also been tasked to monitor the "no" answers - are there areas where we are consistently omitting something or getting things wrong? If so, we can spend some time on training to prevent this recurring.

But if it degenerates into mindless box ticking we'll have to think again.

Has anyone else had a go at the HMRC Toolkits, or the SWAT tax compliance checklists which are based on but expand their scope? And, if so, are you still using them? It would be interesting to know.


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Replies (6)

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By petersaxton
08th Jul 2013 21:41

Difficult one

I've tried working without checklists and I've tried working with checklists. Both can cause problems and I'm sure everybody understands what they are.

Maybe the solution is to have a very specific checklist which has to be done for, all small companies, say and then another checklist for the particular company. There is yet a third checklist that should be considered. I have suggested the first for inexperienced users but more experienced users may not need to read the detail. The second checklist is what would be relevant for this particular company or what could have a good chance to be relevant. The third checklist would be for situations that would most likely happen but couldn't be missed. The three checklists can be filled in at different times when the accountant(s) are in the right frame of mind to use them properly.

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By ShirleyM
09th Jul 2013 11:38

I'm a checklist fan

They often stop me from missing things.

Yes, it is easy to just tick an item as completed, but how is that worse than not having a checklist at all? If you get interrupted on a job, it is easy to see what stage you got to, and depending on the design it should cause only a tiny overhead which will be compensated by needing less time checking back to make sure nothing has been missed.

If employees tick something as done that hasn't been done ... they obviously don't want or need a pay rise or promotion, do they ;)

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By Jimess
10th Jul 2013 13:47

Some good/some bad

The problem with checklists is that they need to be relevant to the work you are carrying out.  I use the work programmes suggested by SWAT in their Practice Assurance manual and find them really useful in that you can see what has been considered and done and what is still outstanding.  Also they act as an "aide memoir" of things you may need to consider about the client and help you to work through the file in a logical manner. What I am not a fan of however are checklists that check the checklists - some of the review checklists are really cumbersome unless you deal with fairly large jobs where you have two or three people involved.  I do however quite like some of the HMRC toolkit checklists and use them on more complex matters more as a reference and review tool than a checklist I have to say, but they have proved useful in one or two areas.  Good tax software should help with the basic computational matters and a quick sense check style review on the very small returns will usually iron out most issues. I try not to get bogged down in checklists, but I do use them and like them.  

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By The 5-50 Coach
11th Jul 2013 09:40

Check-lists can be great as a tool to ensure process is completed. As has been mentioned there can be a tendency (I've done it myself sometimes) to go into ticking overdrive mode; but that can be managed.

So the interesting question is why don't we have better check-lists that take advantage of the computational improvements mentioned and use them more widely?

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By petersaxton
11th Jul 2013 10:12

Like this?
CCH Interactive Company Accounts Disclosure Checklist

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Jennifer Adams
By Jennifer Adams
15th Jul 2013 12:24

Depends on what the checklist is being used for...

I try to write my articles in the format of checklists. Visitors to the site invariably dont have time to read articles but checklists can help to give pointers as to what needs to be done in a particular situation.

Take this as an example...

Directors’ duties for companies in difficulty 

I write by bringing together points that other practitioners might have come across in their work.

I start by looking at the posts on 'Any Answers' and check the legalities in the relevant Acts etc and hopefully the article/checklist will save the practitioner time in searching the web looking for answers.

Another example..I wrote this checklist to save time for both myself and my clients. I found I needed a checklist for those clients who became incorporated and I could not find one that clearly listed what needed to be done. It makes sure that they do what is necessary and I have checked that what they do is correct. Directors invariably do not get the correct advice from Company Formation companies.

Post incorporation: Get the details right 

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