More carrot required, less stick

The Practitioner
Share this content

My January has got off to a rather slow start following a delayed bout of the Christmas stomach virus, which is rather unfortunate in view of the mountain of tax returns yet to be filed.

In fact, filing them would be a doddle - it's getting the information and/or the clients in that is holding us up. We started the month with a staggering 30 per cent of 2012 returns not yet started, and after a week I can't say that we've made huge inroads into them yet. A couple of small accounts jobs have appeared at last, but they won't take the currently under-employed corporate team long to polish off.

That still leaves each of the tax team at least 60 returns to start, finish and file by the end of the month - plus chasing down the returns still out with clients for approval (I would say "out for signature", but at this stage we're just happy to get verbal or email approval so we can file them online and receive the signed paper copy in due course!).

One of the lessons we have learned this year is that carrot beats stick every time. Last year we offered clients a discount for tax return information submitted (complete, that is) by 31 July, with the threat of a surcharge for info supplied after, I think, 30 November. We were inundated over the summer and managed to get many more returns filed before Christmas.

This year we rather unwisely assumed that those clients would work to the same deadline without the added financial incentive, although we have continued with the surcharge for late returns. Result: most of those early returns failed to appear. So financially we should be better off (if we can actually get the higher fees out of the laggards), but as far as workload and team morale are concerned I'd have opted for lower fees and a better spread of the workload over the year. Clients are clearly motivated far more by the prospect of saving money than by the threat of having to spend more. 

Next year will be different (I say that every year)!

About The Practitioner


Please login or register to join the discussion.

15th Jan 2013 11:36

Dreaded January!

I feel for you. Although I work on my own and only have the support of my husband bringing me numerous cups of tea to keep me going on the very long days!

I can't believe the amount of clients that leave their paperwork till January to pass it to me then have the cheek to chase me up a week later!

I too have said January can no longer be like this for me. I wondered if it is possible to charge clients for late submission of paperwork. I would love to receive some of them as early as July but never do. 

I always end up with new clients in January which I will always fit in as I don't want to turn work down but it would be lovely to not have to do months worth of work all in 31 days.

Roll on February.

Thanks (0)
15th Jan 2013 12:03

This is absolute madness! You need to take control as what you are doing now is to let the clients dictate how you work.

It is also not in the clients' interests for them to find out just days before the payment/filing deadline what their liability is, and there may be many who are due repayments that have been unecessarily delayed.

2.5% of our clients have yet to deliver their records, and many of those will be dumped this year or next for that very reason. For a further 4%, we have the records and are working through them, but any that delivered post-Xmas (our standard turn-round time is six weeks), and those with current outstanding queries, have been told that we will not guarantee to get them done in time.

I also ask for fees up front (or at worst, before anything is filed) where records arrive last minute, as experience shows that these clients will adopt the same approach to payment as they do to delivery.

The clients have no excuse. As an example, I wrote to one recalcitrant client on Friday, hand delivering the letter on my way home, to say that unless I had his records and fees by today, we would not act. That was after four earlier letters (all unanswered) and five answerphone messages or phone calls, so I don't think I was being unreasonable. Everything arrived this morning!

You need to chase every month - I start in May. Unless of course, you and your staff actually enjoy this farce.




Thanks (0)
15th Jan 2013 12:13

I have been chasing my clients since July last year.  It's always the same "yes I will get that to you asap".  2013 is a New Year and will be a new me come February.  No more rubbish to be dealt with in January!



Thanks (0)
16th Jan 2013 23:33

in a funny sort of way we seems to enjoy the deadline

gives us an annual kick up the proverbial, this year i worked over xmas no interuptions lots done so i went sking last week , whether i live to regret that we shall see

Thanks (0)
17th Jan 2013 09:34

Staff may disagree

I seriously doubt that your staff agree with you, and they are probably too afraid to speak out, or perhaps they don't realise that there is an alternative?

Are you paying overtime rates, and are the extra hours voluntary?

My office manager used to work in a similar environment and said (unprompted by me) that everyone hated it, and would have much prefered to get the returns sorted earlier, in normal office hours, rather than try to rush things and increase the risk of error.

I would repeat that you are doing your clients no favours by allowing them to find out their tax liabilities at such a late stage. Regardless of what you think of the concerns of your staff, surely you should be acting in the best interests of the clients?


Thanks (0)