The time is nigh – the dreaded self-assessment busy season is nearly upon accountants working in practice across the country.
While many practices hope to submit clients’ tax returns in advance of the 31 January filing deadline, the unfortunate reality for many firms is that late responses to information requests by clients and communication blackholes from others often lead to a stressful rush to file returns in the final few weeks of January.
So, with busy season about to rear its ugly head, what can practices do to try and ensure a smoother self-assessment filing season this year?
Send reminders ahead of time
If you haven’t already, it’s a good idea to send reminders out to your clients now to encourage them to submit their tax return information as soon as possible, and to keep sending reminders every couple of weeks where you haven’t received a response.
Although it’s almost inevitable that a few clients won’t send through their information until the eleventh hour, at least you can start clearing the tax returns of clients that do respond promptly, which should give you a bit more breathing space come December and January.
There’s a lot to be said for planning how you’d like your practice’s busy season to run.
Having targets, even loose ones, in place for when you would like to have clients’ returns filed can help you keep track of how well your staff is coping with the busy season workload, and also lets you keep an eye on how many clients are responding to requests for information.
If you think your practice could use some extra help to get all self-assessment returns filed by 31 January, consider whether it’s worth hiring qualified temporary staff to help pick up some of the slack, or look into whether more efficient processes could be implemented to save you time.
Taxfiler, for example, offers an easy to use cloud-based platform that allows you to prepare a client’s accounts as well as prepare and file their self-assessment tax return.
Although it’s a cliché, it’s fair to say that busy season is a marathon, not a sprint. Although busy season typically brings longer working hours and higher workloads, it’s very important that all staff members take small steps to improve their wellbeing during these few months. Simple things such as eating right, exercising, and getting some sleep can really help avoid burnout.
Get tough with problem clients
Almost every practice has a few clients that, year after year, hold off sending any information until January, seemingly in the belief that they are the only client that your practice has to deal with at the end of busy season.
Not every client that provides their information late is difficult to deal with (sometimes there are genuine reasons why documentation can’t be provided earlier in the year) but if you have any clients on your books that are genuinely causing problems, argue over every fee, and consistently cause you and your staff unnecessary stress, then try to make it clear that this tax time, things need to change.
For example, try telling such clients that they risk having their return filed late if they don’t submit their information by a given deadline, or that they may incur additional fees if they do send their documentation late in the day.
If the client fails to listen and continues to cause problems, consider whether it’s worth removing them from your client list next year.
Set aside time for reflection
Once 31 January has passed, it can be very tempting to immediately forget the long hours and stress of busy season, and start focusing on much more appealing ventures, whether that’s a well-deserved holiday or just coming home at a reasonable hour in the evenings to unwind.
However, it’s worthwhile scheduling time in the diary for February or early March, so that all staff members can come together post-January and discuss the highs and lows of the past few months, and reflect on what processes can be implemented to make next year even better.
To find out more about how Taxfiler can help your practice through busy season, email [email protected] or speak to a member of the team on 0330 2233 406.