2018: Accounting success in the face of adversity

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AccountingWEB runs down the stories that have hit the headlines over the past 12 months in another turbulent, but ultimately successful, year for the accounting profession.

Almost every day the mainstream media reports on the dire economic times in which we now live. Whether the cause is Brexit, the inexorable march of technology or another spectre of economic doom, the message is the same: jobs cut, profit warnings issued and companies closing down.

Against this backdrop, it seems all the more remarkable to report on a profession in robust health. Whether at events or recording podcasts or videos, I’ve chatted with hundreds of accountants, bookkeepers and finance professionals over the past year. Everyone seems busy and remarkably few are losing clients, with the main challenges seemingly how to recruit staff and choose technology to cope with this excess demand.

All this alongside has been a tidal wave of compliance. Putting this round-up together was an excellent reminder of just how varied this challenge has been for accountants – IR35, GDPR, self assessment tweaks and exclusions and, who could forget, Making Tax Digital.

Here’s a rundown of some of the year’s biggest stories. We hope you enjoy it and thanks again for being with us this year. See you in 2019!

January

It should perhaps come as no surprise to those in the profession that tax returns dominated AccountingWEB’s airwaves during the first month of the year. Most read in January was Rebecca Cave’s piece on how HMRC changed the way it calculates penalties charged to taxpayers.

Also popular was a schadenfreude-filled piece on a small firm of accountants that relied on its tax software to perform correct tax calculation and didn’t do the necessary checks. Needless to say, bad things followed.

The final tax tidbit from January was a warning from BTCSoftware to its customers about new and unanticipated HMRC exclusions that showed up on online 2016-17 self assessment returns. Further issues emerged before the 31 January deadline was reached, leaving accountants across the UK to vent their frustrations with the tax authority.

February

February may be the month of love for some but for one particular accountant, it was anything but. The month’s most-read story concerned an accountant who blasted his former clients with an expletive-heavy tirade after meeting them outside a pub in Sheffield and was subsequently fined for breaching the ICAEW code of ethics.

It was also a ‘you win some, you lose some’ type of month for HMRC. They bagged themselves an early victory in one of several IR35 cases to make the headlines this year – this one over BBC presenter Christa Ackroyd. But what the tax gods giveth they also take away, and the Revenue found itself slammed by a tax tribunal for insisting that there is a statutory requirement for a director to submit a self assessment tax return (guidance that has since been mysteriously changed – watch this space!).

March

March saw the passing of comic legend and friend of the Revenue Ken Dodd. Not an accountant per se, Dodd nonetheless displaying admirable fiscal acumen by marrying his partner of 40 years on his deathbed to avoid a potential inheritance tax bill of up to £2.6m.

HMRC opened up its Making Tax Digital income tax pilot to allow all self-employed to register – news which AccountingWEB member Tom 7000 greeted with the immortal words: “I am going back outside now to make a snowman.”

And finally, March saw the first move of the needle on GDPR, with the third most popular piece being Jennifer Adam’s step-by-step guide on what small accounting firms should do to comply.

April

If HMRC thought February’s IR35 victory marked the beginning of the end for resistant to the measure, April proved otherwise. An independent construction contractor won his tax tribunal appeal, adding further complexity to IR35 determinations and paving the way for further taxpayer wins later in the year.

The ICAEW also took the time to wag a finger in the general direction of the Revenue for several key failures in the rollout of the off-payroll reforms for the public sector.

April also saw the release of the first gender pay reporting figures. While they made embarrassing reading for the UK’s top six accounting firms, they also sparked a furious debate below the line on AccountingWEB as to whether they were the right measures in the first place.

May

After taking a month away from the headlines, Jennifer Adams’ GDPR guide for small accounting firms came roaring back into fashion. The May 25 deadline may have played some small part in this.

Steve Collings pulled in the punters by clarifying an issue that has caused confusion for practitioners: the disclosure of related party transactions for a small company under FRS 102.

Accountex also opened with the blockbuster news that software giant IRIS had acquired cloud tax developer (and AccountingWEB member favourite) Taxfiler. And a fair number of people enjoyed our summary of the free 'swag' available at the conference.

June

The news that rules due to come in on 1 October 2019 mean traders associated with the building industry will have to get to grips with a new way of accounting for VAT was widely read on AccountingWEB, although not universally welcomed.

The CIPP’s Diana Bruce provided a popular breakdown of the ins and outs of the new enforceable GDPR rules.

And practice owner Mark Telford made waves on the site with his piece explaining why he does not buy into the niche hype taking hold of the profession.

July

HMRC blew the lid off a traditionally sleepy month the accountancy calendar by issuing the Making Tax Digital for VAT notice alongside a communications plan for advisers to use to educate their clients about the move. An explanation of the accompanying list of software providers also proved popular on AccountingWEB.

One of the world’s hottest startups kicked off a lively debate in the comments section by refusing to pay expenses for meals containing meat for all 6,000 of its staff.

And it was sweet success for HMRC in a tax tribunal concerning the erroneous VAT coding of a type of chocolate bar.

August

The schadenfreude fans were out in force in August, with the most-read piece on site being Andy Keates’ examination of the first disputed case of HMRC using its powers to apply civil sanctions against a tax agent for his dishonest conduct when acting for a client.

The dreaded Brexit made its first appearance on the 2018 hit parade, with Jeremy Cape’s fine piece on VAT rules if there is no Brexit deal proving popular.

And here’s something popular clairvoyant Sally Morgan (aka Psychic Sally) didn’t see coming: a £2.9m tax bill and an Accelerated Payment Notice (APN).

September

It’s not often an article about a social media post gets top billing on AccountingWEB, but in the case of September’s most popular article, the tweet in question marked the beginning of HMRC’s communications campaign to try and build awareness amongst small businesses affected by Making Tax Digital.

If HMRC’s tweeting got accountants hot under the collar, another popular story from the accountancy profession saw an accountant in hot water – literally – in the bath with the wife of a client. The soapy tale emerged as part of Companies House's annual list of bizarre excuses for the late filing of accounts.

And staying with the risqué, the analysis of why exotic dancer Emma Daniels was allowed to claim the cost of certain clothes, hairdressing and make-up against her profits at tax tribunal was also well read – no doubt helped by additional comments below the line from the accountant acting at the tribunal.

October

As one might expect, the Budget dominated traffic figures in October, with popular articles including the tweaks to National Insurance, the IR35 announcement and the Capital Gains Tax news.

Away from Philip Hammond’s fiscal fiddlings, news of bridging software for Making Tax Digital cheered AccountingWEB members, although the Lords weren’t impressed with HMRC’s preparations for the rollout of its digital taxation programme.

There was also plenty of interest in a High Court challenge to the UK’s first ever unexplained wealth order. The wife of a wealthy banker must now provide evidence to the National Crime Agency that she was able to afford £22m worth of UK property.

November

After years of speculation things finally got real for many VAT-registered businesses, as HMRC letters explaining Making Tax Digital began landing on doormats.

At its flagship UK conference cloud developer Xero made a huge splash on the site by announcing a shift into income tax, corporation tax and accounts production through the acquisition of add-on partner Instafile. This sparked a new round of analysis with a peculiar sounding soundbite: ‘is advisory dead?’

December

The final month of the year finished on a high with Andy Keates’ excellent coverage of taxi driver Scott Jagger’s late tax return appeal at tribunal (warning, may contain Rolling Stones puns).

Another well-read piece was a report on an accountant disciplined by the ACCA for using his Facebook account to post homophobic, racist and sexist comments.

And to round off the year in festive fashion, AccountingWEB’s guide on what to buy an accountant for Christmas proved extremely popular (although whether it was members themselves or friends and family reading the piece, we can’t tell at this point!).

About Tom Herbert

Tom is editor at AccountingWEB, responsible for all editorial content on the site. If you have a story that might interest us or wish to comment on the site's coverage get in touch via the site's private message function or Twitter DM (@AWebTom)

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