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Clients from hell terrorise accountants

As the shadow of self assessment season creeps around the corner, will accountants be getting a trick or treat from their clients this year?

30th Oct 2020
Community Assistant AccountingWEB
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The terrors of tax, the horrors of HMRC, the spine-chilling self assessment season - it’s enough to make any accountant be afraid (be very afraid). 

The AccountingWEB community has spoken up about their struggle to support increasing client demands, with never-ending scheme announcements and confusing government guidelines creating pressure on the profession.

The dynamic seems increasingly unsustainable. “Clients don’t understand that we’re not instant experts,” said AccountingWEB reader lionofludesch in light of Rishi Sunak’s latest JSS announcement.

When clients turn uncooperative, those late-nights at the office can become numerical nightmares; with so many reports of accountants feeling “paralysed by fear” and "already dreading January", the AccountingWEB community came together to share the client horror stories that still haunt them to this day.

Grab your marshmallows and gather round the campfire to hear the most alarming anecdotes in accounting.

The Grudge

“I had a builder client who came straight from his investigation meeting at the local tax office and bashed in my office door,” said AccountingWEB regular I’msorryIhaven’taclue.

The reader wasn’t in at the time, having been telephoned by the tax inspector who informed them of their enraged client who had marched from his office just moments ago, wanting blood and not caring who knew it: “[He was] threatening to rip my head off”. 

They took sanctuary in the confines of a pub just across the street from the spectacle, watching with a friend while the building’s owner - “a restauranter below with the temperament of Gordon Ramsey” - collared their client and had him arrested.

“What had made this client quite so cross?” they asked. Unbeknownst to anyone else, the client had borrowed a van (even going to the trouble of parking it on his drive during their visits), and had subsequently handed them a list of mileage claims. 

“The Revenue soon rumbled that the van didn’t belong to him, courtesy of another subbie who’d tried to pull the same trick using the same van,” I’msorryIhaven’taclue explained. 

After discussing the matter with the tax inspector, “he’d let on that my client was blaming yours truly for enticing him to make the CA claim,” they said.

They gave the inspector the client’s handwritten list of expenses, which included the van CA claim, after which the client was called to an interview: “Cue temper tantrum.”

Clothes encounter of the client kind

AccountingWEB reader Piltdown Man once worked with a Customs special compliance officer in a private practice. 

“One of his clients had a VAT inspection of some seriousness,” they said. In an interview under caution, Customs were alleging that the trader had been buying ‘childrens’ clothes from a wholesaler that was zero-rating them.

But upon inspection, these were quite clearly adult clothes: “In the first interview, when the client was asked if his business had ever acquired clothing from said wholesaler, he answered ‘no, never heard of them’.”

When presented with photographic evidence of the client’s van entering and leaving the wholesaler’s premises, the client suddenly remembered that he had collected a few samples  of clothing from them, but had decided against entering any supply agreement.

The Customs officer proceeded to present a further set of photographs that showed the client’s van in the same warehouse again, seven days later.

“It was probably to return the faulty clothes!” said the client, panicking under the pressure.

After another two sets of photographs were proffered onto the table, showing a further two weeks worth of evidence, the Customs officer asked the client for a final time: “Has your company ever bought ‘childrens’ clothes from the said wholesaler?”

To which the client replied: “How many photos have you got?”

The missing client

“One Friday afternoon I received a call from the VAT office to tip me off that one of our clients was in a very angry mood,” said Tosie.

The client had been escorted from the premises, but was apparently on his way to give Tosie a piece of his mind. He never showed up, and they didn’t question it further.

But the following Monday, the local CID arrived at their offices to ask if they knew anything about the client. “His partner had reported him missing and she knew that he had been heading our way,” they said.

Three days later, the client’s body was found. He had reportedly been shot: “Rather than the nice little business we thought we had, he was part of a major drugs ring,” said Tosie.

The phantom debt

On a dark November night, AccountingWEB contributor Jennifer Adams received a call from a distressed client after a debt collector turned up on his doorstep on behalf of HMRC.

“Only his wife was in and she was waiting for her kids to return from school so she opened the door thinking it was them,” Adams said.

The collector insisted on coming in - when she tried to close the door, he blocked the way with his boot. Knowing nothing of the company’s finances, she tried to explain him away: “She was understandably frightened”.

When Monday rolled around, Adams made a formal complaint to everyone they could think of, only to be met with the usual ‘sorry, we’ll look into it’ responses; she never heard anything more from it.

How much was the debt? “There wasn’t any - the payment had been made two weeks before,” said Adams.

Bookkeeping behind bars

“One client failed to keep a date to deliver his documents,” said AccountingWEB member Truthsayer. They thought nothing of it, until the local paper dropped through their letterbox a week later.

“He had been arrested for bashing his mistress to death in a fit of jealousy, then trying to go on the run,” they said. After being convicted, he was sentenced to life. Truthsayer was shaken - there was nothing about him that suggested he was dangerous.

“I sorted out his final tax return partly over the phone in prison, during which he tried to haggle down the fee!”

Dial A for accountant

AWEB72 had a interesting experience with one client over the phone: “She rang me, I answered ‘hello’ without anything else such as my name, and she said she couldn’t wait to see me.”

They thought that was slightly odd, but before they could say anything back “she started to tell [them] what she was wearing (it wasn’t much)”, and what she was going to do to them once they got home - “suffice to say it wasn’t watch TV together”.

At that point they managed to interrupt, after which the client explained that their name was below her husband’s on her phone.

Luckily, they don’t have to see each other face to face - the advantages of remote working!

A style sin

In perhaps the spookiest tale of all, Red Leader shared their short but chilling client experience: “I can remember the incident as if it was yesterday. A client came to my office for a meeting wearing brown brogues. Brown! Naturally, I refused to meet him.”

If you want help with tricky clients and some extra horror story treats, tune in to Monday’s Any Answers Live Q&A where our panel will discuss the upcoming SA season.

Replies (11)

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Glenn Martin
By Glenn Martin
30th Oct 2020 09:45

I only own brown shoes what is wrong with them Red Leader

Thanks (2)
Replying to Glennzy:
7om
By Tom 7000
30th Oct 2020 09:51

have you not watched Kingsman

Thanks (2)
Replying to Glennzy:
Woolpit Gus
By nutwood
30th Oct 2020 13:10
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By geoffmw1
30th Oct 2020 09:52

Many years ago I lost tough with a client who had apparently gone abroad. On looking back I worked out that it all coincided with the Brinksmat robbery.

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By memyself-eye
30th Oct 2020 11:02

Have you met my boys?
One is six feet two tall and the other six feet seven
I find this works on 'troublesome' clients

Mind, I'm six feet tall and have a black belt in Origami.

Thanks (3)
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By lh3f9764bg1g
30th Oct 2020 11:28

I had to do a double take . . . . .
I thought “Cue temper tantrum” was a Latin quotation and I started to try to work it out!
There must have been two or three marbles lost at some stage of this morning!

Thanks (6)
Replying to lh3f9764bg1g:
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By SKCOX
30th Oct 2020 13:22

I bet Boris Johnson could pass that off as a Latin tag.

Thanks (1)
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By KH
30th Oct 2020 13:57

I once (long time ago, late Seventies) had a client in Brummy, where I then lived, who decided he didn't want to pay my fees. Now I didn't just have a fledgling accountancy business, but a couple of other fledgling businesses, too. One was a partnership. My partner, although solidly middle class, was a Hell's Angel (forgotten the name of the local Hell's Angels) and he just got two of his bigger bros to go round, knock politely on the client'd door, let themselves in, and then sit on the sofa until my client got the cash and paid up ... while his wife plied the two very large Hells Angels with tea and cakes !!!!

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By Mr J Andrews
31st Oct 2020 11:23

I find the sequence of events from { abbreviated }''Clueless' '' comments under 'GRUDGE' rather odd.
A LOCAL tax office..... I haven't seen one of those this century. Attending an investigation meeting with the Revenue UNREPRESENTED........a recipe for disaster.

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Replying to Mr J Andrews:
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By Paul Crowley
31st Oct 2020 18:34

Unrepresented is for crooks to blame accountant
Not for the honest, who are falsely accused

Had a couple myself in the past
got what they deserved, I know because still getting the agent copies

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RLI
By lionofludesch
02nd Nov 2020 18:37

“Clients don’t understand that we’re not instant experts,” said AccountingWEB reader lionofludesch in light of Rishi Sunak’s latest JSS announcement.

I think somebody else said that. Doesn't sound like me at all.

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