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Covid workload prompts calls for SA deadline extension

The pressures of the coronavirus workload has led accountants and now the ICAEW to consider whether HMRC should extend the self assessment deadline. 

10th Nov 2020
Editor AccountingWEB
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As the constant coronavirus workload drags on and accountants are rushing to the aid of their clients, concerns have grown about the 31 January self assessment deadline. 

The ICAEW’s tax faculty has raised concerns about the impact of the excessive coronavirus workload and the effect this has had on practitioners’ self assessment plans, and is seeking views on whether extending the deadline until 31 March 2021 or waiving late filing penalties would solve the problem. 

‘At least a month behind’

Some AccountingWEB readers have called for a delay since September. Stats696, for example, highlighted the “massive pinch” Covid has had on their firm’s workflow. 

AccountingWEB regular Michael Beaver backed the campaign in October when waiting for the latest tweak to Rishi Sunak’s Winter Economy Plan, asking on Any Answers whether anyone else has given up on meeting all their 31 January deadlines

“Short of killing myself and my staff between now and Jan 31, I can't see how we can get through our normal compliance work (which is already weeks behinds) and now while supporting yet another further amended updated undocumented scheme,” said Beaver. I am happy for our clients who [Sunak’s new support] will help, but I'm exhausted.”

An anonymous reader echoed Beaver’s concerns: “It seems like any time Rishi Sunak opens his mouth, we get put back two weeks in our schedule of work.  I estimate we're at least a month behind in our compliance work, and I'm already dreading January.”

Since then, the coronavirus support measures have changed several times over and the call to delay the deadline has gathered momentum. Speaking on AccountingWEB Live’s Any Answers Live webinar, Sharon Pocock from Kinder Pocock said she’s started her self assessment workload where they already had the information, but the January outlook doesn’t look good. 

“Before the [lockdown] news came out, I thought I am not sure I have the energy for this now. I don’t think we have got over the last [lockdown]. We’re usually on it with personal tax returns. But we’re only starting to request information,” said Pocock. 

Tax Faculty considers backing extension

ICAEW has received similar concerns from their members in practice about meeting the self assessment filing deadline while juggling the Covid-19 workload. The Tax Faculty committee is considering whether ICAEW should ask HMRC to extend the SA deadline.  

The feeling amongst ICAEW members is mixed with some ahead of schedule, while others are under pressure providing pandemic-related business advice. 

The Tax Faculty noted that the effect of the pandemic and meeting the SA deadline goes beyond the client work, with the upheaval of the virus, self-isolation and caring responsibilities has had an impact on firm’s staff. 

Added to the virus-related workload is the post-Brexit transition rules which the committee said may cause an influx of businesses seeking importing and exporting advice from practitioners.

Impact of delaying the deadline

An extension to the deadline would have several implications, admitted the Tax Faculty. These include the need to extend the finalisation date for tax credits and the 30-day date for late penalties also need to change. Other considerations include the effect on the enquiry window for SA returns and the collection of Class 2 national insurance contributions which require manual intervention. 

The Tax Faculty, instead, is leaning towards another option of waiving late filing penalties for 2019/20 SA returns filed by 31 March 2021. For this to work and remove added pressure on taxpayers, the faculty said the waiver needs to be automatic rather than having formal appeals. 

Waiving taxpayer late filing penalties would ease the load on agents who have the necessary information from the taxpayer but they’re overwhelmed by Covid workload. As the ICAEW said, a taxpayer cannot use reliance on an agent as a reasonable excuse for a later filing. 

Not a consensus 

Like the ICAEW, the AccountingWEB community isn't agreed on an SA deadline extension. Not every accountant has found the last few months detrimental to their self assessment plans. Bernard Michael has had a lot of clients send information earlier than usual. “I can see a gap come end December,” he said. 

Duggimon is also way ahead after being so far behind in June and approaching a meltdown. "Working from home has massively increased my productivity,” they noted. 

Adam.arca also foresaw a capacity crunch back in the summer so warned clients not to leave things too late. But even though he’s slightly ahead on tax returns completed and billings he’s still concerned about what’s coming round the corner. “I seem to have a whole raft of jobs which I would normally complete in the spring / early summer,” he said. 

Would an extension of the self assessment deadline help your workload? Do back another solution like waiving late penalties? Or should the 31 January deadline remain?

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Replies (60)

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By TC80
10th Nov 2020 10:03

No need for this at all. It will just encourage last-minute clients to be even more last minute.

A lot of businesses haven't been working, or working at a reduced capacity. I have therefore had records sent to me much sooner than usual and while it makes me busier now, especially with the constantly changing payroll rules, I am more ahead than ever for this time of year with SA Returns.

Better to get them out the way and look forward to a quieter January than usual, and an even more relaxed February and March.

On the legal side, I don't see how this can be done as the paper deadline would need extending too, and that ship has sailed.

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By meadowsaw227
10th Nov 2020 10:12

We are realistically at least 3 or 4 weeks ahead .
With no holidays and working from home we are literally twiddling our thumbs.
I've even put the few remaining clients who wouldn't become computerised onto accounts software without telling them just for something to do !
I never tell my clients about any extended deadlines such as vat, all have to be filed BEFORE the end of the following month.
If you extend the deadline people will work to it.

Works for us

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Replying to meadowsaw227:
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By david_dbu
10th Nov 2020 12:36

Completely agree.
I reviewed my client list and position I am at with each, and I have just one set of records still to come in but otherwise I am ahead of where I was last year.

Giving a delay to the deadline will just make last minute clients feel that they can wait even longer.
We may be at a point where practice workload is at 50% for a period other than month end payrolls, quarterly VAT, or some ongoing bookkeeping.

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By Bill H
10th Nov 2020 10:21

Good luck with that! Pie in the sky if the accountancy bodies can influence HMRC to extend the filing deadline.

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By lechiffre
10th Nov 2020 10:24

No need for this at all, it will simply move the workflow peak forward a few months, the same clients each year that leave it until January to do anything will instead wait until March or whenever.

It will also screw up office cash flows which is the last thing any small practitioner with a few staff needs right now.

No doubt the ICAEW will go with whatever the big firms want, as usual.

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By OrmeGoat
10th Nov 2020 10:31

I was going to say there's always one but there are two already. I can't believe their self-righteousness.

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Replying to OrmeGoat:
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By TC80
10th Nov 2020 11:23

Don't you DARE sit there behind your keyboard calling me self-righteousness. I've only had a 4 day break since March, working flat out.
We all have x number of clients. If they bring their records to us sooner rather than later it's out of the way.
I'd heard a reputation about this site. Didn't think it would only take me a week after joining to find it out.

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By 0098087
10th Nov 2020 11:41

We've had 3 days of since January not including bank holidays. The furlough has caused nightmare. Lack of guidance a joke. Never known anything like it.

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Replying to TC80:
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By Ian McTernan CTA
10th Nov 2020 12:34

Perhaps this site isn't for you if you get so easily triggered...
Not sure what to say about 'working flat out since March with only a 4 day break', sounds like you took on way too many clients. Might be time to address your work life balance if you have worked every weekend since March (as well as looking at your efficiency..)
Did you include weekends in your flat out working?
It's a tough business to be in, but with some planning it doesn't have to be hard.

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Replying to Ian McTernan CTA:
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By TC80
10th Nov 2020 13:05

You're right, there's Facebook and Twitter if I want to engage with opinionated people who don't know all the facts but are quick to judge. I wrongly assumed this was a professional site. Big mistake. Should have heeded the warnings I read elsewhere.
Not that I need to justify myself to a faceless person, but I am more than happy with my work life balance because by getting everything out of the way earlier it means I have a longer break after the last tax return is done.
The original poster was quick to assume those of us who had got ahead of schedule were living on easy street. It's called planning instead.

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Replying to Ian McTernan CTA:
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By Diana Miller
10th Nov 2020 13:30

It is that hard if you have clients that need your full support and Covid thows a massive extra workload into the mix. How this last 9 months has affected you depends on how much internal capability a client has to adapt and learn the new rules and how much they need the help of the accountant. We have been thrown a huge amount of extra work with no movement on any of the usual deadlines so a little "grace" on the 31/01 deadline would be great- even if it is just to agree they will accept late filing appeals due to illness etc.

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Replying to TC80:
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By OrmeGoat
10th Nov 2020 13:21

Capitals and a slightly threatening tone - you've certainly added to the site's "reputation".

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Replying to OrmeGoat:
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By TC80
10th Nov 2020 14:23

Wow......I'll leave you to it. OK for you to insult others, but not receive it.

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Replying to OrmeGoat:
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By meadowsaw227
10th Nov 2020 12:23

Your welcome.
It is called planning and working hard.

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By coulsonl
10th Nov 2020 10:37

Whilst I am very happy for those of you who are ahead and think that this is not necessary, there are a number of the rest of us who due to juggling workloads, client demands and the pressures of childcare and illness are certainly not anywhere near ahead. Therefore any measures that can be taken to ease the January pressure and help our survival and mental health will be very much appreciated.

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Replying to coulsonl:
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By OrmeGoat
10th Nov 2020 11:05

I have already asked the Tax Faculty for their help but I have just asked my MP to help as well. (AW article attached).

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By Jimess
10th Nov 2020 11:14

Last weeks bulletin from the CIOT included the information that the CIOT have already made representation to the Treasury in view of the additional workload the extension to JRS will bring to their members. So a big thank you to the CIOT - much appreciated!

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Replying to coulsonl:
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By Ian McTernan CTA
10th Nov 2020 12:38

Address those work/life balances. Clients will always be demanding if you let them. Children and childcare, it was your choice to have them, including illnesses.
'Survival' makes it sounds like it's life or death, which it's no where near, and explains why mental health might be an issue.
Take a step back and decide what you want in life and then work accordingly.
Pretty sure if a few are late then HMRC will take a lenient view on penalties this year and if not there is always the Tribunal option if you document your efforts to obtain information from clients during all that time they had off during the first lockdown.

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Replying to Ian McTernan CTA:
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By Jimess
10th Nov 2020 14:13

Work/life balance for many people has been knocked for six this year whatever circumstances people find themselves in. Practitioners who have worked closely with clients on issues affecting their businesses due to Covid-19 have all worked under intense pressure and this in many cases has been made worse by staff needing to self isolate/sickness etc, or have been juggling childcare and schooling whilst schools were closed, none of which they will have expected to do under normal working conditions. Taking a step back to decide what you want in life is undoubtedly a good policy under normal circumstances, but these are not normal circumstances and neither has this been a normal year by any measure.

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Replying to Ian McTernan CTA:
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By ShakingMyHead
10th Nov 2020 14:28

Completely agree with Ian. It's a 'no' from me. People have been off in 'lockdown' during April, May, June, July... there was ample time to have got the figures in to the accountant at this time. I think about the times when I had course work and dissertation deadlines and in the words of the 20th century British Scholar, who termed 'Parkinson's Law' that is: "Work expands to fill the time available for its completion" - Keep it at 31 Jan. Lets not stretch it out.

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Replying to Ian McTernan CTA:
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By ShakingMyHead
10th Nov 2020 14:28

Completely agree with Ian. It's a 'no' from me. People have been off in 'lockdown' during April, May, June, July... there was ample time to have got the figures in to the accountant at this time. I think about the times when I had course work and dissertation deadlines and in the words of the 20th century British Scholar, who termed 'Parkinson's Law' that is: "Work expands to fill the time available for its completion" - Keep it at 31 Jan. Lets not stretch it out.

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Replying to ShakingMyHead:
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By Jimess
10th Nov 2020 14:48

That is fine as long as the only work the accountant had to deal with was tax returns. Many business clients affected by the Covid lockdown were not "off in Lockdown" but were working their socks off trying to find and establish alternative income streams to help keep the business afloat. Just because many employees were on furlough it did not stop the business owners working on their businesses or as the lockdown began to open up working on making their businesses Covid-secure for their employees to return to. To think that business owners were able to just sit at home twiddling their thumbs waiting for things to open up is a rather short sighted viewpoint.

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Replying to ShakingMyHead:
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By coulsonl
10th Nov 2020 15:48

In my case this isn't about when the client delivers their information to me, it is that the available time left to complete everything may not be long enough given the amount of time taken up this year dealing with other demands varying from additional Covid support to clients and dealing with children who were home for months, who would normally be at school. Without the latter timings would unlikely be an issue.

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By michaelbeaver
10th Nov 2020 11:05

I'm with the ICAEW's preferred approach and have an automatic waiver of penalties for returns filed up to 31 March. Moving the tax deadline would be big news and there will be clients who'll take full advantage and kick the same problem into March instead.

A suspension of penalties won't get quite the same coverage, and the deadline will still technically be there which will help encourage clients over the line.

For those commenting here that they are way ahead and don't need it: maybe don't argue against something that won't hurt you either way, and will be a massive relief for some of your professional colleagues who aren't in the same boat as you?

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By HLB
10th Nov 2020 11:06

I must say that we would be grateful for an extension. We have two offices and the one is coping ok but in the other we lost a couple of team members at the end of March (when I say lost, they moved to industry) and finding replacements has been impossible as the market virtually disappeared overnight at the start of the first lockdown. As a result, the remaining team members have been working as hard as they can but still find themselves a couple of months behind the position they were last year. Also not helped by one member of the team in that office testing positive last week!

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By rebeccajessop
10th Nov 2020 11:14

I agree with the postponement of the penalties rather than just extending the deadline.

I think we all need to be mindful that not everyone is in the same position as everyone else. It's great if you're ahead, but there are so many of us who couldn't work while schools and nurseries were closed, and for many more reasons. And even when we found snippets of time to work we've had to spend exhausting amounts of time dealing with the furlough scheme.

We're easily three months behind where we normally would have been and are working all hours to try to catch up - but unfortunately, the number of SATR's to submit per day is getting to an unachievable level.

The decision would just ease the pressure for those that are feeling it.

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By North East Accountant
10th Nov 2020 11:28

Some will want it extended others won't. No-one should judge anyone else as we're all in different places.

If ICAEW thinks HMRC will listen to it then they are dreaming as they never have before.

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By raju m
10th Nov 2020 11:32

A 5 year extension would be ideal. Income tax rates will be 50% at the next election.

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By SXGuy
10th Nov 2020 11:57

I'm up to date with everyone who's came in. The ones I'm not are those who have ignored my letters most likely because I'm last in the pecking order and they don't have the funds.

However an extension in my case would only lead to those people continuing to ignore me and quite frankly I'd rather not extend the deadline.

Not only does this allow me to put some pressure on those persistant last minute clients but it would actually help to regain some lost fees this year.

If we extend it a month, that will have a knock on affect to next year and those same people will probably be late once again. Its a no from me.

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Replying to SXGuy:
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By lechiffre
10th Nov 2020 14:29

SXGuy wrote:

I'm up to date with everyone who's came in. The ones I'm not are those who have ignored my letters most likely because I'm last in the pecking order and they don't have the funds.

However an extension in my case would only lead to those people continuing to ignore me and quite frankly I'd rather not extend the deadline.

Not only does this allow me to put some pressure on those persistant last minute clients but it would actually help to regain some lost fees this year.

If we extend it a month, that will have a knock on affect to next year and those same people will probably be late once again. Its a no from me.

Good point well made.

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By memyself-eye
10th Nov 2020 12:16

A 'no' here also. Jan 31 is already generous!

Let 'em hang I say.

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By johnjenkins
10th Nov 2020 12:38

I was lucky enough to be part of the original seminars when SA was set up. All of us said that the filing date should be 31st march with on account payments due 31st March and 30th September. Obviously the balancing payment due 31st March. Since SA conception nothing has changed my mind on that thought process.

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Replying to johnjenkins:
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By Southwestbeancounter
10th Nov 2020 14:03

I was too and I quite agree for many reasons!

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By Ian McTernan CTA
10th Nov 2020 12:42

Maybe they should take this opportunity to finally move the stupid 5 April year end to 31 December and at the same time sort out the PAYE months to actual months as well. Or at least 31 March...
Don't need or want an extension to 31 January, it's already nine months after the year end which is more than enough. Some flexibility on penalties for late filing this year might be more useful.

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Replying to Ian McTernan CTA:
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By Donald MacKenzie
10th Nov 2020 17:05

A agree with your wish to make tax months match real months. It just causes confusion for no benefits.
I am more or less up to same position as last year. If told the deadline had moved, my January delivering/responding clients would just fall back to the new deadline.

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Replying to Ian McTernan CTA:
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By Donald MacKenzie
10th Nov 2020 17:05

A agree with your wish to make tax months match real months. It just causes confusion for no benefits.
I am more or less up to same position as last year. If told the deadline had moved, my January delivering/responding clients would just fall back to the new deadline.

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By kevinringer
10th Nov 2020 13:42

I've been very proactive supporting my clients, and they really appreciate it. Many would have gone to the wall. But this has taken a huge amount of my time. We've had to take staff of SA to handle all the furlough claims and we keep thinking it'll be temporary then there's another extension. Don't get me wrong, my clients really appreciate the furlough scheme, but it takes many hours to deal with. I've had a fraction of my normal holiday leave this year: perhaps a week in total. I've been working 7 days a week for months, early morning to late evenings. Most of my colleagues are also working extended hours and not taken holidays. Normally we go into autumn refreshed from having enjoyed summer holidays etc but this year it's been one slog right the way through from March. Will we be able to keep the momentum up until 31 January? And what other surprises might the Chancellor have to throw at us taking yet more of my time? My concern isn't so much SA because you can send provisional returns, it's tax credits because the deadline is an all-or-nothing deadline. If we miss it, the client loses out permanently. And these are clients on low income for whom tax credits are more important this year than they've ever been in the past. The Government recognises this and has increased tax credits. It isn't that clients are last minute: I've got loads of jobs in waiting for me. It's just there are only 7 days in the week and despite working all of them there isn't enough to make up for the time our clients have required for support this year. This is an exceptional year. HMRC have seen fit to cut themselves slack because they're struggling with the workload. They need to recognise we (or at least some of us) need some slack too.

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Replying to kevinringer:
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By Southwestbeancounter
10th Nov 2020 14:05

Well said!

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By michaelbeaver
10th Nov 2020 14:11

This, exactly.

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Replying to kevinringer:
By michaelbeaver
10th Nov 2020 14:11

This, exactly.

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Replying to kevinringer:
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By Jimess
10th Nov 2020 14:52

Entirely agree! that is exactly how we are feeling at the moment.
It's good to know we are not alone.

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Replying to kevinringer:
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By Diana Miller
10th Nov 2020 23:01

Completely agree and thanks as your comments make me feel like there are others out there in the same position.

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Replying to kevinringer:
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By Diana Miller
10th Nov 2020 23:01

Completely agree and thanks as your comments make me feel like there are others out there in the same position.

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Replying to kevinringer:
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By Diana Miller
10th Nov 2020 23:01

Completely agree and thanks as your comments make me feel like there are others out there in the same position.

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Replying to kevinringer:
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By Diana Miller
10th Nov 2020 23:02

Completely agree and thanks as your comments make me feel like there are others out there in the same position.

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By sally1964
10th Nov 2020 14:11

More worried about Domestic Reverse Charge and the extra work that will cause along with HMRC pushing ahead with MTD on self assessment - yes first is not until 01/03/21 and second much later but the amount of work it will cause and costs to businesses - we could all do without it.

Strange year on workflow, just had a client bring in books - usually turns up about 15th January!

Even though we feel we are ahead this year, we are so exhausted, working under constant changing legilastion, helping clients apply for grants etc we could all do with a long shut down over Xmas. Small practioneers find it hard to sieve through all the paperwork coming out - we need the extention, not our clients - just to take off the pressure.

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Replying to sally1964:
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By North East Accountant
10th Nov 2020 14:55

Don't even go there on Domestic Reverse Charge......

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By sally1964
10th Nov 2020 14:11

More worried about Domestic Reverse Charge and the extra work that will cause along with HMRC pushing ahead with MTD on self assessment - yes first is not until 01/03/21 and second much later but the amount of work it will cause and costs to businesses - we could all do without it.

Strange year on workflow, just had a client bring in books - usually turns up about 15th January!

Even though we feel we are ahead this year, we are so exhausted, working under constant changing legilastion, helping clients apply for grants etc we could all do with a long shut down over Xmas. Small practioneers find it hard to sieve through all the paperwork coming out - we need the extention, not our clients - just to take off the pressure.

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By sally1964
10th Nov 2020 14:11

More worried about Domestic Reverse Charge and the extra work that will cause along with HMRC pushing ahead with MTD on self assessment - yes first is not until 01/03/21 and second much later but the amount of work it will cause and costs to businesses - we could all do without it.

Strange year on workflow, just had a client bring in books - usually turns up about 15th January!

Even though we feel we are ahead this year, we are so exhausted, working under constant changing legilastion, helping clients apply for grants etc we could all do with a long shut down over Xmas. Small practioneers find it hard to sieve through all the paperwork coming out - we need the extention, not our clients - just to take off the pressure.

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By webpoints
10th Nov 2020 14:31

My own view at present is don’t change the 31 January deadline because you are just moving the problem into other busy periods and many elections etc may depend on that date. But do waive penalties chargeable for all of the period that furlough relief applies which is currently from March 2020 to 31 March 2021. That could be for 2019/20 tax returns and for 2018/19 tax returns, or indeed for any late ones for earlier years that are being filed in that period. That relief might be just for late filing penalties. If we can get late payment penalties waived too that would be even better. I know people have had the use of the funds but until their tax returns are prepared they might not know how much to pay. Paying interest on late payments may still be appropriate.

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