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Rising above the chaos of self assessment season

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Self assessment season has been going on for two decades, during which accountants and bookkeepers have refined their processes and made improvements. But it still comes with the occasional hiccup making every year a learning experience.

29th Jan 2024
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As the last tax returns get filed, another year of self assessment comes to a close. Having braved the fiscal storm, it’s time to relax, take a deep breath… and wonder how you’re going to do it all over again. 

AccountingWEB caught up with three speakers from the upcoming Festival of Accounting & Bookkeeping (FAB), Arden Bookkeeping’s Claire Bartlett, Wild Bookkeeping’s Penelope Allard and Mazuma’s Lucy Cohen to see how they tackled this year’s self assessment season. With self assessment going on for two decades, it seems that despite the chaos, they all have managed to get into their own rhythm.

Claire Bartlett, director of Arden Bookkeeping

Bartlett will be speaking at FAB, revealing the secrets behind her Accounting Excellence award win.

claire bartlettThe infamous tax season is an interesting time for any bookkeeper or accountant. I have been running Arden Bookkeeping for almost a decade now and it has definitely improved for us. 

Initially, it was mayhem but I changed our approach to self-employed and small businesses. We now engage with self-employed people every month, just like we do with our limited clients, which makes it a lot easier. For our small businesses, we have implemented tighter deadlines and enforced inflated fees for those who are late so we can manage our workload better. 

As a result of this, we can now take on new clients in January and these clients tend to become loyal after we have helped them out of a bind. 

I used to have sleepless nights if we couldn’t meet a deadline, despite it not being our fault if we hadn’t received the information. It takes time in a business to have the confidence to push back against clients and not worry about losing them or letting them down. 

I chase them and advise them of late fees but if it is past the deadline for submitting information we no longer promise on-time submissions.

I then no longer stress about that client – the ball is entirely in their court and we have done all we could to support them.

Penelope Allard, director of Wild Booking Ltd

Allard will be speaking about her practice in the bookkeepers’ retreat at FAB.

penelope allardAll of our clients who were with us last year were ready for submission before 15 December, which I am really pleased about. This is because we have moved them onto cloud software and now do all their bookkeeping, so we were able to start the process of preparing their tax returns as soon as the tax year ended.

Self assessment season has gone better this year than last, although it has still not been plain sailing.

It has not been straightforward with new clients and we did end up with some returns that needed to be submitted in January. They are still getting accustomed to our way of working and what is required of them. Some have come to us with backlogs but this is usual for new clients. 

I am confident that these new clients will be ready to go for the 2023/24 tax year as soon as we get to April. 

We’ve been busy taking on new bookkeeping clients. However, we’ve decided to only complete tax returns for clients who are happy to move onto cloud software, with regular bookkeeping completed by us. This approach is what is working best for us.

Lucy Cohen, co-founder of Mazuma

Cohen will be speaking across several sessions at FAB, sharing her practice success story.

lucy cohenComing into January, we were a little bit behind where we wanted to be. However, in terms of the workload of staff this year, it’s been a much better January than we have had in a long time.

We have found that working in a pod structure is most effective for us. All of our clients belong to a pod and that pod has around two to four people handling that small client base. They are then responsible for managing and chasing them. 

Every year we learn something and this year we have learned to be stricter. When clients were handing in information late, we were still getting the work done on time, which seems like a good thing to do but actually you end up making a rod for your own back. That client never feels the pain of their behaviour or the fact that they’ve not stuck to your boundaries and your deadlines so they’ll do the same thing next year. 

That’s where we’re at now. People come to us in January and we tell them we might not get it done and that’s on you because we’ve told you nine times previously that it’s going to happen. 

This extract is from the most recent podcast episode of No Accounting for Taste. Click the link to hear more from Lucy Cohen. 

Get ahead with your post-self-assessment plans and join these speakers alongside many more at FAB on 13 and 14 March at the NEC, Birmingham. Go to Fab.uk to book your free tickets.

Replies (6)

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By petestar1969
29th Jan 2024 14:29

I agree with the approaches of all three of them and well done to them for sorting their clients out.

BUT

AS an accountant, I've always had an issue with bookkeepers doing tax returns. Bookkeepers do bookkeeping and VAT returns, accountants do accounts and tax returns.

Thanks (1)
Replying to petestar1969:
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By Tereha_K
29th Jan 2024 14:50

hmm if you're going to be pedantic, then you could say that Tax Accountants should be doing VAT and Tax Returns....
If you have the relevant knowledge and experience to do the job well, I don't see why a title should matter.

Thanks (3)
Replying to petestar1969:
Matthew Coates
By justme
02nd Feb 2024 12:33

That's very black and white. I wonder why you'd say that? Bookkeepers have a practice licence to do tax returns, and are qualified to do so. Accountants are qualified too. What makes an accountant different to a bookkeeper when it comes to doing tax returns?

Entirely disagree with your statement. We rely on bookkeepers to get their job right and prepare tax returns for us. They do a fantastic job too.

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By usedbyhmrc
29th Jan 2024 20:35

Not jumping in on the merits of one job over another, but as a rigger that picture is an abomination, too many strands, not twisted together in sequence, it gives me the same feeling as a badly completed SA100 would to you.

Thanks (4)
Jennifer Adams
By Jennifer Adams
30th Jan 2024 09:53

Well good for you Claire, Lucy and Penny.

I notice that you all have staff.. so although you say you are 'small' you are not really.
Many Accweb members are on their own and dont have staff to help.

I do.. I'm lucky. I've a great bookkeeper.

You try finding a good bookkeeper who doesnt mind having some months with little to do. Agency bookkeepers are very expensive and you take a chance on the quality of work (not being nasty to those bookkeepers but I speak from experience).

I have tried to set early Sept deadlines for my clients and with the use of Accountancymanager (sorry.. Brightmanager= horrible name) I have been able to automatically nag every month which brings in the majority of them. But many ignore me.

There are still the same old same old 'I've always done my accounts over Christmas'; 'I cant have that much to pay'; 'I'm on holiday for most of Jan'; 'sorry I'm late, I've had such a lot on'.

Many accountants would say 'tough' - bit difficult for me - 14 years ago I took over my fathers business and many have now been clients for over 20 years. How can I say ' too late' to them?

This year hasnt been so bad and I am sure this is because of the 'cost of living crisis' where clients are trying to plan their tax bills.

But I have told those stragglers that today is the last day - I'm not submitting tomorrow in case HMRC's site goes down (it's done so before).

Now if you'll excuse me.. I have tax returns to finish.

Thanks (10)
Replying to Jennifer Adams:
By ireallyshouldknowthisbut
30th Jan 2024 10:54

"Many accountants would say 'tough' - bit difficult for me - 14 years ago I took over my fathers business and many have now been clients for over 20 years. How can I say ' too late' to them?"

Well it's your business now, so after 14 years these are very much your clients and your rules.

I dont see why you should tolerate laziness. I was talking in the pub to a chap last Friday and I may take on his accounts next year as his accountant retiring and its the sort of thing we do. He was shocked I was in there thinking I should be working. he said he still needed to get his stuff in, but was knocking the beers back but said he had ages yet, and he paid his accountant £6k [for the whole thing, SA just a small part] so accountant has to do them and they would be working all weekend and late nights all week like they always did. I already said I wouldn't charge as much (its not a big biz) but said he would be paying £100 if he did that to us, and no I wouldn't be working the weekend to accommodate him. I said we would file the SA when we did his company accounts.....which would be within 2 months of his year end. Different mind set. Might not now get the client, but I certainly set the ground rules and pushed the fact he surely needed to know how much to pay...............even the drunken cogs went round a bit....and saw that might be a good idea to know 6 months earlier.....he agreed he had a shock some years and struggled to find the ££££.

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