There comes a point every January when practitioners must decide whether they should keep chasing clients.
Every year practitioners blame last minute clients as the main culprits for their heavier January workload. No matter how much time practices spend chasing, there will always be lazy clients that stubbornly insist on handing their tax return information during peak busy season.
Rather than add more stress to the yearly self assessment slog, some practitioners have drawn a line in the sand. Despite their best efforts to bribe, manage and chase clients to deliver their information earlier, they’re still left scrambling as the deadline looms.
While some persist, others after 20 years of self assessment stress have said enough is enough. When January comes they stop chasing.
Recently, a disagreement over this quandary between AccountingWEB member The Innskeeper and his partner spilled over on to Any Answers: “My view was that they had had enough reminders via email and if they could not be bothered then tough. My partner was dead against this approach,” the Innskeeper said.
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But this reasoning reflects the proactive way practitioners are shifting their tax return deadline earlier in the year to ensure a stress free January, and they are not prepared to let late stragglers ruin that.
As AccountingWEB veteran Paul Scholes attested: “Many practitioners contribute to the last minute stress by giving clients far too much time to send in their stuff. For many years we told clients that if they didn't get their stuff to us by 31 October we couldn't guarantee getting it all done in time.”
AccountingWEB contributor Glenn Martin echoed this approach, arguing that if you let clients bring information in the last few days of January “you will never break the cycle”. In fact, AccountingWEB members have reported a relationship between setting clear cut off dates in their early chase emails and more regimented clients.
Scholes set a much earlier deadline which quickly moulded traditionally late clients into a new routine. After consulting a psychologist client ten years ago, Scholes decided that a 5 July deadline gave clients enough time. This measure resulted in over 70% of information arriving and clients relieved that their autumn wouldn’t be tarnished by the usual worry.
Taking a tougher stance, Jennifer Adams threatens financial penalties to clients if their records are not in before her September cut off point. As a result, she said this year is less stressful, although there are still the “usual diehards” yet to oblige.
Increasing fees as the deadline approaches is a popular tactic deployed by many AccountingWEB members, but some practices like AccountingWEB member mbee1’s still wrestle internally with this conversation.
Meanwhile, others are reluctant to stop reminding clients during the final furlong. Maslins, for instance, will keep coaxing clients until the 31st but refuses to “work all hours under the sun” to accommodate their worst clients. The practice will be open normal hours, so for these latecomers, “if it doesn’t get done on time, it doesn’t get done”.
Practices that brand themselves ‘trusted advisers’ have to live up to the personal service expectations this approach entails; to show value, many practitioners can’t escape reminding clients.
But as Kent Accountant commented: “It’s not difficult to ask for outstanding information." He added, "I agree it’s a pain but it comes with the territory."
Some practitioners save time by automating their client chasing reminders, which comes with the added benefit that they can be tracked to confirm whether or not the client responds.
Others try a different tack to keep clients on track. AccountingWEB member GW, for instance, targets clients at different times so they are not swamped with all the known latecomers arriving at once. The ones who are prioritised first are those with a reputation for providing late records, and then when things like company year end accounts become available.
Regardless of how persistent practitioners are, a growing number are vowing not to let late clients dictate their January workload. Kent Accountant even plans to take 31st January as a day off.
Where do you stand on this argument? Do you believe your clients have been given enough reminders, or will you persist until the final hours?
About Richard Hattersley
Richard is AccountingWEB's practice correspondent. If you have any comments or suggestions for us get in touch.