SA season: When should you stop chasing clients?

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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. 

Get information earlier

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.

Financial penalties

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.

Keep reminding

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.

Control workload

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 Hattersley

Richard is AccountingWEB's practice correspondent. If you have any comments or suggestions for us get in touch.

Replies

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09th Jan 2018 09:51

It's a tricky one. Increasing the fees for excessive chasing is a good idea. Even better is quoting higher fees in advance for known offenders. Ultimately the practice has to decide if the work is profitable. After all, we need some work to do in January, the objective is not zero workload. So chop out the ones who hit 3 red flags, don't pay, lack of or poor communication and are not polite and fill the practice with quality. A busy January doesn't have to be a stressful one. I was determined this year to have a normal month, haven't quite achieved it but a notable improvement especially considering the growth of the firm.

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09th Jan 2018 09:58

This is a very interesting topic.
If you don't have more than 100 clients, the problem may not be too bad.
I have found over the last 3 years, certainly mainly last year and this year I'm doing half my turnover in November, December and January. Even though I have 300 clients I can just about handle it and it doesn't really bother me working my nuts off in the winter. What has happened though is that as clients become more savvy with HMRC they phone me up and say "put an estimate in (the estimates they give me are never too far off the real figures) and we will sort it out in Feb".
The real point is that you either decide what you want from clients in your practice and stick to it or you "go with the flow". Either way the clients pay for your life style, which should never be forgotten.

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to johnjenkins
09th Jan 2018 10:14

Totally agree with your post on all fronts.

And yes your last sentence sums it up very nicely.

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to johnjenkins
09th Jan 2018 10:49

For the clients who say "put an estimate in and we will sort it out in Feb", do you charge them for filing the return twice??

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to whatdoyoumeanwashe
09th Jan 2018 10:54

Only the once, Mrs Wembly. don't forget charging to do tax returns is not an allowable expense in your clients books.

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to johnjenkins
09th Jan 2018 11:18

That's very generous of you! I think I would definitely charge more than £100 to file an estimate and refile in Feb, if the only reason was laziness, making it more expensive for the client than filing late, filing once and filing properly.

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to whatdoyoumeanwashe
09th Jan 2018 11:54

The facility to amend the return gives you and the client that much more flexibility. How many clients don't (didn't) realise that PPI repayments carried taxable interest. We now have drawdown on pensions which some people forget. As Accountants we can cover most things but we are fallable and make mistakes, just like clients. I do not see making mistakes as a weakness, just a human (am I allowed to say something that contains man?) trait.

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to johnjenkins
09th Jan 2018 13:26

Agreed. I'm more than happy to amend a return if one of us has made a mistake, but filing an estimate isn't a mistake, it's a different human trait - laziness!

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to whatdoyoumeanwashe
09th Jan 2018 13:53

You can't put things in boxes. There could be illness, bereavement, marriage breakup, theft of documents at a critical time and, of course, my favourite, alien abduction.

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09th Jan 2018 10:45

I have certain clients who will always be January clients due to their various business interests making January the logical time to complete figures. I have others that will always be January no matter what incentive or disincentive you offer.
I charge accordingly. I'm sure they could get it done for half the price somewhere else, but they are paying for my expertise rather than how long it takes.
I'll take being busy for 1.5 mths in the depths of winter over having to slave every day during the year when the weather is better for golf!

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09th Jan 2018 10:49

Deleted - added comment in the wrong place

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By Ammie
09th Jan 2018 10:52

My general policy is that I do not chase clients that have been in self assessment for years and should by now know the deadlines and procedures. I also do not guarantee meeting a deadline if records come in after 1 January.
For exceptional circumstances, ie those new to SA and those who are rarely late, I will remind.
I remind once for other deadlines, ie VAT, CIS, RTI, CT and again for non repeated offenders maybe twice. If the work comes in very late I will not guarantee it, if it's late all the better as the damage is done. Those who don't like it are free to leave. None have!!

With the onset of changes I, as most accountants, will be more focused on the "quality" client, time wasters will quickly realise their options are limited.

Now back to SA!!

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09th Jan 2018 13:09

It always makes me think why do some clients want their returns filed straight away and others are happy to sit on things, I often think I will buy some of my clients a large cushion for Christmas, they like sitting on things, so they might as well be comfortable.

Are we making a rod for our own backs by continually saving their Bacon, remember poor clients can also own fees as well as being useless regarding passing in records. Are we locked into theses weasels.

Other issues can arise of filing Tax returns are the ones which you normally file early and you assume you have done so for 16/17, but sometimes this assumption can be wrong and clients can get over looked.

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to AndrewV12
09th Jan 2018 13:20

Very good points Andrew.
Every industry has it's problematic areas, ours is no different.
Why is there an issue with when returns are filed? There is a window to file with a facility to amend.
Really we should run our business how we want to and pick the clients that suite.

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09th Jan 2018 13:27

My view is a selfish one which is simply that I don’t want to carry January to February

I’d be well within my rights at the moment to tell about 30 clients that they’ll be late but instead I tell them and any of the other 28 we are waiting on that they need to get the records to us and we will do our best but no guarantee (we only guarantee if instructed by 30 September)

If we told them tough you’re late then the next thing I know it will be the end of April and we will be chasing to avoid £10 a day penalties

So these days I’d confess our January is self inflicted / chosen just to avoid carry over to February

I like the line in the sand of 2017 returns done and to look forward not back

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to youngloch
09th Jan 2018 13:56

"I like the line in the sand of 2017 returns done and to look forward not back"
Nice line.

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By rmunday
09th Jan 2018 14:11

Over the years I think I've tried pretty well all of the strategies given in the article with varying degrees of success and failure. The most effective, and one which I don't think was mentioned , was quoting a fixed fee early when sending out the data gathering questionnaire in May/June and offering a 20% discount if returned by end September. (Initial quote uplifted accordingly of course). Psychologically this proved a more tempting proposition than threatening fee uplifts for late delivery! Fortunately I don't have to deal with this problem now as we shifted our business focus and no longer deal with traders and personal tax cases! Happy January!

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to rmunday
09th Jan 2018 14:55

Looking at it psychologically, the client might think this shouldn't take more than a day or two to do, so why not leave it till end of Jan. Don't forget they don't have to pay till 31st Jan. They wouldn't even think about the other work you would be doing.
I have an IFA who phones between nine and ten on the last working day of January with his 3 line figures. We spend 15 minutes on the phone completing his tax return, advising him of his liability and my fee. He then advises me to submit and my fee is paid directly into my account. Money for old rope.

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09th Jan 2018 16:09

then email them in Feb and say £100 coming up... we need to do it now or its going to rise to £1500

drum up some work for February

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10th Jan 2018 07:54

Out of 170 plus SA returns, I now have 6 left to file of which only 1 has not brought any data yet. if and when he does, he will be charged £200 plus VAT extra, payable in full along with his standard fee before any work is done.

All my reminders mention the extra fees in the header in bold lettering. I've lost 2 clients this season doing this, other local accountants go mental in January and they've probably gone there.

If those guys want to fill their boots with January deadline chasers, great!

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to mr. mischief
10th Jan 2018 08:36

I do similar and I have four left. The only trouble is those four are my ex-boss, an old school friend, my sister and my brother in law, none of whom I feel inclined to hit with the extra fees! But I can cope with four self assessments in January.

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to mr. mischief
10th Jan 2018 08:57

Horses for courses.

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11th Jan 2018 09:15

We’re goong through a major overhaul of our practice at the minute.

Rmunday’s comment re 20% discount for a deadline is a good idea & one that I’ll be implementing. Maybe June 20%, Sept 10%. None SA wise, Aug - Dec is our overly-busy time.

I might implement something similar for company’s that have just YE work & a single bill. 20% within 3 months maybe.

Most of our tax returns are done with the company accounts, YEs as late as Dec. Fees for those personal tax returns are within the company monthly fee, so not sure how to combat missing info for 3rd party income. Just chase earlier maybe?

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to atleastisoundknowledgable...
11th Jan 2018 09:31

Whack up the monthly fee next year for the all-in clients who cause you a SA headache. That's what I've done and none have left, but fortunately I have few enough in that category that I only have a handful left to do and have time to write comments on AWeb!

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20th Jan 2018 10:04

مجموعه راهکارهايي که در قالب اينچنين مقالاتي براي توسعه فروش يا افزايش فروش ارائه مي‌دهد،
هزاران سايت آموزش سئو و دیجیتال مارکتینگ و راهکار هاي آن وجود دارد و ما الان ميدانيم که کدام يک به بهترين نحوه کار ميکند و کدام يک جواب نميدهد .پس با ما همراه باشيد .

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