Sunak’s plan is ‘another nightmare’ for profession
Accountants faced with the never-ending treadmill of government guidelines are struggling to balance clients’ needs with their teams’ mental health.
In a bait-and-switch substitute for a full autumn Budget, the Chancellor brought forward his emergency response to public concern about the end of the furlough scheme. Sunak had already signalled that he was not a fan of continuing it, arguing that he could not save every job affected by the devastation of coronavirus.
Support scheme stress
With businesses in turmoil turning to their accountants for answers, the stress is beginning to tell. And the arrival of yet another support initiative with its own rules and restrictions is going to add to the vast amount of time and energy accountants have already sacrificed this year.
Easing restrictions on public gatherings and socialising triggered a resurgence of the virus and forced the government to take further action.
In the wake of the new Jobs Support Scheme announced as part of Sunak’s Covid winter plan, employers will pay staff for the hours worked, and the hours not worked will be split between the employer and the government - who will pay a third of the hours not worked up to a cap.
On the eve of the big announcement AccountingWEB was flooded with comments from practitioners on the brink of mental exhaustion. The latest changes came at a time when many are experiencing greater levels of anxiety than ever.
“I wonder how many accountants will be pouring themselves a rather large glass this evening,” wondered one AccountingWEB member in a succinct summary of the community’s reaction to the Chancellor’s plans.
As AccountingWEB member Johnny Fartpants said: “When the clients realise they must send their staff home for two-thirds of the month just to obtain 22.2% in government support, my guess is most will realise this isn't worth it and will cease claiming.”
For a lot of accountants, the Job Support Scheme is just another compliance headache, but the persistent questions they don’t even know the answers to about the scheme added to the ever-increasing burden they are having to carry. Several wondered how far they could be pushed.
The new normal?
The Chancellor stressed that “life means more than simply existing”, saying that the pandemic has shown everyone that we must continue to strive towards normality. But how sustainable is a new normal of relentless stress?
Ray Newman from PracticeWeb commented on the matter: “We’ve been told by several accountants that the worst thing about the constant flow of announcements from government is that the minute Mr Sunak sits down after one of his speeches, the phone starts ringing: How does this work? When can I get the grant? How do I apply?”
For the past six months, accountants have answered these queries and steered their clients through the crisis. All this effort followed on the heels of the traditional tax season workload and before that the extra effort of migrating clients into the making tax digital for VAT regime. Under the strain of all this non-stop effort, one member confessed they felt “physically sick” at the prospect of yet more guidance to come. Another member stated that they had not had a moment’s break since last Christmas Day.
“Us payroll processors have worked our guts off without any time to properly read the rules and tried to calculate furlough using our own home designed spreadsheets... while we forfeited holidays and previous family time working all our waking hours for no extra pay,” said Barbara G, who is considering throwing in the towel on her career once all this is over.
“Life is too precious for this stress and personal sacrifice, I'll stay at home for no pay,” she said.
Tosie acknowledged the burden the profession is carrying but highlighted how desperately their services were needed: “A large number of clients are at breaking point and a bit of help from us can make the difference between throwing in the towel and struggling on.”
AccountingWEB member jcace added: “It presents an opportunity to demonstrate to clients why they need us. Yes, it may well involve some fast learning, but let's not shrink from earning our fees.”
With the mental health of the profession and their clients hanging on a knife edge, it’s worth highlighting the importance of coming together to share your experiences and feelings on these issues, or anything else causing you stress. You are likely not to be the only one. You can access our Any Answers page here to reach out and talk.
UPDATE: This article was amended on 29 September to clarify the Job Support Scheme guidance.