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Late clients cause headaches during busy season

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As if it wasn’t bad enough trudging through the accounting calendar’s busiest period, clients looking to jump the queue are adding another layer of stress to the January slog.

17th Jan 2023
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With self assessment season well underway, exasperated practitioners are once again clashing with panicked clients desperate to get their tax returns over the line. And without the safety net of an extension to offer some level of reprieve, the pressure is on for practitioners.

However, that doesn’t mean that clients are making it easy for them, with some users on the Any Answers forum grappling with certain individuals taking their chances at sliding under the self assessment wire just before the deadline.

Latecomers

Veteran user ireallyshouldknowthisbut recently reached the end of their tether with a recent slew of prospective clients, posting a self-styled rant to the Any Answers forum expressing their irritation. “Every year, big note on the website saying: “Go away last-minute SA freaks” and still they call, and sound surprised when I won’t take them on as a new client.”

Others were quick to empathise, sharing their own experiences of clients hoping to jump the queue before deadline day.

“I too, was contacted this morning. I stopped taking new clients on board at the beginning of December as quite a few of my existing clients were still outstanding. Unsurprisingly on 13th January they still are,” wrote fellow user Cylhia66, adding that they were especially annoyed at clients’ lack of understanding over the urgency of the busy season.

“One of them finally got back to me this morning saying I need it ready by 22nd January because she’s going abroad. I was fuming but calmly explained to her that at this time of the year all the work I do is urgent,” Cylihia66 wrote.

“I very much doubt this one will be filed on time. I very much doubt this one will be filed by me at all.”

A shift in mindset

While some lamented the age-old story of clients leaving their tax returns until the last minute, others argued that the influx of latecomers was indicative of a just-in-time culture. 

“Not a surprise – we live in a world of instant answers. Instant parcel delivery, takeaways, film access etc. Anything that takes more than a nanosecond should not be tolerated. Beam me up Scotty!” quipped AWEB regular memyself-eye.

Meanwhile user ABC12 wrote that they had already dealt with a particularly impatient individual. “Had this the other day. A client emailed me late Monday afternoon. Tuesday 10 o’clock: ‘Have you seen my email from yesterday?’ 11 o’clock: ‘Do you have time to answer or not?’ One for the chuck-out list in February.”

Others placed the blame on the influx of HMRC reminders being sent to taxpayers, with users such as Spilly reporting that at least one of their clients is being inundated with correspondence from the tax authority. “It’s because they see/hear the HMRC adverts. Plus HMRC is now sending texts out if they have your mobile number on record. One client said he has been getting almost daily reminders this way and he felt harassed,” Spilly wrote.

Catherine Newman was having similar issues, noting that two clients had already been in touch because of the messages. “Roll on February 1st,” Newman added.

Schadenfreude

Of course, among the stresses of the busy season, some practitioners are finding silver linings to keep them going, even if it’s at the expense of their client’s misfortune.

User Winnie Wiggleroom was one such commentator revelling in schadenfreude due to a client’s decision to DIY their tax returns led to a significant backfire. “This happens very rarely as we have a very long-standing working relationship with almost all clients, but one client new to us for 20/21 tried to DIY 21/22.  Somehow they’ve managed to create a £5k tax liability on an income of £12k and tail between legs came creeping back red-faced. Is it wrong for me to feel this is a good day?” Wiggleroom asked.

Users lapped up the post, seemingly happy for a bit of levity during this stressful time. “Did they say they were leaving then came crawling back after their **** up? I don’t know if I’d be willing to take them back. I may be tempted to charge them for the ‘new rate’ as a new client then disengage after. Very evil, very nice,” wrote user SX Guy.

ClaudiaLowe held a similar view, summing up the thread by noting that if a client isn’t going to use a practitioner’s time wisely, it can easily be filled by another. “Oh yes, a very good day – schadenfreude at its very best. I would explain that the time I had allocated to them has now been taken by another client, and wish them good luck for the future!”

Replies (16)

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By lme
17th Jan 2023 09:52

you can look forward to schaudenfraude.... for a good few Januaries, after selling a practice!

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By Catherine Newman
17th Jan 2023 10:22

I didn't go to a client's 70th party on Saturday as I can't afford to go anywhere near illness in January. She rang up at 5.45 yesterday asking whether she could drop her books off. I wouldn't have allowed it on a Monday anyway as I go to choir but I deliberately stayed off as a load of people are ill.

It appears I am "Open All Hours!"

I have been receiving emails saying "I don't understand what the statements mean". How do HMRC decide what income to put in my code". Does this affect my "income tax". Can't you ring up? They are the same people every year.

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Replying to Catherine Newman:
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By Open all hours
17th Jan 2023 15:24

And I thought I was me and you were you but I may have been mistaken all along.

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Replying to Open all hours:
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By Catherine Newman
18th Jan 2023 15:06

Haha.

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By Self-Employed and Happy
17th Jan 2023 10:53

As I've said before, I find it ludicrous practices aren't organised enough to prevent a bad January, we take on newbies in January, charge a premium, explain to them if records aren't with us by 31/10 for the following year they get dropped.

I hated January working for larger firms, the lack of organisation is terrible, clients are only like that because they are allowed to get away with it, missing our deadline (which numerous reminders are sent) results in a "no thanks" and a dis-engagement letter, Accountants are far too scared to rid themselves of clients that don't respect their time.

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By WallyGandy
17th Jan 2023 11:02

Time after time and year on year we all get the same "clients". Do we need this? No. Tired of these people. Stopping work on the good guys and threatening those relationships.

Granted, I'm in "twilight years now" but any call from a prospective last minuter is usually rejected unless it's a "two minute job"- eg property income or Child Benefit clawback. Issue pro-forma with funds into my client account. No money- no work.
Existing clients are warned of highly increased fees in January- they cannot deny that they, too, expect the same if they work unsociable hours.
But... if they wake up and supply (usually incomplete) data within a few days of deadline I've decided now to let them receive a fine. Sounds harsh, but better to say "Remember you were fined earlier?" instead of "You may get a fine" And it works...... £100 is not the end of the planet.

Harsh?- Yes. But most of the stragglers are builders. They don't like paper. And they are abusing the accountant.

That said- yesterday got a call from an long-standing builder client. 2022 was a very bad year for him. Father passed away- Mother ill with cancer- and his marriage in problem. THAT is good enough for me- I'll do the job.

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By Ian McTernan CTA
17th Jan 2023 11:07

Latecomers aren't an issue. It's very simple. You supply things at the last minute, it might not get done and you will be fined. If you don't like it, go bother someone else.

Yes, I am busy at this time of year- so I can play golf three times a week in summer (my last round was end of October when buggies were withdrawn).

It's all part of the job, learn to deal with it rather than spend ages agognising over it.

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Replying to Ian McTernan CTA:
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By WallyGandy
17th Jan 2023 11:11

Hear hear.

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By Springfield
17th Jan 2023 11:27

Hmm. Everyone seems to be discussing the symptoms here, and not the root cause - which is having the same fixed annual deadline for more than 15m people.

In addition, for people with very simple tax affairs, the process of setting up an online gateway account themselves and then completing a badly designed form which may require only a handful of boxes appears daunting. The so-called 'helplines" are woefully under-staffed.

Frankly, the whole thing is a mess and the process needs re-designing from top to bottom. Not by HMRC though, - the latest shambles with PAYE direct debits shows that they haven't a clue about the real world. And add in some incentives too for early filing, which would also help HMRC by spreading their work-load.

At the moment it's like people turning up at 2.58pm for a 3pm football match having left their ticket at home, and expecting to walk straight to their seat.

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Replying to Springfield:
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By johnjenkins
17th Jan 2023 11:49

A lot of us tried to tell HMRC when SA first came out that 31st Jan was a stupid deadline. We advocated 31st March, then the second on account payment 30th September. Yes of course there will be business that come at the last minute but at least agents will have 12 months not 10 on 5th April year ends. As for gateway accounts, add on the CGT for residential, where if you haven't got a passport or driving licence your up the swanny for identification purposes. What's wrong with a UTR and NI number for identification? I'm not sure an actual re-design would help.

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By Open all hours
17th Jan 2023 15:27

We have one forward thinker asking for a quote this afternoon - he is planning to be self employed and taking monthly dividends. You won’t be doing that with us sunshine.

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SMH
By ShakingMyHead
18th Jan 2023 01:20

I had one client contact me 2 days ago, to check if I had availability as they would 'get their stuff to me at the end of the week' because (and here is comes....) 'they didn't want to leave it until the last minute'....hahaha... I said to them... today is the 16th, the deadline is the 31st... you already ARE last minute... I've been chasing you since April... "I must do better" he said... Yep, and when I send my invoice in advance ... you will wish you did. I refuse to let these stragglers destroy my peace. I'm still going to get it in at the sauna tomorrow! Too late, too bad.

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Replying to ShakingMyHead:
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By Catherine Newman
18th Jan 2023 15:05

I had a load of similar verbal from a usual suspect yesterday and gave the same response only I said it was only 17th. They know how to press the buttons.

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By Pam Moreland
18th Jan 2023 09:10

Fact remains - they don't want to do their return so they leave it to the last minute and don't care that we have 50 others like them. It's our problem not theirs and they don't care if we work all the hours there are and have to cover for staff sickness etc. 'Me' culture and 'just in time' hasn't helped and has definitely become worse over the past few years (and I have been involved in self assessment since it started). If the fine was £1,000 rather than £100 that might help as we could be even tougher then on receiving the information on a timely basis.
I have also turned down new clients since November and also have said that anything received after 3 January might not be completed in time. We shall see but I am looking forward to shrugging my shoulders and saying 'tough - I did warn you'.

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By ArronfHarrison
18th Jan 2023 16:25

More difficult at a larger firm but - gradually increasing fee premium for December and/or January, categorical cut-off last fortnight of January for meeting the submission deadline.

We will always be stressed in January, let's try and make money from it!

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Jennifer Adams
By Jennifer Adams
19th Jan 2023 10:07

Funnily enough.. I see that exactly a year ago I wrote an article on whether we should take on new clients at this time .. many comments were 'why not' despite the stress and leaving it to the last minute.

https://www.accountingweb.co.uk/practice/practice-strategy/should-you-ta...

As per every year I send round an email to all my clients threatening that if they dont get their return stuff to me by the end of Sept then I cant promise we'll make the Jan deadline. Usually they ignore me which is what has happened this year and over 1/4 of my clients l have left it to this month.

But this year for the first time ever a couple of my clients have taken me at my word and said that 'as we knew we wouldnt be able to make your deadline then we'd do it ourselves.' Didnt tell me of course.

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