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‘Lazy’ clients continue to put pressure on practitioners


The self assessment penalty extension until the end of February offers cold comfort to firms dragging clients through one of the busiest times of the accounting year.

27th Jan 2022
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The countdown to the tax return deadline has entered its final days, and while the recent penalty extension has offered some reprieve to firms dredging through their client’s tax returns, the pressure is on to finish this busy part of the accounting cycle on time.

Yet, try as they might to finish by 31 January, members of the Any Answers forum are, once again, chasing clients for information.

AccountingWEB user Newacct06 seemed to have reached the end of their tether, lamenting that clients who “provide mortgage statements for only half the year,  bank statements with many of the months missing etc.” are stretching out tasks that should take a fraction of the time currently spent on them.

And, with HMRC still waiting on 4m tax returns that still need to be processed before the month is up, the tax authority is not alone in their conundrum, as other contributors similarly expressed their irritation at their client’s lack of urgency.

“It seems to have become worse this year than in earlier years,” said Tax Teddy, “returning time and again to the working papers just seems so much more difficult.”

Last chance?

In order to nudge clients towards providing information, practitioners are beginning to dispense with pleasantries when getting their point across.

Any Answers veteran Wanderer has applied this no-frills approach, simply saying “Just keep batting it back until they supply what you require.”

User Gainsborough agreed with this approach saying that “for the worst offenders, I email a bullet point list of missing info and then just strike through on the email what they have sent and bounce it back to them.”

Yet, even Gainsborough admitted this tactic has its flaws if the client doesn’t respond, admitting that they continue to plead to clients for “the same info that's been requested and sent for the last 10 years”.

This constant back and forth between client and practitioner ad nauseam seems to be an uphill battle for many contributors on Any Answers struggling to make the upcoming deadline.

Cut them loose

This exasperation is even pushing some to consider their futures with time consuming clients, either by upping their prices to make the constant chasing worth it, or simply asking them to move on once the work has been done.

Tax Teddy believes that a grading system may be their best option, admitting that “some hard questions are going to be asked come February and March” for clients that have languished at the bottom of their ‘1-2-3’ grading system during busy season.

Others on the thread were in agreement with this approach to tricky clients, as Glenn Martin succinctly puts it: “Your firm, your rules; either tolerate them, charge them loads, or get rid.”

An open conversation

With many in the thread having undoubtedly reached their limit, Speaking Ambition’s people skills and performance coach Alexandra Bond Burnett understands many of the frustrations practitioners face during the busy self assessment season.

Taking aim at the clients themselves, Burnett pointed out that “the issue is, the client isn't taking ownership of the problem and they're leaving it.”

“I've done it, too," admitted Burnett. "I've been up at three in the morning because clients haven't delivered the paperwork.”

Yet, while she empathises with the struggles practitioners go through when chasing work, Burnett believes an open and frank conversation with clients is the best first step towards a more harmonious professional relationship. 

With the pressures of Covid and Brexit bearing down on businesses of all shapes and sizes, firms could benefit from taking a more understanding, yet, firm approach with clients.

“In the short term, it's about having a very non-judgmental conversation and saying to your client ‘you, as a business owner, have a responsibility to do this. Do you agree?’ And making sure they understand.”

By taking this approach, Burnett noted that, rather than sending impersonal reminders, firms should instead state the facts and then present clients with questions on how to rectify issues, thus bringing them into the discourse.

Burnett, therefore, highlighted the importance of laying the groundwork and ensuring everyone is in agreement about the facts. 

Knowing your worth

Although it is beneficial to create an open and frank conversation with your client, Burnett also understands the sheer importance of valuing your time, energy and mental wellbeing.

“At the end of the day, the relationship between an accountant and the client is a partnership and should be viewed as such.”

Talking about her own experiences of re-evaluating her professional life, Burnett was candid about her realisation that the constant chasing was impacting her, noting that her hard work was not being appreciated by clients.

Having this moment of clarity can help firms not only to be rid of stressful work commitments, but also allows for introspection on how things could have been done differently in order to swerve the nuclear option in the future

“There are consequences of inaction from clients,” admitted Burnett. “However, it's important to look back and consider for the future, ‘what is my role as your accountant and what is your role as a business owner?’”

Overall, Burnett believes that firms know, deep down, what needs to be done with clients not willing to meet them in the middle.

“I always think it comes down to values. If you're not feeling appreciated, if your services aren't feeling valued, then it's because that matters to you. And that's why people are sacking off their clients.”

You can share your client grumbles and frustrations on this Monday's special Deadline Day edition of Any Answers Live. AccountingWEB's editor Richard Hattersley will be joined by practitioners Sharon Pocock and Gary Jacobs on the final day of self assessment season to reflect on tax returns, uncooperative clients and what they plan to do differently next year - register to join this interactive AccountingWEB Live session.

Replies (11)

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the sea otter
By memyself-eye
27th Jan 2022 18:31

All clients are 'lazy' - accounts, tax returns etc leaves most people bored stupid - and why would it not?
If clients were switched on, accountants would be out of a job.....

Tell us something new.

Thanks (9)
Replying to memyself-eye:
By a_q
28th Jan 2022 14:17

Quite right - I'm quite lazy but not lazy enough to not to do the 'self' part of self assessment - so not to pay an accountant.

Besides, if you're up at 3a.m. - you've already missed the deadline! All us self-assessors know that!

Thanks (0)
By johnjenkins
28th Jan 2022 10:44

Will, by the look of you, you are a young go getta, which is admirable. What you don't realise is that there is a window to get your tax return to HMRC. Some clients want it done straight away, some aren't bothered. That doesn't mean to say they are lazy. There are people and institutions around that want everything put in neat little boxes. Unfortunately HMRC is one of them and as you can see from all the hassle with employment status, IR35, MTD etc. etc. it doesn't work. We need to be flexible and use common sense instead of rigidity and compliance.

Thanks (5)
By anthony stevens
28th Jan 2022 11:23

Fear not MTD for income tax will solve all our problems....LOL. No need for tax returns.

Thanks (3)
By RickyRoark
28th Jan 2022 11:32

Every client is different.

Most of the pressure of chasing 'lazy' clients is self-inflicted. Accountants would do well to remember this mantra: "Each client is responsible for their own tax affairs. I will help them with their accounting matters, but I will not make their irresponsibility my responsibility."

Thanks (3)
By Brend201
28th Jan 2022 12:02


Thanks (0)
John Stokdyk, AccountingWEB head of insight
By John Stokdyk
28th Jan 2022 12:32

I'm looking forward to Monday's webinar to find out where January 2022 is going to land in the all-time list of miserable tax seasons. I thought last year was up there with classics such as 2018, but during an unrecorded portion of this week's podcast session, Easitax's Gary Jacobs ranked this year up with some of the worst.

He also had little time for practitioners who berated their clients' laziness. The issue, he said, "Is not a tax problem, it's a wellbeing problem. People are battered and some are in financial difficulties after the pandemic... It's a time to show some empathy for clients. They're frightened about their tax liabilities. It's the most difficult tax season ever, not from the tax perspective but from the personal view."

To find out more about how Gary manages all his sole trader and private car rental business clients, tune in to Monday's webinar and hear what he has to say about the MTD ITSA pilot in this week's No Accounting For Taste podcast:

Thanks (1)
By Mr J Andrews
28th Jan 2022 13:50

There's only one thing missing from this article which the author should consider. A one liner in the correspondence to dilatory client, dressed up to suit the individual reprobate :-
............I cannot be held responsible for any HMRC penal consequences for the late filing of your Return..............
As long as your backside is covered , who gives a damn ?
Perhaps I'm lucky but my clients are aware of what is required and know they will have to go elsewhere if they give me grief.

Thanks (0)
Routemaster image
By tom123
28th Jan 2022 14:46

My payroll supervisor in a previous role had a sign above her desk:

"A lack of preparation on your part does not create a priority on my part"

Thanks (6)
By Burlington Bertie
28th Jan 2022 17:13

I call it 'shaking the tree'...every February I get rid of the dead wood:
"Dear PITA client, thanks, but no thanks..."
Result being, I've only had to file five SATRs in lowest in over thirty years!

Thanks (0)
By Calculatorboy
28th Jan 2022 20:00

Mental note to self - never have anything to do with Easitax who appear to be smoking something very strong , poor clients ? Some of mine have had their best year ever thanks to ill thought out grant schemes devised by children , while it was the " poor" accountants who had to grapple with dealing with the overcomplicated rules

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