Co-founder Mazuma
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31 January
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Let’s make a January pact to avoid SA headaches

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Lucy Cohen proposes making the last weekend of January a no-go zone for work and offers a solution to avoid self assessment season leaking into February.

10th Jan 2022
Co-founder Mazuma
Columnist
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Scrolling through January on my calendar, my first thought is that there are really far too many weeks this month - the way the dates fall this year makes it seem like it’s six weeks long. My second thought is that the 31st falls on a Monday.

‘Well - at least it’s not a weekend I guess’, I muse to myself. But wait, if it’s not falling on a weekend, but rather a Monday, then it inevitably means that up and down the country, accountants will be subconsciously thinking about working that weekend. And if you’re thinking about working that weekend, then you’ll have somewhat committed to pulling a late one on Monday the 31st. That last week of January will feel like it lasts a month on its own.

Yes, I know late filing penalties won’t kick in until 28 February, effectively extending the deadline. But who wants to keep doing tax returns past 31 January when you could be getting on with your 2022 practice plans or better still, getting in that overdue holiday? And let’s not forget that interest will still accrue on those tax returns. 

So I’m proposing that as a collective, we all declare that last weekend of January a no-go zone for work. Let’s make the commitment now before we get devoured by last-minute client demands and scruffy boxes of receipts.

“But how?”, I hear you cry. Don’t worry I have a plan for us all!

Get the messaging right

Job number one to make this happen is to get straight down to business ASAP in January, and contact every single client that hasn’t submitted their work to you yet. You can give them one of three messages: 

  1. Unless you submit your work by X date, your tax return won’t be filed on time,
  2. As we are now into January we’ll be charging an additional fee for submitting your tax return on time; or
  3. As we’re now into January and all previous attempts to get you to submit your work have failed, your tax return won’t be submitted on time.

That’s it - that’s the message.

Given the extra time now handed out by HMRC it’s entirely possible that clients may plead that the extra fees / lack of time is a little unfair. But remember this is your practice and your rules! Over the Christmas and New Year period we were all heading into January believing it was business as usual, and have made our plans accordingly. You’re absolutely within your rights to work to the deadline of your choosing, in the way that suits you best.

You may get some grumbles, but you’re setting your boundaries and being crystal clear. Any client of yours that has been with you for even a short amount of time should not be surprised by this. And let’s face it, it’s not like the tax return deadline is a shock.

If you’ve built space into your January to take on new last-minute clients, then decide upfront how many you want to take on and what the latest point in the month will be to receive their work. Then again, set out with crystal clear communication from the off.

Stick to your guns

Whatever it is that you’ve decided to do, stick to your guns. Yes, it has been a really tough year for a lot of people and tax returns may have slipped down the priority list. But it’s also been a tough year for you - let’s not get 2022 off to a needlessly stressful start.

If you find the thought of saying no overwhelming then why not set out some standard selections that follow the three messages above? You can do this by survey or even a Google form, and it provides a neat way to get your clients to declare their intentions in line with your boundaries - a simple tick box allowing them to select which option they’ll be going with (get a move on, pay more or file late) and you’ll know exactly where you stand with each client and can plan your workload accordingly.

Scale it back

If you’ve got plans to take on an extra workload in January and have a team, I’d suggest scaling it back a bit. Between Covid and seasonal sniffles, there is a high likelihood that you’ll have team members off sick for a period of time. Bake that expectation into your plan so that you don’t end up with an overworked team.

Book a trip

Wait… what? You heard me - book a trip! Or something, anything - any activity for the last weekend in January that you cannot cancel. Make a commitment to your family and yourself by deliberately making it impossible to slip into working that last weekend.

Parkinson’s law states the old adage that work expands to fill the time allotted for its completion. Use that knowledge as a superpower right now. Whether you work that last weekend in January or not, you’ll likely get the same amount of work done. Deliberately creating non-negotiable non-work time means that you’ll be forced to get everything you need to get done, done sooner. 

Commit with your fellow professionals

I’m not going to be so bold as to state that this is a call to arms, but it is perhaps a great opportunity to agree on a code of conduct that protects us all from making the first month of 2022 a living nightmare.

Let’s check in with each other, keep each other accountable and help our fellow practitioners to start the year off on a good footing.

Replies (11)

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By Winnie Wiggleroom
10th Jan 2022 13:18

Someone has written this exact same article every year for at least the last 15 years, this year there is nothing new - just get your head down and get the work done as fast as possible if that means working late and weekends, thats life, welcome to being in practice

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Replying to Winnie Wiggleroom:
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By Hugo Fair
10th Jan 2022 17:04

Quite. I was holding back (not wishing to burnish my cynicism credentials) ... but why does everyone want to tell me what to do?

It's not as though I was seeking advice. And it's bad enough when it's HMRC (if only because the systems to apply those instructions are often broken), but to now have 'motherhood and apple pie' preached at me as though it's ground-breaking ...

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Stepurhan
By stepurhan
11th Jan 2022 08:52

That most annoying of journalistic devices. Writing assumed responses from readers.

For the record, I didn't worry that you had a plan for us all. I would note that your plan breaks down at the first stage though. You offer three potential messages, but the middle one is inconsistent with the others. Are we putting our feet down and making a stand or not? Saying that we will work if there is more money on the table undermines the whole concept.

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By johnjenkins
11th Jan 2022 09:52

This is probably one of the worst articles I have read. It's a bit like Boris saying "come on people let's jet off to the Maldives, the travel restrictions don't apply to us".

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By Ian McTernan CTA
11th Jan 2022 12:13

Same thing every year- well meaning article written by someone with head in clouds.

I accept that from mid- December to the end of January I will have to work some full days and weekends in order to meet the needs of my clients and have a healthy bank balance. I no longer find this stressful, it's just part of the job.

The balance is that I can wonder around the golf course 2-3 times a week in summer when it's warm and pleasant.

Telling people they should book the last weekend off sounds like you don't care about your clients at all, they are all just numbers to you and all those who are struggling to make the deadline for various reasons including long covid, etc can all go jump.

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Replying to Ian McTernan CTA:
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By Calculatorboy
12th Jan 2022 21:30

Yes I'm with you ..its chaos and will always be so , but its soon over ..besides the weather is crap , enforced elongated Xmas holidays are tiresome and mind numbing , so I'm happy to be busy with a healthy bank balance as I keep ratcheting up the fees for the late ones who are ever so grateful...

So I feel sad for non accountants who are just recovering from the seismic financial hit that is called ExcessXmas..

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By keithyates
11th Jan 2022 18:35

At the risk of going against the flow, if the article causes us to pause and reflect to consider the bigger picture of the impact that January has on us and others that we connect with, the longer hours, weekends etc - and something positive comes out of it (e.g. being mindful and structuring so that we can make a family or personal commitment) then that's got to be a good thing for us and those we connect with?

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Replying to keithyates:
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By johnjenkins
12th Jan 2022 12:23

If we don't know how can we advise others?

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By Matrix
11th Jan 2022 18:48

4. Since you did not submit your records by our deadline then we assume you are submitting your tax return yourself.

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By Pam Moreland
11th Jan 2022 20:01

I think some of the responders are a bit mean. The article does say what we all really know we should do but we don't. I gave a pre Christmas ultimatum and told my last minuters (they are always the same people) that all information had to be in by 4 January otherwise I could not guarantee to complete on time - Oh and it is first come first served. No exceptions. I have company accounts to do and file this month as well.
So far I have had almost everyone's stuff and am quoting third week of January for the latest ones which came in between Christmas and New Year. (I was working then too). This was before the deadline was relaxed.
Will it work? Well maybe. But I am NOT going to beat myself up for people who have already had 9 months to do this and who do this to me every year. I've done too many weekends in previous years and they just expect that I can continue to pull the rabbits out of the hat. Tough! Not this year. They can have the fine and I shall refuse to appeal them as well. The worm has turned!

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By johnjenkins
12th Jan 2022 12:29

It's actually the deadline being 31st January that is the problem. If it was (as it should be) 31st March then I don't think there would be as many problems (yes you will always get some that will leave things to the last minute (a bit like HMRC did last year)). 1st on account and balancing payment 31st March and second 30th September. Much more sensible.

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