Let’s make a January pact to avoid SA headachesby
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.
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:
- Unless you submit your work by X date, your tax return won’t be filed on time,
- As we are now into January we’ll be charging an additional fee for submitting your tax return on time; or
- 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.