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MTD: Create your client communication plan


Richard Sergeant looks at how you can create a communication plan to make sure clients are aware of what is going to change for them in the run-up to the Making Tax Digital for income tax self assessment deadline. This article is the sixth in our Countdown to Making Tax Digital series in collaboration with Sage.

13th Dec 2021
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Getting the MTD ITSA message through to clients is not an easy challenge, especially as some details are still to be clarified and April 2024 seems like a long, long way away.

But time will slip by, and although aspects of the proposals may change, the fundamentals will remain. One way or another, clients will need to keep and report on their records digitally, either with your help or without.

The point of creating a communications plan is to make sure that your clients are aware of the changes, what their options will be, and what actions they will need to take and when. It should also help make the journey more relevant, easier to understand, and hopefully easier to manage from your firm’s perspective.

Starting with your team

A lesson underlined by many people’s MTD for VAT experience is that you’ll get the best result by making this a group effort. A common understanding and shared goal makes it easier to formulate the internal approach and of course, helps with getting the message out effectively. 

As much of the knowledge about clients is stored as day to day experience, the insight the team brings gives the best chance of identifying what will work and with whom. For example, knowing who is likely to read emails or WhatsApp messages over letters, and who will need to be called directly can make a real difference.

Your key messages

General communication to all your clients is going to be essential. Outlining the core information and requirements lets everyone know where they stand now, while regular updates will help to reinforce the message and allow you to adapt as further details become available. This is your baseline.

It’s also important to be clear about the approach you are taking as their accountant. As part of this exercise, you may need to raise the prospect of additional costs, whether for new bookkeeping software, more time spent or a combination of both. When you’re ready, you’ll want to let them know what the new charging structure will be. If it’s going to cost more, being upfront now will give them time to prepare and avoid shocks later.

Outlining how MTD could bring additional benefits to their business by knowing their numbers and real-time tax position. These numbers will help them plan better and could chime well with certain clients, so consider how to build positive messages into your client comms. However, as MTD is about regulatory compliance, the softer messages around business benefits will reduce over time, and should be replaced with more direct “you must act” messages as the deadlines approach.

When the time is right you need to ask clients to take action. Deciding what that action is could be different depending on the client type (as discussed in previous articles in this series). You could invite them to a webinar, face to face event, or one to one session if this is feasible - but there has to be a defined outcome. Preferably, they should know at the end what the path for them is going to be and what needs to happen next.

Training as part of communication

MTD for VAT saw training and communication work closely together. Training around technology is likely to be particularly useful, especially if it is in a format such as video that you can share and point clients to en masse.

Helping them to ‘self-serve’ in this way means they have a resource to keep returning to, and shows you understand that it can take a while to get to grips with new ways of doing things. 

Prioritising which clients to work with when

There are many ways to prioritise clients, and you and your team will have a better understanding of how to do this based on your own circumstances. One suggestion is to start with those that will be more likely to give the software a go. Or perhaps any that currently don’t have a business bank account, or even what level of support they might need.

Not everyone will be resistant to change, although it’s likely that you will need to focus on simple quick wins to get them fully on board. Thinking about who you know might benefit from having invoicing in one place, quicker payments, or better short term cash visibility could be good levers to introduce the new regulations.

The quicker that these types of clients can be encouraged to make the change the more time you will have to focus on the more technically challenged, and those less inclined to take action.

Getting the message across

Reducing the need for lots of one-to-one conversations will help carry some of the load, especially early on. Most useful tools to do this are probably already at your disposal:

  • Your website
  • Video
  • Social media - Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and Whatsapp
  • Downloadable assets (from providers or in-house)
  • Emails 

You should also consider live events like webinars or seminars where groups of similar clients (by trade, attitude, or complexity) can learn and ask questions. 

Having a mix of approaches will help to layer your communications to match client capabilities and increase the chances of them taking notice.

Creating your communication plan

Writing an actual plan, using a spreadsheet or a project planning tool, broken down into distinct blocks of activity, keeps everything on track and means everyone should know where they are. Planning out the broad sweep from today through to April 2024 is useful in showing when you should act, and indeed when you need clients to take action. 

Basing it around a timeline will also help you work out dates for when communications need to be prepared for sending out (if you’re doing a series of emails for example or a webinar), or carving out time to make contact with those that will need a personal call.

Along with the dates of actions, you should also consider what message needs communicating and how it will be communicated (what channels or methods will be used), and of course who will be doing it.

Given the recent experience of helping businesses through Covid, it is likely that you will already have an idea of what works best for you, and what your clients respond best to. However, unlike Covid, this is likely to require persistence and plenty of reminders.

This article is the sixth in a seven-part series from AccountingWEB sponsored by Sage. You can access all of Sage's MTD resources and support on the Sage MTD Hub.

Replies (4)

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By Open all hours
13th Dec 2021 20:05

Through ‘general communication’ and ‘regular updates’ we have gone from telling clients that they can choose their own MTD reporting period (2016) to now herding them together at 31 March whether they like it or not.

We have sent weekly emails to clients since circa 2012 so the communication side has been easy and is not new to our clients but we are grateful for the absurdity of MTD which has allowed us to add circus style humour on a regular basis.

Please don’t preach that quarterly updates as currently proposed are suitable for any form of tax advice. Valuations, Capital Allowances, seasonal variations will make nonsense of any cash based figures.

How much better it would have been for HMRC to have thought things through properly, and listened hard when told truths which they offhandedly rejected, instead of blundering on as they still seem intent on doing.

Thanks (3)
By Hugo Fair
13th Dec 2021 21:02

Given that "some details are still to be clarified" (winner of the Understatement of the Year award) and the suggestion that "General communication to all your clients is going to be essential" - how about sending the clients something like:

As far as we can tell the government, and HMRC in particular, think you're really stupid - although it's of course possible that it's us who are stupid for not understanding their message. You decide!

You may remember the massive campaigns to persuade every householder to move to 'smart' meters for their electricity & gas. The main messages were that the migration would be simple (and wouldn't cost you anything) + you'd actually save money (by understanding what you were using).

Wind forward 10 years and what has happened?
1. All the original meters were specific to your then current supplier, so you either couldn't then change supplier or it would cost you the proverbial couple of limbs to do so.
2. The cost of supply and installation had all been underwritten by the government (aka taxpayers) - and had to be written-off before an even bigger fund was allocated to repeat the exercise (with pan-supplier meters that no-one wants because they were bitten last time).
3. It didn't take long for most people to notice that (shock/horror) their consumption of electricity increased whenever they switched on an electrical device - and the larger & power-hungry the device, the worse the consumption - but that the meter wasn't necessary to understand this.
4. Also a number of 'failures' have been identified (such as smart meters that don't work as they can't get a signal) - which was a surprise, despite forecasts that this would happen.

So why are we rambling on (a bit like a government communications effort) about smart meters, when we usually talk to you about exciting things like taxation?

Well the short answer (and the long answer would take too much of your and my allotted number of years to expound upon) is ... that there's something supposed to be coming your way called MTD for ITSA. Snappy isn't it? Making Tax Digital for Income Tax Self Assessment.

It's origins in near pre-history were as part of George Osborne's famous "death of the tax return" pronouncement, but it has evolved (or rather been transformed like Frankenstein's monster by injudicious quantities of lightning strikes) into something that now looks like nothing else on this planet.
We don't know exactly what it involves (as HMRC haven't yet made up their collective mind on that point), but it will require most of you that currently complete a SATR to spend extra money on software AND to make a choice between entering data on a daily basis or paying us to do this for you.

You may be surprised to hear (HMRC certainly were) that we're currently reviewing our price-list ... and as with those letters from the Banks that start with "Good news ...", it will be for us.

In case you're wondering, HMRC have from time to time announced that this will accrue benefits to you but so far none of those claims have stood up to scrutiny. Maybe there's a hidden agenda that will deliver the country's finances to some higher plane - but if so it is currently unannounced (probably yet to be defined), which brings us back to the Smart meters.

Apparently these are meant to be able to inform, in real-time, the power generators about rapid changes in demand - so that they can switch supplies via alternative routes and whatever else they need to do in order to maintain services.
Highly laudable (assuming it's true), so why wasn't this the message when they were trying to encourage maximum uptake?
Apparently because the Spads (look it up) thought you and I were too stupid to understand this and could only be motivated by personal greed (even when based on a lie and so not being achieved).

If you now have a feeling of déjà vu, you've reached the same point as us. Happy Christmas.

Thanks (4)
By ireallyshouldknowthisbut
14th Dec 2021 09:26

I've been taking the p*ss out of this on my budget newsletter for the past 6 or 7 years, and noting the back peddling and moving backwards in time dates each time.

That's about as far as I am going to take it this March, and in October/November next year.

Short section stating what date its been put back to this time.

Many of my clients have retired since the initial announcement, many others business come to a natural end, others moved on. not sure why I would put time and effort in now for a cohort of clients who might or might not apply, and the reality is will be put back yet again. HMRC dont have the resources to check what we file, even if we do end up doing this at some point, so MTU seems to be the optimum solution to get through the first 5+ years of this and I imagine it will go like other systems before it. A forgotten backwater and weird anomaly like iXBRL which no-one gives 2 hoots about.

Thanks (3)
By Mr J Andrews
14th Dec 2021 13:00

Sixth of Seven in the series . And still no mention of, or reference to , applications for an Exemption from Making Tax Digital.
So far we have seen the enormous amount of benefit and ooodles of dosh that Software companies can expect to make from these articles. And clearly , from these same articles , there's no benefit to the general taxpaying public.
Hopefully the last in the series will reflect HMRC's customers where it's not reasonable or practical due to age , disability , location or any other reason to accommodate this farce - and what they should be doing about it.

Thanks (2)