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Should you take on last minute tax return clients?

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With HMRC effectively deferring the self assessment deadline for another six weeks, Jennifer Adams considers whether this may be a once in a lifetime opportunity to expand your business.

17th Jan 2022
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The announcement that HMRC will treat returns filed during February 2022 as being received late but with a reasonable excuse for late filing, has come as a welcome breather for some taxpayers and their accountants.

Furlough related work took up a lot of time for all businesses and accountants over the previous two years; both may still be experiencing staffing absences due to the Omicron variant and as such the 'deferment' will come as a welcome reprieve.

However, accountants whose current clients have adhered to reminders or who are unaware of the deferment should be on the downward stretch towards full submission by now and possibly could accommodate taking on new clients who have not submitted.

Apart from possibly a new start-up, we know that the majority of accountancy firms do not actively advertise (apart from a website and possible networking attendance) – clients coming via recommendation.

Whenever the subject of taking on new clients in the last month before any submission deadline has arisen on AccountingWEB, comments are usually in the negative with the view that having left submission to the last minute (without a very good reason) then do you really want such (slack) clients on your books?

Tempted?

Nevertheless, even those accountants who usually turn away January enquiries may be tempted to tweak their rules - just this once - possibly by announcing the extension on Facebook and offering their services to latecomers.

If you do have spare space and take on such clients then decide upfront how many you will take on and the latest point in the month by which you will receive their work. The usual question as to whether you charge a higher fee needs to be addressed (discussion about which is a popular subject on AccountingWEB).

Remember that a client prepared to pay a premium in January/February is a bit of a myth. Usually anyone who calls in January for a 31 Jan submission just wants cheap, having already rung round 4/5 other accountants before you, not interested in a quality service otherwise they would be calling in April/May.

However, this year their reason for missing the usual deadline (for this is what it effectively will be) may be Covid-related rather than lazy. Will you feel bad at turning them down? The answer will obviously depend on who it is, the difficulty in getting their accounts into some order by the extended deadline and whether the client is likely to stay.

It might be difficult to turn away a client who rings and asks you to help their friend or colleague or member of staff or family member. If you take on any client in Jan/Feb make sure that AML and credit references are undertaken as late submitters can mean late payers and preferably make it a rule to get paid up front.

Keep to your rules

Each firm should have rules and restrictions in place as to which type of client fits their business and included in those rules should be the rule – 'don't be too accommodating'.

 

Again, this is where knowledge of the type of client you are looking to service is valuable and just because there is extra submission time this year does not mean that you should lower your expectations of either yourself or your intended client. Don't be afraid to say 'no'.

Worth the stress?

There may be stress when taking on latecomers in a usual January deadline year but in this years' scenario how many latecomers will there be? Practically - how many will ring? The majority of taxpayers are unaware of the date change so the likelihood is that the answer will be a maximum of half a dozen but more likely one or two. That is unless you decide to go all out with an advertising programme which will cost at this late stage and is unlikely to attract the quality clients required in the time left.

HMRC do not appear to be intent on spending money advising taxpayers of the deferment so those who have not submitted by 31 Jan will only become aware by chance or have taken the conscious decision not to comply.

One or two of the smaller-type clients or clients whose returns can be churned out in relatively little time will probably be worthwhile taking on if only just for this year (you can always 'ditch' later if they turn out to be a pain).

Larger and more complex clients can either be told the usual 'I can't guarantee' or advise that you will take them on but they take the hit (assuming that they come within your type of client criteria).

Otherwise time would be better spent doing the usual February work, namely getting rid of the 'bad' clients and more importantly servicing current clients.

Spend time contacting current clients - targeting those who are increasing in size despite Covid and getting potentially more successful; those you can see from preparing last years' figures are nearing the VAT registration limit; those who have a large amount in their business current account and need advice as to how to withdraw the money tax efficiently; directors of companies who need to be aware of the April increase in dividend rate etc. and all the work you have been putting off.

Adding more value to your practice

Attracting good potential clients is hard work and takes time (more than just a few weeks) and we know that more value is added to your business if you add value to your clients' business.

Doing good work for your high value clients will mean introductions to similar high value clients. There is value in emailing all clients in February confirming that next year is intended to be a 'normal' year, reminding of the usual submission dates, taking the opportunity to explain that submission dates will be in the news again over the next year or so due to MTD (for those readers who believe that MTD either won't come into being or will be deferred again - humour me).

The usual email needs to be sent to all who ignored your pleas for September delivery of figures for last years' return. Say that they were lucky this time not least because of the deferment, remind them of the usual stress when sending you information after that date and take the opportunity to explain about MTD in that they won't be able to be late in a few years time.

What are other accountants doing?

A quick check on Facebook reveals that for those accountants that bother to keep up to date with their postings, there is confirmation that the date has been deferred but none are taking the opportunity to use the post as an advert to latecomers.

Replies (12)

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By Hugo Fair
17th Jan 2022 17:16

"Whenever the subject of taking on new clients in the last month before any submission deadline has arisen on AccountingWEB, comments are usually in the negative with the view that having left submission to the last minute (without a very good reason) then do you really want such (slack) clients on your books? Nevertheless, even those accountants who usually turn away January enquiries may be tempted to tweak their rules - just this once .."

Why? A bad client remains a poor choice irrespective of HMRC's one month penalty holiday!

Thanks (4)
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By Crouchy
17th Jan 2022 17:19

They arent all bad

we have historically picked up clients in January, who we have retained for years and turned around to be early filers with good records and fees

with some good judgement of character you can pick up good clients at this time

Thanks (4)
Replying to Crouchy:
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By Hugo Fair
17th Jan 2022 17:28

Indeed ... but it's your "with some good judgement of character" that's obviously key here.
No-one (at least not me) is advocating a wholesale refusal to take any new client in Jan ... but the idea of HMRC's concession providing a window of opportunity is predicated on the prospects being those with an imminent deadline to hit.
Experience shows that as not having a good correlation with long-term retention.

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By Calculatorboy
17th Jan 2022 19:15

Avoid like the plague ...

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By Paul Crowley
18th Jan 2022 09:18

Always a judgement call

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By meadowsaw227
18th Jan 2022 10:33

No no never not ever !

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By Jimess
18th Jan 2022 10:42

We usually have plenty of work in February and March, not as intensive or as pressured as December and January, but certainly enough for us not to want to push the self assessment work into February. It would mean giving up my longed for week off in February and that is definitely not going to happen.

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By JD
18th Jan 2022 12:42

It's not all tax return lagards.

There are the enquiries this time of the year from the ....'' I have just had the bill for completing this years and accounts and returns from larger corporate firm up the road/always get passed to different people each time I contact them/nobody understand my business''client. These are very worthwhile and worth having that little bit of capacity for.

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By Ian McTernan CTA
18th Jan 2022 12:51

I consider each referral on it's merits.

I don't mind if they are last minute- I make it very clear if they want to leave it to the last minute then it will probably be late and they will bear the penalty and interest.

I expect to be very busy at this time of year- it let's me go play golf when it's warm 2-3 times a week!

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Morph
By kevinringer
18th Jan 2022 14:05

This assumes you're not already working flat out and need the entire month of February to catch up. Remember that this "extension" only makes the 2021 filing season the same length as pre-Covid years. It was only 2020 that was "extended" (or should I say, penalty-free) being 13 months from 01/02/2020 to 28/02/2021 whereas 2021 is now 12 months 01/03/2021 to 28/02/2022. 2022 will be 11 months 01/03/2022 to 31/01/2023. And we've got the next stage of MTD VAT to deal with: that very much depends on the size of your clients - I have a lot of small scale farmers who are sub £85k and are registered because they receive refunds - so the MTD VAT extension affects me more than it might affect other agents.

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By carnmores
18th Jan 2022 14:33

yes i take them on all of them

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By Mr J Andrews
18th Jan 2022 15:01

Why not take them on ? Just spell out the penalty implications - for which you cannot be held responsible . This said , I can think of better once in a lifetime opportunities.
As for getting rid of 'bad' clients in February , there's eleven other months to consider this option.

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