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Strategies for a stress-free self assessment season

Managing the surge in workload that comes during self assessment is one of the major challenges that accounting practices face every year. We asked three different firms how they manage to keep their cool during the busy season.

25th Oct 2019
Staff writer AccountingWEB
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Self assessment
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Many accounting firms adopt their own disciplines and processes to ensure that this season is trouble-free. Naturally, digital accounting tools are also there to help, offering functionality that smooths out the entire process, making it much easier for business owners to calculate their tax liabilities.

Here are the strategies that Pillow May Accountants, Warr & Co Chartered Accountants and Dolan Accountancy use to take the stress out of self assessment season.

Plan ahead

“For self assessment, we have a booking-slot system for clients that runs from May to January each year,” said Jessica Pillow, managing director of Pillow May Accountants. “This way, in the nine-month window leading up to January each year we allocate clients a particular month to work on their accounts and feed back queries.”

The firm chases clients to its own deadlines, one month at a time, and thereby takes the trouble out of a process that could get unwieldy if tackled in a shorter time frame.

“Most clients don’t mind if we are coming to them a bit ahead of time and requesting their attention,” added Pillow. “They appreciate the notion that they will get the obligation out of the way and get to understand their liability, which they can then plan for.”

Set parameters

Peter Edwards, a partner at Warr & Co Chartered Accountants, says that FreeAgent has greatly improved his self assessment season, in that it lets his firm set the terms of engagement with individual clients in respect of chasing, alerts and more. 

Crucially, the system enables access to be set to the appropriate level for each particular client’s systems, with some preferring a light touch and others wanting the firm to drive things more.

“FreeAgent gives us this capability, and we love it,” said Edwards. “We’ve found it an excellent way of managing our client relationships when it comes to self assessment. It means we give each client the degree of control with which they are comfortable. For some, we can be hands-off while others respond best if we are quite interventionist. It’s horses for courses.”

Make the most of automation

A similar sentiment comes from Sophie Tyler, the accounting team manager at Dolan Accountancy: “When it comes to FreeAgent and self assessment, it just makes the journey with clients that much easier. 

“We can check what clients are doing is correct, and that’s ideal. It means we don’t have to ask the client at every step, but can just double-check the bookkeeping ourselves and see where they have reached.”

Dolan also uses alert functions judiciously and feels the benefit there: “In general, alerts are a great tool to flag deadlines – or even the lack of a recent login, for example. So many problems can be avoided through smart use of alerts! We love them for that reason – and those firms that aren’t using them should revisit the advantages they offer.”

What all three of these practices have in common, is that they have been able to select the right tools and processes for their firm and their clients. Once they have established a process, they communicate this clearly to the client, giving them the choice of how they want to work with their accountant. Whatever strategies you choose to adopt during self assessment season, make sure that they’re communicated clearly, and work for both you - and your clients.

Find out more about preparing for self assessment season and other compliance issues in our guide - 5 compliance conversations accountants can master.