Tax return season post-mortem: How to avoid the same mistakes next year

1st Feb 2019
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Business person crossed the finish line

You’ve crossed the deadline day finish line, but before you push this year’s stresses to the back of your mind, you should reflect on what when well and what didn’t this tax return season.

It seems inevitable that now Friday 1 February 2019 has come, everybody will now heave a huge sigh of relief, wonder how they are going to recover from the hangover as a direct result of the final tax return after party, and sleep a lot.

Realistically, there are still some tax returns to complete so rest will have to wait for another week or two but the worst will definitely be behind you.

The natural reaction is to go into mental purdah, forgetting what you and everybody in the department have been through.

But once you’ve completed the rogue returns and sent them off to HMRC, along with the tax and penalty payments, it's time to get back to real life.

Most of us will probably have to sort out all of the work that was put on hold, while the emergencies were dealt with.

Next, despite the best intentions, there is every chance that months of billing will need to be processed in a hurry, to redress the cash flow problems that the bank manager has kindly brought to your attention.

Only after all of these steps have been completed, can you sign off all of the holiday requests from the dedicated staff members, say goodbye to all of the temps and think about the future.

Those positive thoughts will probably initially be limited to finalising the arrangements for a long holiday during which you can re-familiarise yourself with the family you left behind in November.

By March, things may be back to normal and you can start dealing with clients on a more relaxed basis again.

This should all sound standard and a pretty accurate depiction of what we have all experienced over the last five/10/50 years.

But there is one thing that is missing. That is carrying out a detailed post-mortem of the tax return exercise to determine what was better than ever this year, what went badly wrong and, most pertinently, how it can be improved for next year.

You should quietly take some soundings and review individual performance. Some people panic under pressure, some thrive.

You might even consider dropping someone from the last-minute team, having discovered through bitter experience that they cannot be relied upon to get things right when highly stressed and with nobody checking their work properly.

While you’re at it, you might even decide to scratch off the list those wayward clients who were mostly to blame for any stress you and your team endured throughout January.

The writer would be willing to wager that the vast majority of firms never quite get around to taking this very necessary step. The inevitable result is that one year's problems are replicated the next, meaning that much unnecessary pain is suffered by all and sundry.

If there's one thing that readers should take away from the past couple of months it is the need to learn from the mistakes of the past and eradicate them going forward. You know it makes sense but it still requires a little fully justified effort to implement.

Perhaps the best solution is to make an appointment in your diary and probably those of everybody else in the tax department for 1 March 2019. This should be the date of a meeting to discuss the issues and make initial plans so that the January 2020 tax return season really will be better than ever.

After that, perhaps you can take everybody for yet another drink to thank them for keeping you sane and the firm solvent for another year.

Replies (4)

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By meadowsaw227
05th Feb 2019 11:07

All very well, but when it is me just plus one, not much scope for adjusting the "last minute team" .

Thanks (1)
By Joyces
05th Feb 2019 11:16

This year the volume of January filings were down on previous years (we've begun to persuade people to get returns done earlier), all tax returns were filed by midday on the 30th January (would have been earlier if I hadn't had a cold and hacking cough slowing me down) and all clients had paid their bills (I no longer file until they've paid). The plan for next year is to reduce the January workload further by targeting the next batch of clients we want to bring forward by a few months - Finally feels like we're getting there!

Thanks (0)
05th Feb 2019 13:30

You don't need to sack tardy clients. You just need to deal with their affairs when you have the time. That may well mean that they miss the deadline, but so what? Just make sure that they are told of the latest time they can bring their records at which you will guarantee their return's submission on time. If they miss that deadline, just do it in February. You still get their fee, and there is no need to rush anything.

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Chris M
By mr. mischief
13th Feb 2019 14:14

In my view only 2 types of accountants have January deadline problems:

1. Desperate ones, short of business.
2. Greedy ones.

If you are in category 1 make 2019 the year you get decent clients through the door, and ruthlessly ditch the poor ones - or at the very least charge them extra. See my posts in January for how to do this.

If you are a greedy one, this is a marathon not a sprint. Is it really worth it for the extra bucks involved? If you think it is, kindly keep out of this forum in January next year I don't want to hear your whingeing and moaning.

Thanks (0)