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