The accountant’s guide to obtaining SA information

Orange carrot on stick
istock_Satenik_Guzhanina

There can be little doubt that everyone reading this article will have been through the horrors of trying to tease out information from clients in order to complete tax returns on a timely basis.

The process should be simple. Sometime in late summer, a letter should go to clients who will need us to complete their tax return requesting specific information.

The letter will typically be accompanied by a checklist. Preferably this should be specifically geared towards the individual client using information that was included in the previous year's tax return as a starting point. At the same time, it is obviously necessary to seek out new sources of income.

The immediate problem is that most clients will ignore the letter together with succeeding reminders. However, it is still necessary to write regularly and maintain an audit trail hoping that you eventually catch the critical moment when the rain is falling and your client can find nothing better to do than bring together all of the necessary bits of paper or electronic data that will facilitate the finalisation of their return.

It is a good move to include a final date after which you cannot guarantee to get the tax return completed by 31 January. This should be stated in every single letter/email and reminder so that clients cannot claim ignorance.

Never forget that clients are people and therefore will respond to different triggers. Some appreciate a simple reminder, while others will do nothing until they receive threats.

Most will take no action until the deadline is imminent, and then send over half of what you have requested, the remainder appearing in a trickle as increasingly frustrated communications spell out the consequences of failing to meet the statutory commitment.

Persuade your staff to be innovative. Time will always be tight but sometimes a phone call or visit can elicit information that is not forthcoming.

Some information may be obtained via third parties rather than directly from the client. If this is easier, then ensure that you have letters of authority at an early stage so that these can be forwarded to banks, investment advisers or others. If nothing else, professionals may well feel an obligation to respond, where clients will happily ignore you.

While it is always easy to blame clients who failed to deliver, sometimes you may need to look into your own souls. Quite often, some of us may forget to send out reminders, concentrate on certain clients and completely neglect others or perhaps worst of all, receive information and fail to act upon it so that several months later we realise that there is a big gap and have to go back to the client looking sheepish and apologising profusely.

In many cases, though, the simple problem is clients' lassitude. There are a number of approaches that may get over this. Broadly, they can be divided into the carrots and sticks.

Most firms only use the sticks, threatening clients with the disaster of having a tax return going in late if they do not come up with the goods on time. Those firms then tend to complete the returns even if the data is provided right at the end of January when staff are working around the clock.

An alternative approach might be to offer rewards to clients that perform. Subject to any ethical limitations, which will probably not be in point in situations of this type, you could consider offering any clients that get their full tax return information to you by the end of October a choice of rewards.

For example you could buy a job-lot of upmarket pens, ties, purses or silk scarves, perhaps brand them very subtly and give good clients a choice of which they would like. This innovation will please clients and make the lives of you and your staff much easier.

You might even get some business as a result of the word-of-mouth when those clients tell their friends about the lovely accountant who gave them a Gucci tie or scarf.

About Philip Fisher

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27th Nov 2018 19:36

Hoping MTD might sort out some of the problems of getting the clients to submit their records in time for the submitting deadline.

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27th Nov 2018 22:10

Oh dear, clicked on something and it is this guy again!

Mind, all I was going to say/ask was "How hard is this stuff?"

From the look of websites, some accountants seem to struggle with simple things such as prepping basic SA returns, billing fees, getting paid.

If they can't work out simple things like the above, how on earth can they grapple with tax law?

My experience (and the various disciplinaries that get posted on here - 29% compound interest anyone?) suggests that perhaps many of them don't.

Some people need to sort themselves out or go back to dog walking.

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28th Nov 2018 14:58

Philip, I see a very easy solution to your SA problems your firm seems to face

You state in a former article your staff are idle until September, and then work all the hours in Oct to Jan.

But you don't send out your reminders for stuff until the end of the summer.

I wonder if there could be a connection there old boy......

It seems entirely to be an mess of your own making if you allow your staff to sit on your hands for 6 months of the year.

We plan to get our SA in steadily through the year through proper planning, with a combination of nagging, financial inducements and letting people pay fines now and again. Oh and sacking the last minuters.

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to ireallyshouldknowthisbut
07th Dec 2018 19:30

You refer to Phil as " old boy".
I hope he is happy with this description.
We must be respectful to Phil dude

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to ireallyshouldknowthisbut
07th Dec 2018 19:30

You refer to Phil as " old boy".
I hope he is happy with this description.
We must be respectful to Phil dude

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07th Dec 2018 19:22

Phil dude you as a fiscal agent are only as good as your client.
The fiscal agent in the eyes of the fiscal payer is a mere necessary evil and of no great importance.
Tax compliance is not paramount to the entrepreneur business man and if he defaults and is landed with penalties he will blame the fiscal agent.

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