The accountant's guide to staffing tax return season

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Get your tax return staffing right before winter flu incapacitates half the office or those January clients come knocking.

The nature of our industry means that staffing is a constant problem. Sadly, audits do not occur evenly spread around the year, meaning that frequently juniors sit around in the summer with very little to do.

Similarly, those that complete personal tax returns will be frantically busy around the turn of the year but potentially almost completely idle between around March and September.

There are a number of approaches which might help save costs without compromising the quality of work.

Temporary staff

Some firms use temporary staff to complete tax returns in the busy period. The issue here is that there will be great competition for securing the services of such staff and their abilities are often questionable.

In addition, you can bet your bottom dollar (and a few more) that they will be charging excessive rates. However, if you can save employment costs for six months of the year this may be a price worth paying.

A different approach could be to contact recently retired colleagues who may enjoy the chance to catch up with friends and earn a little bit of money on the side to buy Christmas presents for grandchildren or pay for yet another cruise.

Multifunctional staff

Another possibility could be to train up multifunctional staff who can do other work for most of the year and just step in to do tax return work when the need arises. These could be auditors, partners with a little time to spare or even admin staff.

However, the cost is only one side of the equation and it is vitally important to get the right people. Ideally, they need to be trained in all of the intricacies of basic tax return compilation, have some idea about the kind of problems that may arise with your clients and also be intimately familiar with the software systems that you utilise.

Support

Those filling in the returns need to get support from more senior colleagues, managers or partners, who should be calm and capable of running their areas of the project, ensuring that all returns are completed on time and, above all else, that no mistakes are made.

In an ideal world, this would all be easy but somehow it never quite works out like as planned. Therefore, wherever possible, it would be good to have a little bit of a back-up just in case an illness arises: a few new clients come knocking on the door at the last minute or HMRC's systems go down at a series of inopportune moments and you have to deal with the consequences.

Perhaps the best incentive to get staffing right is the knowledge that the answer to almost all of the troubleshooting problems is that you will have to work even harder – ie 27 hour days instead of 24 when things go horribly wrong, just as you were planning to head off to spend a few welcome days chilling out with the family over the turkey and Christmas pudding.

The other major downside is dealing with the aftermath of a disaster, which could eventually lead to months of calming down irate clients. Even worse, you’ll have to contact the insurers to discuss the loss relief claim that went astray and is now out of date, leaving your client several thousand pounds (or conceivably millions) out of pocket.

About Philip Fisher

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19th Nov 2018 14:52

Alternatively Philip, you could run your business a bit better!

I cant conceive of having idle staff from May to September and then doing all the work in a rush in 2 months.

We do 'em all year, surely and steadily with no big problem. No overtime for me in Jan.

No wonder you have staffing problems if you leave them bored all summer, and working 30 days solid in Jan!

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25th Nov 2018 10:37

I agree with the comment on the article that tax returns should be started in April and not rushed in January. This kind of strategic planning is obviously not present in all firms. I’m not worried about January, we plan for it and chip away April to December so January is not horrific. This has improved considerably in recent years.

A more significant challenge is keeping staff busy in February and March. Trying to take on more regular bookkeeping work via quickbooks and additionally a good time for staff to study and take holiday. Will also book a staff away day to consider softer, non technical skills.

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