Now the Budget is out the way, next on the accountant’s calendar is self assessment season. Philip Fisher’s new series prepares accountants for the torturous annual ritual.
Any accountant who runs a private client practice that involves a significant volume of business assisting clients who need to fill in personal tax returns is likely to spend much of each autumn in denial.
However, when November dawns, they realise the inevitable has come around again. The tax return season is about to get into full swing, which means cancelling all social engagements and potentially missing out on the Christmas and New Year festivities.
It is a fact of life that most human beings have an inbuilt desire to leave everything until the last minute whenever the opportunity arises. This is not a strategy that fits well with the need to complete hundreds of tax returns by a fixed deadline.
Given the prevalence of technology, even allowing for the fact that the government's attempts to make tax digital have so far not proved as stunning as they had hoped, it is amazing that neither our tax authorities nor political grandees have yet worked out that having a single date for the completion of almost all personal and trust tax returns is counter-productive.
It makes life impossibly difficult for everybody on either side of the industry. Tax advisers and their clients endow tearing their hair out desperately trying to get far too much work done in a few days or weeks leading up to 31 January each year. The very limited resources of HMRC are also put under far greater strain than is necessary.
From a political point of view, while it must be nice to get a massive cash injection in the cold dark days of winter, it would surely be possible to get a more favourable outcome with a better spread through the year.
Given all of these issues, it is about time that Philip Hammond or his successor considered the possibility of splitting the alphabet (or random numbers) into 12 and asking people to complete tax returns based on a monthly deadline. For example, the As and Bs could continue with January, while the Cs and Ds would work to a February deadline etc.
That may never happen, particularly since the possibility that eventually the digitalisation project will have a similar and possibly even more productive impact.
On the basis that the status quo is with us for the current year and probably several more, this series has been written as a guide to take away some of the pain of what is likely to be most stressful annual experience that most of us are ever forced to undergo.
In particular, the intention is to make all of us consider our working practices and those of staff members (not to mention clients), with a view to proposing a few relatively small and painless changes that could improve productivity, profitability and work/life balance in the tricky few months that lie ahead.
Over the next couple of months, the series will attempt to cover every aspect of his tortuous time, suggesting some strategies that should help to alleviate some of the most common problems.