This year’s tax season branded ‘worst January ever’

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Licking their wounds after another stressful self assessment season, the AccountingWEB readers recounted their nightmarish deadline days on Any Answers and vowed that things would be different this time next year.

AccountingWEB member Mr Hankey was the first to declare this year’s January as “the worst one” ever.

It culminated the night before deadline day with the frazzled reader driving through the snow at 10pm for a year-end meeting at a client’s house. The client didn’t show much appreciation -- quite the opposite, in fact. The client felt they had done Mr Hankey a favour by keeping their bookkeeping to “a high standard” because this meant the accountant’s job was “easy and straightforward”.

Without a hint of irony, the client said: “I bet you must have some other clients who were a real nightmare.” Grumbling at the fact the client waited until mid-January to provide their records despite asking for them last September, Mr Hankey huffed: “They actually genuinely thought of themselves as one of my better clients, the cheek of it!”

Client chasing

Similar deadline day nightmares reverberated around the AccountingWEB community. Accounts12 spent the final week working “non-stop”. They filed their final return at 10pm on 31 January – much later than their usual 4pm finish time.

Fingers this year were pointed at normally prompt clients moving to the last-minute dark side. Readers Busacrun, Lesley Barnes and Glenn Martin were all left exasperated by clients who “seemingly lost the ability to provide complete records”.

For Neanderthal, their “hell of a day” spent chasing people for late SA adjustments and an unbelievable amount of filing demonstrates that “one cannot have control no matter how well organised”.

And while SteLacca commented that he'd had worse self assessment seasons, the effects of phone chasing approvals and last-minute amendments still took its toll. On deadline evening, he enjoyed an uninterrupted night’s sleep for the first time in a week.

But spare a thought for Penelope Pitstop. Their January started with HMRC issuing premature SA penalties and ended with them preparing an Excel spreadsheet entitled “worst clients”.

While repeated burning of the midnight oil may have taken its toll on AccountingWEB's members, it was at least good news for HMRC. The tax authority reported that a record high 93.68% of tax returns were filed before the midnight deadline. More than 700,000 taxpayers submitted on deadline day, with the peak hour being between 4pm to 5pm, when 60,000 filed their returns. This left some 700,000 taxpayers who missed the deadline.

Not all doom and gloom

But not every accountant suffered a nightmarish January. Ireallyshouldknowthisbut’s plan to get the bulk filed before Christmas came to fruition, meaning January was only their third busiest month.

Others like Daniel_ shaved a modicum of stress from their tax season through e-signatures. “Quick and easy approval of the returns made up for not sending out enough reminders to the usual culprits earlier in the year,” the member gushed.

Meanwhile, Meadowsaw227 gloated that it was their “easiest year by far”. With their last return filed two weeks before the deadline, the member had plenty of times to “dear John” their slow or bad clients.

What would you do differently?

And here lies the final stage of an accountant’s self assessment season. There’s a stereotype that as soon as the final tax return is filed, accountants head off to the ski slopes. But even the February chalet-dwellers use the days and weeks after to plan for next year’s busy season.

AccountingWEB member Busacrun has already consigned clients to the dump list. While Penelope Pitstop started February “sick to [their] back teeth of the same culprits every year” that they’ve vowed to attack them first in April for change.

It’s through reflecting on the previous year’s self assessment season that helped AccountingWEB veteran Marks ease this year’s stress. He chased clients monthly from September onwards (a tactic that he will continue this year but from April onwards), and he also brought on a fourth  member of staff.

Goodbye self assessment

Amongst those plotting what they’d differently next year, longtime AccountingWEB reader DJKL bid farewell to the annual busy season. At the end of January DJKL filed his final ever tax return as a practice. He’s bowing out before Making Tax Digital arrives. By April all his VAT work will be as an employee.

DJKL will hardly shed a single tear at the thought of no more late nights or client chasing. Rather than implementing late client-penalty measures, DJKL will empty his home study and store away former client records. As for his final self assessment season, he took it in his stride: “The earth didn’t move,” he said.

Despite a fraught chase with a usually prompt partnership, DJKL ended his busy season forever on a positive note: “Yet again, all lodged, and nobody left behind.” 

Was your January the 'worst one ever'? Have you already decided what you will do differently next year? Or have you decided to hang up your tax return hat, too? 

About Richard Hattersley

Richard Hattersley

Richard is AccountingWEB's Practice Editor. If you have any comments or suggestions for us get in touch.

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11th Feb 2019 18:12

Glad to see I wasnt only one. Pure hell this time - 7 days a week God only knows how many hours for at least 6 weeks (Xmas off - just)
1st week of Feb is the bestest week of the year. As DJKL I too have 'dumped' a real pain of a client - large fee but already replaced by 3 lovely ones.
But I am going to take my own medicine this year and am thinking of charging (see my article: Should accountants emulate HMRC and charge for late delivery of accounts?)
https://www.accountingweb.co.uk/practice/practice-strategy/should-accoun...
Anyone else join me?

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11th Feb 2019 18:14

My clients - 4 - who despite warnings of an extra £200 minimum in fees still left it until January were in no doubt whatsoever where they stood in the pecking order of my client list.

NOT ON IT.

They all got disengagement letters. All had left it until January at least once before. This stuff is just no longer sustainable, happy to leave it to others who are either more desperate or greedier than me.

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12th Feb 2019 06:33

Not our best year but certainly not our worst. We started chasing clients mid-August and had the majority completed before Christmas.
We normally file the last return around 9pm on deadline day but with the introduction of e-signature software we were done and dusted by 2:47pm.
We even allowed employees annual leave on the 31st, we were that confident that we would be finished.

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12th Feb 2019 07:50

According to the economic commentators this is all caused by the uncertainty over Brexit.

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12th Feb 2019 10:06

Like DJKL, this was my last tax year in the biz but I haven't had anything like the above since, in 2007.

We reset our own information deadline from 31 October to 5 July, then made sure we sent countdown reminders at the end of April, May & June. That first year we received over 70% of tax return info by the deadline and, in years since the average has been about 85%.

This is so easy to do and, rather than complaints, clients really appreciated the encouragement to clear it all in good time and not worrying all summer long that they still had to get the tax info together for Paul.

At the end of the day fellow accountants, this last minute stuff is pretty much all down to us, if you give clients 6 months to get the information to you, most will leave it to the end of the 6 months and, whilst you're trying to ramp up for that sudden influx of work, the rest are sitting there oblivious or waiting for a reminder, that doesn't often arrive till December. So who set up the problem?

Three months is more than enough time for someone to get their stuff together, so go on, give it a try.

And, for goodness sake if, as described above, a client gives you grief then 2 strikes and out, you don't need them, your health and wellbeing is more important than theirs.

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By mkowl
12th Feb 2019 10:32

The hope for 2018/19 is a complete reboot. Having decided that doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is a classic sign of madness, then instigated some major changes. Not least ditching audit work, time consuming and unfulfilling, so hopefully by end of Feb I will be free of the misery. Recruited a specific tax person who will start on the list in April, rather than me getting to November and done just 10% of returns. My Budget for the current year sees a fall in both revenue and costs but bottom line not really much that different. So work smarter not harder is my new ethos

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By Joyces
12th Feb 2019 11:23

All done, filed and paid for by 2pm on the 30th January and it felt very, very good - especially the bit about invoices being paid. I did work longish hours and weekends but I was far less stressed and frazzled than in previous years and far more organised. Invoices went out with the draft tax return and as the month progressed terms reduced from 14 days to 7 days to immediate payment - with a no payment = no filing made very clear! No one was more surprised than me when my lovely but normally very late paying ex-farmer client turned up with his cheque in time! Paperwork/emails etc were tidily filed away as soon as the tax return was submitted to HMRC and the tax return filed online. After a few days R&R I'm now spending February doing company accounts and tax returns for October/November year end clients with a clean and tidy office and planning how to tackle things so I don't work weekends at all next year. Its been a long time coming but I finally feel like I'm in the driving seat rather than being in a runaway vehicle heading downhill.. I'm allowing myself to feel slightly smug but only until the end of February as I know if I relax and take my eye off the ball for too long...

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By Ammie
12th Feb 2019 11:37

This year was very similar to others and not an experience I will endure for many more.

The "time wasting" client cull began slowly at end of 2017, picked up a little in 2018 and will continue this year. Disappointing to throw away some sizeable fees, even though new clients have mitigated the loss, but my mental state is far more important and I have chased and said enough to many amused clients who just won't change their behaviour.

It is with great pleasure that I am seeing the back of a few!!

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By fozia
12th Feb 2019 11:43

Worst few months leading up to January: Flu ridden, weather troubles, staff off sick, overtime galore.

The usual suspects will always make the deadline submission month hell, so why not have an earlier submission date end of October or November. That way at least we are not battling nature and flu epidemics to get work done and our families can actually see our face over the holidays.

Hailed as one of the most depressing months, why have a tax return submission and payment deadline the other side of Christmas?? Surely people can sort out papers within a few months of the tax year end, while the sun is still shining!

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By P2
12th Feb 2019 16:56

Breathed a little on February 1st having succeeded in filing ALL SA income tax returns required to be filed the day before. No late filing penalties for my clients - hurrah.

Then I turned to the December 31st VAT returns due for filing by February 7th - duh.

As you will have guessed, some chumps tell me they don't need me to do the detailed book-keeping anymore as they have their own newly acquired MTD compliant software.... and of course HMRC is going to collect VAT from them more accurately and completely - bahahahaha!

First set of records I examined Chump 1 had done a bank statement scrape and posted all his purchase payments as bank payments - e.g. debit expense account £1,000; credit bank £1,000. So far so good.

He then went on to post up his records from a receipts processing app and succeeded in duplicating most of his business expenses - e.g. debit expense account £1,000; credit supplier's account £1,000. Ooops!

Result (you're ahead of me, aren't you); he duplicated most of his business costs; he duplicated most of his VAT input tax and was left with a list of "unpaid supplier balances" (according to the software) but which he had in fact paid through the bank.

He was delighted that HMRC apparently owed him a VAT refund in view of all that input tax he had entered

To cut to the quick I worked all weekend Sat Feb 2nd and Sun Feb 3rd to correct all duplicate entries for the three months to December 31 2018 on an item by item basis, correcting the individual VAT input tax claims....

....and then felt obliged to discount my time to make the resulting bill for the filing of the corrected VAT return
appear "affordable".

Moving to the quarter ending March 31 2019 (filing on May 7th) all chumps who prefer to do their own book-keeping in this way (i.e. using the commercial software totally incorrectly) can submit their own VAT returns in their own right in future.

I want nothing to do with the rubbish results so easily created by chumps using the new software unsupervised ALONG THE WAY.

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to P2
12th Feb 2019 20:03

Here is how I deal with people who have posted willy nilly to Xero, QBO or whatever.

1. Identify the scope of the problem and explain this - within your quote - as clearly as you can, so he or she can see it really is a problem.

2. The fixed price quote should be a premium to your normal rate. There are 2 reasons for this. You want to discourage future willy nilly stuff, and this sort of work is the sort of work you can do without. Payable in advance if there is even the slightest doubt about slow pay.

In every case - about 5 so far - 2 things have happened:

1. They have paid up. Let's face it, they've mucked up because of the way these products are oversold, they know they've mucked up and they know they lack the skills to put it right.

2. They have changed things, often by hiring book-keepers I recommend or just taking a lot more care.

So in every case these fees have been one-offs, because in later years there have been no messes. Note that in your quote it is important to specify clearly whether you are just sorting out the immediate year-end or lifetime. I usually give 1 quote for each if we are already more than 1 month into the following accounting year. They normally accept my lower price quote and hire a book-keeper for year 2.

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13th Feb 2019 09:15

I've been in practice since 1985 and this year was our worst SA season. In previous years I'd often done 15-hour stints in the office but this year I had to do many 17-hour stints doing almost 100 hours a week. Horrendous.

I know the reason. Every year we bust a gut to get everything done by the deadline and we always achieve it. I have a lot of tax credit clients for whom the final figures must be filed by 31 January: there's no option to file a provisional return. Every year we achieve it no matter how late the client is. Every client thinks they're the only one in the world and that we filed on time so they don't need to be so early next year!

There's another reason why clients are late: cashflow. We bill when the work is done. If client don't deliver their records until January they aren't billed until January whereas if they'd delivered their records on time they would have been billed six months previously.

In the end we only had one client who failed to deliver their records. We met the deadline for everyone else.

We've been lucky not having anyone off ill or snowed in (we're in north Wales and do get a lot of snow) during January but one year we're going to be hit.

I don't want another filing season like 2018. I'm going to have to be a lot more assertive with clients for 2019.

This year we've got MTD to look forward to. I've only started a handful of clients with software and I suspected it has taken a huge amount of my time. I really have to hold their hands at every stage and show them how to do the same thing time and time again. I therefore expect we'll lose a shed load of time to MTD which means less time for SA and therefore every sign that the 2019 SA season will be worse.

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13th Feb 2019 18:28

Well, this year's was the worst ever, mainly due to the fact that my second in command passed away on 2nd January. This left me on my own for the whole month,working even longer hours than normal and every weekend. Certain clients will never learn, bringing their records in mid to end of January assuming that you have nothing else to do and have been waiting just for them!!! All done, estimates submitted for the late ones,finished at 10pm on 31st. Exhausted!!! To cap it all, HMRC are now sending out tax calculations for some of the self employed clients and not including the Class 2 NIC in the tax calculation!!! On contacting them, the explanation that a signal had not been set!!! Why??? Especially as clients had been self employed for a number of years! I wait to see if any more arise. HMRC complain that they do not have enough staff but if they dealt with matters correctly the first time then they would not have to spend time on the telephone to disgruntled agents and then having to correct their own errors!!!

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