Save content
Have you found this content useful? Use the button above to save it to your profile.

Tax season survey: How to make things better

2nd May 2014
Save content
Have you found this content useful? Use the button above to save it to your profile.

Looking back at the responses from 1,000 accountants in our Xero-sponsored tax season survey, John Stokdyk draws out suggestions for improvements that are likely to have the most impact.

We are powerless to change some things about self assessment, such as the natural human tendency to put things off until the last minute and the quality of HMRC’s customer service. But in 2014 our Xero-sponsored tax season survey found that many firms had found ways to make things run more smoothly during the January crunch.

This article draws on the tax survey data to identify the main issues that bothered accountants during this year's tax season and explores some of the ways they plan to tackle their less co-operative clients and other practice bottlenecks.

How was January 2014 self assessment season?  2014 survey comments

- “Much stricter this year with people so a little easier”

- “More bums on seats in the office meant the work was distributed more evenly; a few hassles from HICBC and PPI but nothing too severe”

- “Busy, as new clients acquired in year and short of good staff”

- “Cluttered by employer queries about RTI tax liability being all to pot”

Just over half of respondents (51%) felt that their 2014 self assessment experience was "the same as ever". But comparing the results of the 2014 tax season survey with last year’s equivalent indicated that in spite of some minor complications such as the Higher Income Child Benefit Charge (HICBC), things were getting better for our respondents.

For 28%, adjustments they had made to their systems and internal processes had a beneficial effect, while 38% said they were happy with their existing systems. In answer to our question about plans for improvement, another 11% said they had no need, as things had run smoothly this year - nearly four times as many as last year.

What were the biggest problems you encountered?

Lazy/late clients


HMRC service quality


Practice bottlenecks


New legislation


2014 survey comments

- “It's always the same clients but they pay the bills so can’t get rid of them! More selective when choosing new clients!”

- “Too much new legislation requires much time for little reward”

- “Clients bringing in their books late and then chasing up after a few days to see if their accounts had been completed.”

Clients who are slow to deliver their personal information and authorised returns are and will remain the biggest headache for accountants during the tax season. Because managing clients and collecting their data is such an overwhelming concern, the topic featured prominently in conversations during our post-survey webinar. In her subsequent whitepaper Coalesco's Linda Frier emphasised the need to communicate to clients what’s required and when, and following up with timely reminders if they forget.

What would you do differently? (multiple answers allowed, with 2013 comparatives)




Chase clients early




Premium fees



- 6%

Organise staff better




Sack clients



+ 22%

Introduce document portal




Ran smoothly



+ 8%

Introduce cloud accounting




2014 survey comments

- “We do a lot of the above now, and our communication with clients is great. It's getting them to reply that is the hard part. We already use emails/PDFs etc - might consider looking at other ways to make it easier for clients to get info to us.

- “Employ an additional member of staff for planned expansion.

- “Get more authorities in place to obtain missing information directly.

Comparisons between the 2013 and 2014 tax season surveys demonstrate many of our respondents recognised that improving client management and internal processes could deliver productivity gains. We also found that 28% made such improvements in the past year - a relatively small proportion of the 1,000+ survey sample. But what did the respondents say about their intentions to focus on such improvements, and which were likely to have the biggest impact?

2014 plans to address practice processes

Happy with existing processes


Recent changes made a difference


Integrate software


Embrace hosted/cloud applications


Upgrade tax & practice software


Nearly a third of this sample (31%) said recent initiatives had made a difference. In addition, 42% of respondents were happy with things as they are. Taken together, nearly three-quarters (73%) of the survey sample could be identified as status quo firms; of these, 68% either answered that this year’s tax season was “Same as ever” or “Slightly worse” than last year.

Numerically sole practitioners represented the biggest proportion of status quo firms. Among this segment, 44% were happy with their existing processes - a similar proportion to the larger firms (6+ partners) among our respondents. Firms with 2-5 partners, however, were less complacent, with 36-37% giving the “happy with things as they are response”. The larger the firm, the more likely it was to be conscious of practice bottlenecks, and consider premium fees or incentives to encourage clients to get their tax data in early (44% among 6+ partner firms compared to 32% for sole practitioners).

Which changes have the most impact?

Chase clients early


Integrate software


Sack clients


Document portal


During the live webinar to discuss the results on 26 March 2014, we polled the 50 participants to find out which of the approaches were likely to have the most impact on improving efficiency in the next year. Their first choice - chasing clients earlier - confirmed the scale of the issue for practitioners. And with this in mind, we turned to Practice Excellence Award-winner Linda Frier to share ideas that enabled her firm manage the tax season surge while continuing to provide award-winning service to her clients. 

For more practical ideas and suggestions to improve the performance of your firm, download the whitepaper from Linda Frier explaining how her Practice Excellence Award-winning firm Coalesco Certified Accountants manages the tax workload and troublesome clients. It's packed full of tips on how to improve client communication and speed the flow of work in your firm throughout the year, not just during self assessment season

Replies (1)

Please login or register to join the discussion.

By AndrewV12
09th May 2014 09:42

Chase clients early

With some clients you cannot chase them early or often enough, re-organising staff becomes the same old.. same old.

Thanks (0)