SA worse than last year for many practitioners

Richard Hattersley
Community correspondent
Share this content

Self assessment season was worse than last year for 35% of practitioners, according to the latest data from AccountingWEB’s ‘What Would You Do Differently?’ survey.

In association with Digita Thomson Reuters, AccountingWEB launched a survey exploring how practitioners coped during January’s tax rush, and the results so far paint a familiar picture.

The latest feedback reveals 41% filed 26-50% of tax returns in January, while 18% of respondents scrambled to file 51-75%. That’s 69% of respondents filing 25% plus of tax returns in January.  

The main culprit for the heavier January workload is clear: it’s lazy or late clients. So far, 86% of the respondents blamed clients for their January grief.

Similar results emerged in an Any Answers thread documenting the AccountingWEB members’ tax return spread. One accountant filed more than two-thirds (68%) of their tax returns in January.

The survey also found practitioners will spend more time chasing clients next time (47%). Charging premium fees for latecomers is another popular countermeasure, but the number planning to do this is the same as in 2014 - 38%.

To combat the late stragglers next year, 32% of respondents plan to sack deadbeat clients. In the Any Answers thread, one member put the case for a client purge: “Unless you get them to change that behaviour pattern, the same clients will leave things to the last minute again next year. When I have had enough of this, I ask the client to find someone else to do their accounts.” 

Some respondents plan to implement new practice systems next year. So far, adopting e-signatures (22%) or automating client chasing (20%) have emerged as firm favourites among practitioners looking for software to streamline next year’s efforts. And in spite of the apparent difficulties suffered by a third of respondents, 50% of the total group have no plans to change their practice systems to alleviate the stress.

Among those who successfully spread their workload during the year, Red Five relied on a mixture of better organisation and chasing clients earlier to minimise the January hump: “Once the 31 May P60 deadline is out the way (for part employed clients) I have no clients that need to wait any longer for anything, so I hound them to get the info to me,” he said. “I am pro-active and will drive to them to pick up records, or set up a meeting in a coffee shop for a catch up. No emails saying 'drop your records at my office when you can be bothered' type stuff from me.”

And with so many struggling to break the tax season’s hold on their annual work schedule, perhaps practitioners should look again at the ideas of quarterly online reporting to HMRC; uncomfortable as this might be for clients, could it help practitioners spread the accounting and efiling load over the full year?

Do these findings match your experiences? Take part in the Thomson Reuters Digita tax season survey and help us to identify and deal with tax season workload blockages.


Please login or register to join the discussion.

26th Feb 2016 10:24

Help me out here

"self assessment season was worse than last year for 35% of practitioners"

I don't wish to stomp on your journalistic negativity, and I'm not a statistician, but.....surely if 35% found it worse than last year, then actually the 65% majority either found it exactly the same or even better than last year?

Thanks (0)
26th Feb 2016 10:44

Does the addition of the word "many" help?

Thanks for your statistical exactitude, Sheepy. You are completely right about the erroneous assumption behind the original headline. We have tweaked the headline to make it a bit more accurate. I hope you will foregive us forgive us for trying to sound the alarm a bit about what looks like a worrying trend within the profession.

What the article doesn't mention was that 32% of our sample so far also said January was "the same as it always is". And the 86% citing late clients as the biggest problem is up on the figure we collected from a similar survey two years ago (75%).

One of the things that keeps coming through in our research in this area is the way the tax compliance seems to dominate the profession's psyche - to the point that many practices seem to be stuck in an annual rut. And there should also be a little concern for the 6% of practitioners who are seeing clients drop away at this time of year.

Just continuing down this road seems to be less tenable: because they're not looking beyond the next tax deadline, many practitioners are not noticing that a majority of business clients aren't so interested in final accounts and tax returns - they want practical advice. And with quarterly reporting looming within the next year or two, the game is likely to change for many "status quo" practitioners.

I don't want to bang any drums too overtly, but it seems to us at AccountingWEB that the best time to review what caused the the most trouble in January and address those problems was while the pain was still fresh in everyone's minds.

If the findings of this preview article don't match your experiences, please take the survey yourself to ensure that we get a fully rounded picture!


Thanks (2)
26th Feb 2016 13:06

Quarterly reporting for lazy / late clients

Given the facts that Self-Assessment has been with us since 1996/97, that throughout that time 10% of taxpayers miss the filing deadline and that accountants are habitually chasing lazy clients in December and January then how does HMRC think these same people will manage filing at least 4 times a year?

Chasing the lazy ones once a year is bad enough, to do it 4 times a year will be soul-destroying!

Thanks (0)
26th Feb 2016 15:16


I am sorry everyone but blaming your clients for anything barring fraud is just pathetic in my book.

In terms of January I filed 4 self-assessment tax returns out of a total of 182 self-assessment returns filed for 2014-15.  Of the 4:

1.  Two paid an extra £200 plus VAT, as per my contract variation letter of December.

2.  Two did not, having contacted me with circumstances which I agreed with them jusitifed me not applying the £200.  One had lost his father in November and had to deal with the will and so on, one had been seriously affected by the 5 December flooding here in Cumbria.

You get the clients you deserve in life.  I am firm but fair with late filers and have no truck with slow pay.  So my debtors' days are 4, and I get to do plenty of marketing in January, yet again won some very decent new clients from rivals who had their noses buried in piles of tax returns.

Thanks (5)