In an ideal world, your clients would send you their personal tax documents well ahead of the January 31 tax return deadline. Unfortunately, we don’t live in that world and January is often the ‘busiest-time-of-the-year’ for accountants.
It's been the same story ever since the Self-Assessment (SA) regime started in 1997. Year after year. Tempting as it might be to forget about it, for accountants who don’t want to suffer the madness for another year, the time to take control is now.
Here're 8 steps you can take now, to get your clients to file early.
- Review what went wrong last year
Are there any particular clients who are late year after year? Do you miss checking your client’s paperwork and ask for missing details in December and January? Start planning now, so you can avoid the pitfalls and encourage clients to follow best practices.
- Identify clients with a history of late return
Make a list of clients who are perpetually late and schedule reminders to contact them at key intervals. Tell them about the information you need and educate them about the benefits of getting the data to you in time. Maybe mentioning the £100 late return penalty would motivate them to file sooner.
- Share a PTR checklist with them
Making it as easy as possible for your clients to put the stuff together is half the battle. Draw up a checklist of everything you require from them before beginning a job. Ensure they have a copy of it too. Download our free SA tax return checklist to share with your clients.
- Provide notes from last year’s tax return
Provide each client with information on the notes made during last year’s tax return. This will help them understand what they need to provide this year, details such as bank accounts, additional incomes, and pension policies.
- Chase clients regularly
Ask clients for missing information within a certain timeframe. Consider hiring a temp or automating to chase for missing documents. Prompt clients regularly (especially the johnny-come-latelies). Set reminders to go out at regular intervals.
- Draw their attention to an earlier deadline
No one benefits from the annual rush in January – least of all clients. Stop drawing their attention to the 31 January deadline and instead refer them to your own earlier deadline. Tell them their deadline is 31 October (paper returns).
- Establish a stepped-fee structure
Offer a special deal on fees, based on a stepped fee structure whereby clients have to pay higher fees the later they produce the information. And stick to it.
- Introduce cloud portal
Use cloud accounting to help clients keep their books up-to-date all the time. This will minimise the work required when they are nearer to the deadline.
While it may be fair to blame clients for ignoring requests to produce papers in good time, Mark Lee, Chairman of the Tax Advice Network, thinks there is only one reason for the rush. He says, "Quite simply your clients leave things to the last minute because you let them do so. Yes you do. And, yes, YOU could change things". We agree and think it’s partly down to accountants too. As accountants it is our responsibility to educate our clients and sometimes even change the way we work to beat the January rush.