Every British schoolchild will have a series of “special” dates imprinted on their brains. These will inevitably include their own birthday, 25 December, 1 January, 1 April and probably 5 November.
Once they graduate to the world of accountancy, 5 April is likely to join the list.
However, those of us who are seasoned professionals will have another day that gives even greater pleasure than any of these celebrations and that is 1 February.
Today is the day when we finally escape the tyranny of the tax return season, and are able to commune with family and friends again, relax and enjoy life.
As always, there will be the odd smug bean counter who managed to file all of his clients’ returns some time in September but for the vast majority the past couple of months and possibly longer will have been sheer hell.An indicator of the torture involved was a meeting over the weekend with a friend who look as if he had just endured a series of interrogations carried out by the Spanish Inquisition (for this purpose think Torquemada first Grand Inquisitor of the Tribunal of the Holy Office rather than Monty Python). In fact, he is nothing more than the principal of a well-established, small firm of chartered accountants.
There is no doubt that my friend and his peers will be celebrating the big day in a number of rather contrasting ways.
Some may attempt to sleep for the full 24 hours, without making much of a dent in all of the lost sleep of recent weeks. Others might drink themselves silly or celebrate in a slightly more sober fashion with staff or family members, book their summer holiday or catch up on some reading (possibly neglected AccountingWEB columns?).
They might also wish to fill themselves in on news items that have gone begging as frantic clients attempted to deliver information several months after the purported deadline.
Some may be surprised to learn that Rishi Sunak is Prime Minister and Jeremy Hunt Chancellor of the Exchequer. Intriguingly, while most news will have passed them by, a considerable number of practitioners may have inadvertently discovered that the recently departed Chairman of the Conservative Party, Nadhim Zahawi had a rather embarrassing run-in with the taxman leading to a £5m settlement, almost 30% of which represented a penalty for what he described as carelessness, but the man running HMRC preferred to characterise as neglect.
The reason why this will have come to the attention of even the busiest of accountants could be that some of their clients may have made some extremely late adjustments to tax returns, bringing into charge hitherto unmentioned sources of income and gains that they thought came under the very safe exemption colloquially known as “winging it”.
What to do now?
Having enjoyed the 1 February release from captivity, it should be incumbent on us to start dealing with the detritus.
In no particular order, it might be a good idea to:
- Send out fee notes for all of that work.
- Help clients who missed the deadline to complete returns and settle liabilities.
- Check some of the later returns filled in by less experienced members of staff to see whether any amendments are necessary.
- Catch up on all of the other work that has been deferred for far too long.
However, there is one further step that the typical accountant has a nasty tendency to ignore but which will come back to attack him or her in just under a year’s time.
The reason for your headache today is not just that the government has never seen sense and set up rolling deadlines for the completion of income tax returns.
It is usually a combination of your own dilatory behaviour in the later months of the calendar year, ditto from some colleagues but, most seriously of all, appalling behaviour by clients who flagrantly ignore deadlines in the happy knowledge that you will kill yourself in order to save them a £100 fine.
(Belated) New Year’s resolutions
This is the time for your own, somewhat belated, new year’s resolutions. These should include:
- Recalling the terrors and consequently working harder when life is relatively quiet.
- Redeploying some colleagues who were not wholly suited to their current roles (AKA, sacking useless staff).
- Introducing a strict regime for clients whereby if all tax return information is not lodged with your firm by (shall we say) 30 September, either returns will not be completed by the deadline or – a far better solution – the cost of completing them will increase by £100 or 10% (whichever is higher) for each additional month of delay.