THE ALL-IMPORTANT 31 January deadline for online filing of personal tax returns means accountancy practices across the UK are gearing up for the most demanding time of the year. So Iris has produced a checklist for accountants to ensure their practice is ready.
• Make a list of clients for whom you need to complete a tax return
A list has to be your starting point but double-check it’s up to date and complete with all the clients that will be required to meet 31 January deadlines. Don’t forget to check client contact details. By doing so you will be prepared for who you need to undertake work for and will be ready for the next steps.
• Prepare your team and allocate resources appropriately
There may have been employee changes since last year, so have a full review of staffs’ capabilities. Is the team fully up to speed on recent changes in legislation or HMRC processes? Allocate work efficiently by matching expertise to relevant tasks. You can also make a note of any staff development that may be needed ahead of next year’s returns.
• Check your practice software is up to date
Check if your software updates automatically to keep up with changing statutory requirements. If not, don’t leave it to the last minute to install and test updates; these usually take longer than you expect.
As well as company-wide preparations, think about how you can work best with your client:
• Look at last year
Reflect on the challenges faced when completing returns last year. Discuss these with your clients so you can make any improvements necessary for this year.
• Speak with your clients in good time
Help make sure you can do your job properly by enabling your clients to do theirs. Let them know about the information you are going to need from them and the timescales you both need to stick to. Last-minute requests for information can add pressure to client relationships and should be avoided at all costs.
• Keep clients on course without burdening them with administration
Save time and improve efficiency by automating correspondence. For example, some software allows you to produce and send out timely, relevant emails and letters such as reminders of when you need to receive clients’ input and prompts to sign the return.
Once your practice is in the middle of the busy season, maintaining control is crucial. You need to spot potential problems from arising to prevent them from turning into a crisis:
• Monitor progress with regular meetings
How often you hold these will depend on your team and client base, but daily catch ups aren’t unusual in the busy season and can be a good investment of time. Make sure that staff at any level can make sense of progress and identify any issues. Avoid drowning in data; make sure information can be quickly and easily viewed as graphs to keep you on track.
It’s important to have a pay structure in place from the beginning to ensure your hard work is rewarded with prompt payment, without late payers holding up cash flow:
• Make your terms of payment well known
Don’t be nervous about making both new and existing clients completely aware about these before you begin work.
• Issue invoices individually
Some clients are quicker at paying than others. Check previous files of turnaround times last year for every client. You can then estimate the time it will take to prepare this year’s return for each.
• Identify clients with a history of paying late and bill promptly
Based on previous years’ experience, anticipate problems that may occur and agree a different arrangement for being paid, such as staged payments. If a regular client consistently pays late, consider a monthly standing order arrangement.
Also, don’t add to the problem with internal delays; make it easy for the payment process to take place. Enclosing the invoice when you send clients the return to check can speed up the flow of cash into the practice.
Finally, once the 2012 deadline has passed, hold a review while the work is still fresh in everyone’s minds to consider what worked well and where there is room for improvement. This builds a body of collective knowledge and experience to help you continually improve processes, which could make the busy season even more straightforward and profitable next year.
Charles Manly is product director of Iris Accountancy Solutions
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