2018

Accountancy services and a marathon: an unexpected journey

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Simon on training run

 

HMRC have released a new version of their Self-Assessment Exclusions for individuals. These are a list of scenarios that the HMRC system cannot cope with or will not calculate the correct tax liability for and therefore there is an exclusion in place to allow for these returns to be submitted by post instead of online. 
HMRC have advised us that all Self-Assessment taxpayers need to file their 2016/17 Tax Return, pay their balance and make their first payment on account for 2017/18 by 31 January 2018. 
They have confirmed that a “small number” of taxpayers are affected by the exclusions and therefore unable to file online or get an accurate income tax liability calculation for 2016/17. Their forecasts suggest that the exclusions for 2016/17 will only impact “a very small proportion of SA customers (a fraction of 1%)”.
In these instances taxpayers (or their agents) should:
File a paper return, along with a completed reasonable excuse claim
Make a reasonable effort to estimate the income tax liability based on the information they have
Pay the estimated balance for 2016/17 and make their first payment on account of 2017/18 by 31 January 2018
Should the tax liability calculation for 2016/17 be too low or the deadline of 31 January 2018 be missed because of an exclusion, HMRC will not apply late filing, late payment penalties and/or interest. Automatic issue of these can be cancelled by a reasonable excuse claim. 
From February 2018 HMRC will contact “customers” and their agents where they feel that the tax calculation needs to be corrected to confirm their actual income tax liability. 
If you are uncertain as to whether or not your client’s circumstances match an HMRC exclusion and IRIS allows you to submit your client’s tax return online you should still file the return online, and pay the tax liability due. 
HMRC have stated that they will:
Identify any cases filed online where the calculation is incorrect
Make any required correction to the income tax liability 
Inform the customer of the correct liability 
Advise when the revised amounts need to be paid
Inform the customer that they will not have to pay late payment penalties and/or interest attributable to any additional amount arising from the correction if it is paid before the revised due date
In most cases, if your client’s circumstances fall into one of the HMRC Exclusions the IRIS software will warn you and advise that the Return be sent by post. There are some scenarios, only recently highlighted by HMRC that the software will not warn you about, but the Return will be rejected online with a 6492 error. In these circumstances the return should be sent by post accompanied by a reasonable excuse claim.

Stepping outside on a frosty morning for a ten-mile run with darkness enveloping your every step is akin to opening a bundle of ‘help’ emails days before the self-assessment deadline. After the initial feeling of dread subsides, you realise there’s only a certain amount of time to do the task and it will be fraught with pot holes and puddles. 

So, what are the similarities between growing a modern accountancy practice and running a gruelling 26-mile marathon? And is there anything to learn from it?

First and foremost, I run to keep in shape: it’s the exercise I love. Marathons have been on the ‘to do’ list but thought they were just too difficult. That is until a lady in my running club was awarded a London Marathon place last year and was terrified by the very thought of it; but rather than pull out, she championed other members to run with her and engaged us in the process. Our support and the feeling when she achieved her goal was inspirational for the rest of the club. Gaining a place in the London Marathon with Action for Children was not a forgone conclusion, so the day I received the news was like winning a very large client – I was ecstatic.

At Murrison & Wilson, we spend time planning for December and January as there are only three working weeks in December and the usual flurry of enquiries in January, work must be structured. Then add a training plan for running the London Marathon on top of the seasonal pressure and you have what could be a disaster for both the business objectives and running goals.

Drawing parallels

There are tremendous similarities between training and running the business. Firstly, and there’s no getting away from it, they are both exceptionally hard work. But the rewards are worth it. To help achieve business goals, we use technology solutions that support our overall strategy, as well as addressing our clients’ needs and gives us the ability to add value. We use IRIS’ business critical software, as among many of the business benefits, we can work from anywhere. 

On several occasions, it’s been too late to run after work, so the logical alternative is to run in the morning. However, given the lack of daylight at this time of year, I’ve changed my plan. Instead, I’ve got up, worked from home, trained in the light and then gone to the office. Creating the right working systems gives the flexibility to work anywhere at any time and this has been invaluable.

I mentioned my friend who engaged the running club during her training programme, inspiring everyone to support her goal and enthusing us along the way. The sense of community, a joint goal and celebrating milestones is a great parallel for the way we work with clients. As I am sure many of you have experienced, accountancy practices also take clients on a journey; from educating them on the financial basics of running a business to providing insight, strategic direction and new ideas. Working as part of a business team is just as rewarding as achieving marathon goals!

I intersperse my training with strength and conditioning gym sessions to prevent injury; building these sessions into my training plan guarantees I stay focused on the goal and not spend time nursing aliments and injuries during the process. Using technology resources isn’t the same as a gym workout (unless you are lugging around an old IBM mainframe in the hope of becoming the World’s Strongest Man) but they do provide flexibility and efficiencies.  The IRIS resourcing facility enables us to complete routine accounts and payroll work without the costly overheads associated with additional staff. Creating systems around us (just like going to the gym) means we can concentrate on the key tasks, providing value-added consultancy and developing the business.  

Learnings

There’s a volume of running miles I need to reach my marathon goal: it’s now upwards of forty each week. It’s during this time that my head clears and gives me space to think.  Time to think about clients, the recommendations we provide, how we can add value and most importantly, what’s best for them. Accountancy practices are always busy, so placing myself in a position to think through the best cause of action has proven invaluable.

Running time also enables me to think about the future of the business. We all have problems we need to address and invariably this time gives me ideas as to how to solve them. How do we help interpret the data from clients, reduce processing time and add more consultancy? Internet based accountants are becoming common place, so we need to demonstrate and keep the value in client relationships. And quite often, creative solutions come to mind that solve problems or help retain competitive advantage.

The takeaways from my experience so far are important ones. Make sure you have the systems behind you and get the structure right. If I was haphazard at work, my training would fall over, so infrastructure and mentality must be solid.

As the adage says, “failing to prepare is preparing to fail”. I cannot cut any miles from training as I’ll feel it on the day and won’t get the results.  Shortcuts just don’t work – in running, life or owning a business.

Take half an hour each day to think about strategy. I’ve learnt that if you do anything for 18 days in a row it will become habit. Taking time out helps planning, consolidates thinking and if you are of the same ilk as me, gives you time for exercise. And we all need that.

More marathon musings can be found on our blog and your sponsorship would be even better!

Posted by
Simon Murrison
12 February 2018
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