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UK Accountants Worried About Last-Minute Client Approval of Self-Assessment Tax Returns

Findings of the 2014 Wolters Kluwer self-assessment tax season survey of UK accountants

​The greatest worry among UK accountants and tax professionals during the self-assessment tax season is receiving data from their clients at the last minute for submission to HMRC, according to a survey by global information group Wolters Kluwer.

The online survey of 600 UK tax professionals is one of the largest of its kind conducted and has been presented as a guide offering insights into the concerns of practitioners working in the tax sector. The Wolters Kluwer research - conducted on behalf of its CCH UK software business  - posed a series of objective and subjective questions to the survey's participants.

Number one by a large margin (77%) in a list of how the self-assessment process could be improved is the need for their clients to submit data earlier. Many professionals see a challenge in motivating their clients to submit their information on time, or even display a sense of urgency during the self-assessment tax season. Many believe that receiving data earlier will make the most substantial improvement to their business efficiency. Also high on their wish list is easier ways to collect data and faster methods of receiving client approval of finished tax returns.

"The sense of frustration that tax professionals feel is evident in the large number of comments that the survey's respondents make on this subject," says Simon Crompton, managing director of Wolters Kluwer's CCH software division in the UK. "It is the client interface that is the focus for concern."

As many accountants and tax advisers never meet their clients face-to-face during the tax season, email and physical mail still predominate as the primary methods of communication and the ways to get approval of tax returns. Yet almost a third of the accountants participating in the survey say that faster and easier authorisation of finished returns would make a huge difference.

"Our analysis of the results concludes that this very human problem of last-minute approval can be partially resolved by technology, although it is not a complete solution," says Simon Crompton. "The holy grail of a totally integrated approach to accountancy practice communication has yet to be reached but existing software and technology can be combined to improve many aspects of client communications. These include secure online environments that encourage better collaboration between accountants and their clients, to wean them off email and physical mail as the primary - and potentially unsafe - methods of exchanging confidential tax data."

Top 5 areas to improve the self-assessment process Wolters Kluwer ranked the five most-wanted areas of self-assessment tax process improvement from the survey's results: 1. Clients submitting their data earlier 2. An easier way to collect data from clients 3. Quicker client approval of finished returns 4. A better way of checking incomplete records 5. Faster data input "Our survey responses clearly demonstrate that, despite the intense pressure tax professionals feel in the closing weeks, hours, even minutes of the self-assessment season they have not entirely lost their sense of humour," says Simon Crompton. "Although 1 in 10 considered the 2013-14 season to have been bad enough to require a month off to recover, half as many again were ready to get straight back to work."

To the question of how to improve the tax season, a number of respondents offered food and drink-based solutions, including "a large glass of whiskey" and "every tax return season needs chocolate." The survey results have been analysed and presented as a guide that offers useful insights into the aspects of the process that cause tax professionals the most problems during the busy tax season. Drawing directly on the experiences and comments of practitioners, the guide includes:

  • Getting clients to submit their information earlier
  • Finding easier ways to collect data
  • Checking incomplete records
  • Improving data input