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10 ways accountants can make the self-assessment process easier

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With deadlines for self-assessment tax return submissions in October and November (31 October 2019 was the official deadline; the extended deadline is 12 November 2019 for those who pay and file through ROS (Revenue Online Service)), these are particularly busy months for you and your fellow accountants.

The majority of people in Ireland will be submitting their tax returns in this period, meaning it pays to be prepared.

And with more people earning money themselves through blogging, renting rooms via the likes of Airbnb and other online activities, there’s more need for you to be able to offer support around tax returns.

People have two options when it comes to their returns: they can fill them in and file them by themselves or get an accountant to do it.

A lot of people opt for the latter, which is a wise decision as it can typically save them money and reduce the stress of enquiries from Revenue.

To help you along the way, here are 10 tips to make this busy period as easy as possible for you and your clients.

1. Reach out to clients early and follow up

We know some clients will be disorganised and trying to prepare a set of accounts is the last thing they will want to do. Obviously, it will help to look after the clients who are prepared and like to get their books in earlier in the year.

Lots of clients will have accounts based on financial periods ending before December, so these are always a good starting point in January.

For those clients who are perennially last minute, it can help to reach out to them early and then follow up during the year.

2. Confirm tax liabilities with clients as soon work is complete

It helps to confirm clients’ tax liabilities early in the year. You may like to do this in person, however it can also be done over the phone.

Once you have agreed the liability with your client, it’s best practice to write them a letter confirming the payments that need to be made. This will also remind them of the funds needed in their account to make the payment due.

Remember, just because you confirm a client’s liability early in the year doesn’t mean you need to hit the button submit in ROS until October.

3. Avoid kicking the can down the road

We all have lots of clients who don’t like to pay tax and one way of temporarily moving a tax liability is through a client’s balance sheet.

As smaller clients’ accounts are often largely based on cash, it can sometimes be difficult to prepare an accurate balance sheet. Recognising expenses too early or not recognising debtors in a timely manner may reduce a client’s tax bill in the current year, however it will increase it next year.

The problem with a client who doesn’t like paying tax this year is that they won’t like paying tax any more next year. By managing a client’s expectations this year, you can make next year’s self-assessment discussion a lot easier.

4. Beware of preliminary tax

Preliminary tax can make bad new worse as the effects of a surprise tax liability will effectively double the impact of the bad news. Preliminary tax can be a little complicated for clients to understand.

In the current year, your clients can opt to settle their preliminary tax in one of three ways:

  • Pay 90% of the current (2019) liability
  • Pay 100% of the previous year (2018)
  • Pay 105% of the preceding year (2017).

One thing you can do for your clients in these situations is to help them forecast revenue for the current year, which may help to reduce their preliminary tax liability.

Read more about self-assessment


5. Ask your clients to use a separate bank account for business activities

Producing accounts and preparing a self-assessment return is a lot easier when your clients maintain a separate bank account for their business or taxable activity.

If they are organised enough to transfer drawings to a personal account each month, this will make reconciling the bank easier and give you peace of mind when it comes to making sure you have captured all expenses when completing their tax return.

6. Make your clients aware of the higher rate of tax

The largest jump in tax liability you are likely to see is when a client moves from the lower to the higher tax band. Clients are often ill-prepared for the large jump in tax when they hit this level, which can make the self-assessment process more painful.

If a client is around this level, they need to be aware that taking on extra work will incur taxes effectively at 50%. This means there will be an effective saving of 50% on any additional expenses incurred at this point.

Many clients will see the benefit in outsourcing bookkeeping and other services to their accountants particularly with these kinds of savings.

7. Check Capital Gains Tax payments

Capital Gains Tax (CGT) will need to paid in the year it is incurred (unless it is incurred in December, that is). While the return is completed as part of the Form 11, CGT will need to be paid in advance.

Failure to do this will incur interest and penalties and capital gains can often mean large payments.

If you only find out about capital gains when completing a client’s tax return and they have not paid already paid CGT, it will be too late.

8. Know your clients and their tax credits

Make sure you know your client’s background so you can claim all credits available to them. For example:

  • Do they have children in college?
  • Are they planning investing in a new business?
  • Are they helping with the cost of caring for a parent?

All of these cash outflows have the potential to result in tax credits and savings for your client. It is a knowledge of tax credits and other more complicated elements of self-assessment where you can provide top assistance to your clients.

9. Make sure your clients can make payment

It seems like an obvious point to make, but make sure your client has funds in their account to meet the RDI (ROS Debit Instruction) of their tax liability if you are submitting their return online via ROS.

10. Encourage your clients to use software to manage their accounts

While some of your clients will be super efficient with their accounts, there will no doubt be those who turn up with a shoebox of receipts for you to decipher. At this busy time of year, you’ll want things to move smoothly and quickly.

Speak to your clients and encourage them to make the move to software. By using good accounting software, they will be able to record their income, costs and paperwork, so when it comes to you sorting their tax return, you’ll have easy access to their numbers all in one place.

Conclusion

In the main, the self-assessment process can be made easier for you by front loading as much work as possible, understanding the situations of your clients and managing their expectations to help mitigate any unpleasant surprises.

Editor’s note: This article was first published in October 2019 and has been updated for relevance.