There’s a saying that there are two people with whom you should always be completely open and honest: your doctor and your lawyer. Of course, we’d add accountant to that select number particularly at this time of year. That’s because while much of the business world seems to go into semi-hibernation for a few weeks in January, this is always a very busy month for accountants; dominated primarily by the need to ensure that clients’ personal Self-Assessment Tax Returns (SATRs) all get filed by the 31st at the very latest. Naturally most accountants would prefer not to have all the SATR work in the last few weeks before deadline day, but there are always a few clients who just don’t provide the information until the last minute or after.
just a coincidence?
Perhaps it’s just coincidence, but often it’s these same clients who also seem to bring a few surprises with them whenever we do eventually manage to pin them down and remind them that if we can’t file their SATRs on time they’ll be facing instant fines. These are the sort of clients who ’forget’ to mention ’little things’: like the additional directorship that they took on during the last year; the buy-to-let property that they acquired jointly with a relative; the few hundred new shares that they bought on a ’tip’ from a friend; or just the odd new savings account that they opened somewhere. Accountants don’t really appreciate surprises especially in January. Just when we think that we’ve got all of the relevant information in good time to do the calculations and file the returns, these ’little things’ suddenly pop up out of the woodwork. Quite often clients seem to believe that these little surprises have no relevance to the tax returns that we’re preparing. for them. They forget that today we all live in an extremely interconnected world.
Whether it’s becoming a company director, buying a property, trading shares or just opening a savings account, somewhere there’s an official record of the transaction. And that record will, eventually, be visible to the tax authorities. And if there’s something that upsets accountants even more than a surprise from a client in January, it’s receiving a similar one from the Revenue a couple of months later after the returns have gone in with just a single source of income. Not only is it professionally embarrassing, it raises doubts about the credibility of all of the information ever provided by that client.
Even worse, if there’s a doubt about the reliability of one client’s return, what does that imply about the reliability of the other returns submitted by that accountant?
The SATR is intended to provide complete details of all your income, from every source.
If you’re self-employed (ie a sole trader or partner in a business) that means the profit or your share of it from that business during the tax year in this case up to the April 5, 2018. If you’re a director and/or shareholder in your own business, it means your salary, any dividends that you paid yourself out of your company and any benefits in kind that the company provided to you in the same period a company car or fuel paid for by your company, for example. Now in general, if they have been preparing the business accounts for you, your accountant will already have much of this information. They will try to ensure that what goes into your SATR matches what they put on your P60 and your P11D for that tax year, or what they declared as your profit in any sole trader or partnership accounts. That’s usually the easy part.
the onus is on you
The other stuff property income, buying or selling of shares or property etc will only be known to your accountant if they were involved in advising or setting up any of the deals, or if some of the financial transactions happened to go through the main business for which they produced the accounts. But in many cases these transactions are made through personal bank accounts rather than business ones and this is where the onus is on you.
Perhaps you experience a small twinge of guilt or just nervousness every time you hear or see one of the self-assessment reminders: that property you bought years ago which barely provided any rental income, so you’ve never mentioned it to anyone; or shares that you owned for years and finally sold a few months ago. If so, you still have a couple of weeks in which time to unburden your conscience.
Talk to your accountant before they have to file your return, and remember: this isn’t the time to withhold (financial) secrets from your accountant.