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Carry on accounting

Richard Joseph of the London Accountant editorial board discusses life after COVID-19.

July 2021

Well, at the time of writing Boris has just announced a further month before we are completely out of lockdown restrictions.

But what’s going to happen to us when COVID restrictions are eventually removed (if they ever are)?

It’s a been a difficult 18 months or so for nearly all businesses, but for accountants it might be that the worst is still to come. Accountancy is a little different from most businesses. If you wanted to go to the theatre or a restaurant in February, but couldn’t because of the restrictions, you are not now required to go to that show or restaurant once the restrictions are removed. It’s up to you - you do (or don’t do) whatever you choose.

It’s a little different for us. Despite HMRC and Companies House being fairly reasonable about time to pay, HMRC is not able to say ‘We’ll leave it to you as to whether or not you submit the December 2020 VAT return‘ as if they were talking about going to see The Phantom of the Opera.

Despite some relaxations of deadline rules, eventually - and pretty soon - everything has to be done. So we either had to get accounts and returns done throughout lockdown, however ill the client, you, or your staff happened to be, or we have to catch it all up, now. Now - as well as the usual stuff we have to do anyway on an ongoing basis. I think I might prefer to have had COVID. (I did actually. Wasn’t much fun.)

We’ve had to deal with (and still are) the aftermath of a well-meant gesture by HMRC allowing the payment of the 31 July 2020 POA to be delayed by up to six months which then takes us up to 31 January 2021, the date when the unpaid balance of 19/20 is due, and also the first payment on account for 20/21. Except that now the balance of the 19/20 payment is now significantly increased as that second POA hadn’t been paid yet in many cases - that’s the one the client was allowed to delay. So, about another half a year’s tax to pay more than usual. OK, you can apply for lower POAs for 20/21, but that’ll likely be offset by the client having to pay tax on SEISS payments actually received in 20/21. So, getting on for a whole year’s tax instead of the usual 50% or so. That’ll be even more complicated if the year-end in question is early in the tax year, such as April 2020. You work it out. Remember ‘overlap relief‘? You may have to now!

And there’s more … HMRC has apparently agreed to defer payments due on 31 January 2021 to 31 January 2022. So what’s going to happen then? It’s a sort of HMRC Ponzi scheme.

Meanwhile, the client just vaguely thinks anything HMRC has not directly demanded by now won’t have to be paid. Just like not having to go and see The Phantom of the Opera.

And who’s going to have to sort all this out? Won’t be the client.

Which brings me to WFH. Working From Home. Don’t get me started. (Well I suppose you have actually). All very well for when it was necessary, although the boss might consider that if a job can be 100% done in front of a computer screen, then such screens can be much cheaper if they are situated many miles away in another continent.

The main problem with WFH as I see it, is that you don’t really know when your day starts, and when it ends. (‘ I’d really like to finish this tonight - tell me when the 10 O’Clock news is starting‘) Time recording can tend to be a bit approximate.

But in this case at least he or she had someone tell them when the news was starting. What about all the people who live alone? Their social contact at work was maybe their only direct contact with other human beings. This of course will occur in all WFH-able jobs, but accountancy is particularly affected I think because of the somewhat introverted nature of a lot of us. Eventually you don’t think that there’s even much point in getting properly dressed. Zoom helps a bit but doesn’t compensate for actual human interaction. I always feel that the ponderous nature and lack of spontaneity of Zoom meetings makes it harder to spot your bright sparks and your dullards.

That’ll do for now. Hopefully, we are eventually coming to the full and final end of lockdown regulations. But don’t be so sure. It would mean that the pompous blokes standing at those lecterns either side of Boris on the telly will have to revert back to obscurity. They’ll have had their day in the sun. They won’t want that to end.

Your views- from a business perspective, during COVID


Angus Farr, Director, Training Counts

What did you enjoy the most?

I would say I have enjoyed learning how to make the most of the various technologies available. Running a training business, the outlook was quite bleak in the first month or so of lockdown – people were panic buying toilet rolls but not soft skills training courses! As things started to come back though, my focus was on ‘how can I deliver this virtually?’. After a while, I was able to take a step back, re-assess and the question became ‘now that we have to deliver this virtually, what else does the technology allow us to do?’. And that was great.

What did you hate the most?

Definitely the lack of interpersonal contact. I think it has reminded us all, as accountants, just how important face-to-face communication is to what we do.

What was a funny/embarrassing moment during COVID?

On one course, one rather junior attendee messaged me on the platform we were using to apologise for any background noise as ‘my mum’s vacuuming the landing outside my bedroom’.

What was your guilty secret during COVID?

Definitely pairing a shirt and tie with jogging bottoms and slippers for over a year.

What is your secret to making money during or after COVID?

Don’t be complacent - reassess the value you assumed you were adding to your own or your clients’ businesses pre- COVID and make damn sure you’re still adding value now.

Janarth Duraisingham, Audit Associate, KPMG

What did you enjoy the most?

The massive impact on audit work due to COVID was exciting to be a part of. The economic shock and uncertainty meant we had to challenge management on looking for overoptimistic provisioning to justifying any benchmarking against publicly rated entities. These were subjective subject matters, and the back and forth talks we had with management became very analytical and at times felt more like a debate!

What did you hate the most?

I have been in my role for over eight and a half months now and am yet to meet, in the flesh, another graduate on my intake. I also think those 2am busy season nights would be a lot more enjoyable (or at least less unenjoyable) sat with the rest of my team and a cheeky Deliveroo, rather than alone in my room with a pot noodle.

What was a funny/embarrassing moment during COVID?

On the last day of my induction we took a joke group picture with funny poses and random Teams backgrounds – outer space, Hawaii etc.. I just assumed that the background would automatically reset the next time I used Teams. Obviously, it didn’t and I found this out the hard way in the work meeting I joined the following week!

What was your guilty secret during COVID?

The art of the lunchtime nap is something I will miss dearly when I finally go into the office. And obviously, the shirt and joggers combo for Teams calls.

Indy Agnihorti, Editor London Accountant

What did you enjoy the most?

Hiding behind the Zoom picture screen.

What did you hate the most?

Switching on the video and speaking.

What was a funny or embarrassing moment during COVID?

Speaking to my mum loudly (really loud as she is hard of hearing) in hindi dialect in front of a Zoom team call.

What was your guilty secret during COVID?

Taking calls from all areas of the house. And I mean all areas.

What is your secret to making money during or after COVID?

Work in the professional services accountancy business and put those not allocated to work on part-time furlough while seeing demand for

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