Whose tax return is it anyway?

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I like a post by Mark Lee on his blog about the questions an accountant should ask their client when preparing their accounts. He's right - but Mark is a good accountant. And what he says is that if judgments need to be made, the client should be involved.

Now you would think that is obvious, but apparently it isn't. I recently had a practice assurance visit from my professional institute, about which I have already written. The reviewer said the most notable thing about my work was that I pass the responsibility for any tax return clearly and unambiguously to my client. In my standard letter that goes with a tax return I say right at the outset:

I have completed the return based upon the information you have sent to me. I would stress that it is vital that you check that this return is complete and correct. It is illegal to submit an incorrect return. Only you can be sure that this is the case so it is essential that you do consider the return and all the points I make in this letter if risk of a penalty and interest charges is to be avoided.

Now I would have thought it was obvious to do so. After all, I have no desire at all to be in any way responsible for my client's mistakes. I accept risk for what I do, but not for what they do. And yet, despite the Institute recommending that this be done I was the first accountant he'd seen in 200 or more visits who actually did this. Most write to their clients as if the tax return is the property of the accountant, not the client.

That's crazy. And if your accountant can't manage their own risk, why should you trust them to help manage yours?

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