Best practice

Quality controls

What ever your professional background, you will be either used to having your work checked before it is sent to a client or the authorities, or you have been the person checking a colleagues work. Do bring this discipline to your own practice. If you are intending to be a sole practitioner, you will need to be your own 'second' pair of eyes. So when you have completed a letter, report or computation. Review it critically, even leave it over night and review it the next morning, with fresh eyes and mind!

You may consider linking up with another practice to assist in reviewing work if you are unsure or it may be on a complicated area of tax that you don’t experience day in and day out. Be careful you do not breach your clients’ confidentiality, nor expose yourself to an insurance issue, so advise your insurance company or broker.

Client complaints

It is hoped you will never receive a complaint from a client, or worse still have a client complain to the Institute or the Association about your work or conduct. So do take any matter raised by a client seriously and consider their concerns critically from their point of view. Remember, client perception and fact might not be the same.

Where possible, try and name another person in your practice as the point of contact in the event a client has a complaint and name this person or refer to the existence of such a person in your Letters of Engagement. This third person offers a degree of impartiality if there has been a clash of personalities between you and your client, though your client might retort that your colleague is on your side if they do not see this your point of view.

Managing emails to clients and third parties by yourself or your staff

It is never assumed that you will deliberately give incorrect advice to a client, but more often than not a mistake could be made if you reply hastily to an email or reply by email to a query. Treat every communication the same, review it and re-read it before you or one of your team sends it. Indeed, check your Professional Indemnity Insurance, as it may be the case that a principal of your firm has to sign any advice letters to a client and nowadays communications include those sent electronically.

Internet security and virus software

Just as essential the internet has become to assist the modern Tax Adviser, so is the need to have adequate internet security software has become essential to protect the virtual world from viruses and malware. So it is essential to have some sort of internet security software installed. It is not advisable to rely on the security built into the operating software alone. There are many products on the market, but if you are unsure on what level of protection you need, ask an expert. Best practice agreed between CIOT and HMRC in 2009 can be found here.

File procedures

Whatever your back ground, and especially if you have come from practice into your own business, you’ll be used to making notes of conversations and meetings with clients. Don’t give up on these, just because there might not be anyone else in your practice to pick up the file and work on it. Keep copies of all communications with clients, whether it was giving advice or just listing options to a client, just in case you ever need to support what you have told them, and it is good practice to agree at the outset in your letter of engagement, how long you propose to keep the clients files before they are securely destroyed.

Managing back – ups

Everything mentioned in this overview so far are important points in their own right, so to put emphasis on to back-ups would be wrong. However, very little of the above would apply if you lost all of your data overnight. You would find it very difficult to work at all and it would require a great many hours to re-instate the lost information. So back-ups are very important. Get into a routine. If you run a small practice, a daily back up may seem excessive, but should your systems ever fail you will be forever grateful at your diligence to create regular back-ups. Remember, keeping a regular backup isn’t just to protect you from a lost or stolen laptop, heaven forbid, but also in the event of that very sudden computer hardware or software failure.

Pay particular care on how you store the back-up, try and keep one off site at all times, and separate from your main system just in case the fate of one also ends up the fate of the other. Remember too to keep them secure and away from those who should not have access. Even operate two back-up systems in case you have a multiple failure. This sounds excessive, but should it ever happen to you, that is one thought that would not cross your mind. A good back up procedure will have you back on chargeable work in hours, rather than days or many weeks.

Visits by HM Revenue and Customs

The risk that officers from HM Revenue and Customs may turn up out of the blue and demand access to your files is remote, but a real one. So in the event you are not in the office should they turn up, an office policy on what to do may be worthwhile.