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Royal Mail does not deliver

10 October 2009 No Comment

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What’s going to happen when they strike?

The news this week warns us that there is going to be a national strike from 18 Oct 2009 at Royal Mail. As a result, Royal Mail is losing more goodwill, and some of its key customers are moving elsewhere . . .  as news stories like this one about Amazon and Argos demonstrate . . .

The Guardian News Report

Some staff at Royal Mail, particularly delivery staff in central London, have been staging wildcat strikes since early August. As a result, documents sent to us at Proactive have not necessarily arrived. We first noticed a deterioration in the Royal Mail service about three years ago, and on 1 Jan 2007 we implemented a policy of sending all of our letters (addressed to such places as HMRC and Companies House) by Recorded Delivery or Special Delivery.

That was intended to combat protestations by these government departments that they “had not received” the letters. Our stats over the past three years demonstrate that in part they were right. In spite of press releases from Royal Mail, we know categorically that around 20% of our Recorded Delivery and Special Delivery letters are never signed for. A fraction of that 20% evidently do reach their destination, because we receive replies, but most of them do not and we end up spending time trying to remedy problems.

And as Sod’s Law would have it, it is always the most sensitive items that are lost. It can be particularly time consuming when (for example) we have to convince HMRC that time sensitive documents (such as accounts, or an appeal) were actually submitted within the legal time limit. Our defence is both evidenced and is within the parameters of “reasonable excuse”, but that does not make the exercise any less time consuming.

So things will need to change!

We already use e-mail and electronic submission as much as possible, and we now intend to implement a zero Royal Mail policy. The HMRC online system for accountants is a practice management system, and it is not the same thing as the service that individual taxpayers can sign up for. We are pleased to say that the system is surprisingly good, but as with anything there are exceptions.

We have sometimes had to remedy electronic submission problems by arranging hastily agreed meetings to have paper documents signed, and then delivered by hand to either Companies House or to a local HMRC tax office. We are fortunate that central London has both a branch of Companies House and our own City 2 tax office. Each of them are within easy reach of our London office. We ended up working on 31 August 2009 (the bank holiday Monday) because the electronic submission process failed, and the accounts for two of our corporate clients were then printed and signed, and hand delivered on time.

The Revenue still don’t know that they have those accounts and we are currently going through the appeals process. The actual documents are  probably somewhere between the post room at City 2 tax office, and the bod who actually has to log their receipt onto the system!

Whilst we have a local VAT office in Islington, we cannot hand deliver VAT returns there. The system requires VAT returns to be submitted either by mail to the VAT controller in Yorkshire, or electronically. We have access to fewer cases on the VAT system than on the HMRC system. Although these two government departments were merged about two years ago, they still have two separate computer systems, and accountants have to log into them as separate activities. An “authority to act” on one does not automatically mean an authority to act on the other.

So, what can be done about it?

Over the next few weeks we are implementing a campaign to have all clients set up on all government systems. We do not want to have to drive to Yorkshire, or send a courier there with a VAT return! We are also aiming to move away from the routine of handling paper records and will be encouraging all business clients to adopt one of three methods of handling accounts electronically, being . . .

  • spreadsheets
  • proprietary book keeping software
  • online book keeping portals

We will soon be releasing news about each of these three approaches!

Posted on 10 Oct 2009 by The Proactive Accountant Dot Com