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A year no one saw coming

It’s been a tough, long and at times a seemingly never-ending year since last March, hasn’t it?

We learnt the value of remote working and we marked out two meters all over the office. We bought the hand gel and the sanitiser stations, fixed up Perspex screens and set up a schedule of deep cleans. We opened the office sometimes and we closed the office sometimes, but all the time we had to keep an eye on the internet for information and updates, while at the same time never losing sight of our responsibilities as grandparents, parents, brothers or sisters or just friends and neighbours.

We worried about the NHS and the economy. We lost loved ones and close friends and had to deal with clients that were grieving, and took many calls from clients desperate not to lose their business as a result of this wretched contagion.

We spent time talking with our staff, especially those who had tested positive and were obviously worried; and for those who thankfully had been spared the physical symptoms we worried about their mental wellbeing.

We saw clients having to close and threatened with losing their livelihoods, and we had to find all the possible remedies that were available that might have helped.

We researched all the government initiatives and in doing that we also found out just how many clients were excluded from help for reasons that, to date, HMRC have failed to provide. We listened quietly as they unloaded all their anger at the only person who would listen.

We were confronted with the word ‘furlough’ for the first time (outside of a film featuring US army personnel) and suddenly we went into overdrive as payroll took on a whole new importance to the practice and our clients. We had to explain the system to clients and then learn how to implement them and then actually handle them for many of our clients, while at the same time deciding if we might furlough some of our own staff. Yes, some of us even furloughed ourselves.

We learnt about Bounce Back

Loans and the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme, and we counselled clients about the whys and wherefores of all and any loans. We had to explain that grants would be taxable to so many.

Our self-employed clients were handed the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme to help them; no fancy one-word offering for them. HMRC decided that we were to have nothing to do with that – but we helped anyway.

We learned how to ‘Zoom’ or hold

‘Teams’ meetings, and our CPE is one long video fest. We learned which Barclay James Harvest or ZZ Top track to play in a given circumstance to give us a fillip or to liven up a poor webinar – and boy, have there been some poor ones.

We lost some clients, of course we did. Many of them were good clients and we will miss them, but the work we have produced over the past year has been prodigious given the circumstances.

Our compliance skills have been tested to the limit and we have not been found wanting, we have not hidden away behind a recorded message that “due to Covid no one is available”. We have not stood on the sideline moaning and we have even been polite to the advisory cult when they pestered us when we had more important things to do.

We are not doctors, nurses or teachers, but as accountants we have contributed so very much. Here at the ICPA we recognise that as you are ploughing through another furlough claim or appealing a late tax return just how important you have been. We salute you for all your efforts.

In the great scheme of things my words of thanks may not be much but they are genuine and hopefully as you read this they will put a smile on your face – knowing that someone actually gets what you do.

• Tony Margaritelli, Chair, ICPA

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