Things to avoid when choosing a contractor accountant

If you are contracting via your own limited company, the professional person you are most likely to seek advice from is your accountant. In this article, we look at five key things you don’t want your accountant to do.

Many long-term contractors will have used several accountancy firms before settling on their current one. Although personal preference plays a part when choosing an accountant, there are some things all contractors will hope they won’t encounter with their provider.

General accounting mistakes

It goes without saying that, of all people, you need your accountant to be accurate and organised. Some contractors will have used accountants in the past who have made basic errors when compiling accounts, running their company payroll, and calculating tax liabilities.

Although the nature of accounting means that the occasional error may arise, a conscientious accountant will rapidly make good any mistakes.

Missing deadlines

As a company director, you are ultimately responsible if information is not submitted to Companies House within the prescribed deadlines.

Failure to submit company documents such as your Annual Accounts and Confirmation Statement can result in significant financial penalties.

You need to be confident that your accountant is aware of these deadlines, and is not a ‘late filer’, otherwise, you will be penalised.

The same timeliness is essential when it comes to settling your tax liabilities. If you rely on your accountant to instruct you to make payments for VAT, Corporation Tax, PAYE, and so on, clearly you need to be given sufficient lead time to complete the payment before the deadline.

Lack of contact

Some accountants seem to be permanently engaged. Phone and email messages are not returned regularly, and the staff to client ratio may seem inadequate.

For many contractors, customer service is as important a factor in choosing an accountant as price. Some firms even offer service guarantees, which may prove attractive to many.

Unfortunately, it is often hard to judge how you well an accountancy firm communicates with clients before you sign up. For this reason, you can’t underestimate the power of personal recommendations from other contractors when selecting an accountant.

Not pro-actively offering tax advice

Many accountants provide a monthly service which will include everything from compiling your accounts, to running your payroll and calculating your VAT liabilities. However, you may find that they do not offer any detailed tax saving or investment advice.

Typically, you need to pay a higher monthly fee for more specialist advice, but you will often receive a better all-round service if you a prepared to pay a bit more each month rather than signing up with the cheapest accountancy provider.

Lack of familiarity with contractors

This is a key factor when choosing an accountant. We recommend that contractors use specialist accountants.

Not only will they be very aware of the duties required to run your accounts in an efficient way, but they should also be aware of industry-specific tax issues, particularly IR35.

Online accounting

The rapid rise in popularity of online accounting (either in-house or third party – like FreeAgent) is good news for contractors and other small business owners, as many of these potential problems of the past can now be minimised.

However, the quality of the data captured by web-based systems is only as good as the data you and your accountant upload – so make sure you keep up with your obligations to your accountant. This typically means uploading details of your expenses and invoices on a regular basis.

The leading online accounting systems will inform you of any upcoming deadlines, your tax liabilities, and how much money you can draw down as salary and dividends.

Further resources

Try our IT contractor accountants directory as a useful starting point. This contains links to some firms we have worked with for a number of years.

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Last updated: 18th September 2019