By Paul Weber, Society of Professional Accountants director.

With the UK planning a winter rollout of a COVID-19 vaccine offering much-needed hope of a return to normality in 2021, many of you might have forgotten about an old elephant in the room – Brexit. 

On 1 January 2021, the UK will leave the EU single market and customs union as the Brexit transition period comes to an end. From this point, new rules will affect any of your clients who do business on the continent.

Only around one in eight businesses in the UK feel adequately prepared for Brexit, which sheds light on why the Government’s marketing department went with the slogan ‘time is running out’ for its awareness campaign.

More than 100,000 UK businesses are estimated to currently enjoy tariff-free rules around exporting goods to the EU. The new rules, and the prospect of leaving without a trade agreement at the time of writing, is the source of great uncertainty.

If your accountancy practice has any clients this might affect, you certainly have a role to play here and it’s worth promoting any services you offer to help them prepare for the transition.

What can you do to help?

You can encourage any clients in this boat to revise and update their business plan, factoring in the potential impact if one of their products took several days to clear customs, or the time lost from increased red tape.

Advise clients to check their supply chains to see how they integrate with the common market and the EU, and urge them to assess suppliers’ and distributors’ own preparations for Brexit.

Are there any controllable costs they need to cut or overheads they should reduce? And as unlikely as it sounds after the financial implications of the pandemic, could you offer strategic planning to help a client build up cash reserves to fall back on should Brexit turbulence kick in?

If you are in the position to audit a client’s business, it might also be wise to focus on the immigration status of their workers. This could identify anyone who might be caught by the new immigtration controls coming into place.

Stay one step ahead of your clients

Remember that blog post I wrote back in August about how you can build an information dashboard? Well, you can use this to your advantage when it comes to helping your clients prepare for Brexit in the coming weeks.

Essentially, an information dashboard – managed in software such a Feedly or Pocket – collates multiple news sources to provide up-to-date content on a topic of your choosing. In this case, Brexit.

AccountingWeb is one news source worth looking at. Their ‘Brace for Brexit’ series breaks down the key rules to clue up accountants on the changes. The articles are usually written by practising accountants, too.

Following or connecting with journalists on Twitter or LinkedIn can also provide speedy information to your information dashboard, so that you’re in the best position to pass it on to your clients.

Of course, a lot could change with Brexit between now and the new year, especially as the UK Government finds itself adapting to the reality of a Joe Biden administration in the US with a stated interest in maintaining the legacy of the Northern Ireland peace process.

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