First client disengagement

Ali78 Registered Posts: 2 New contributor ?
Hi, I’m currently going through the process of disengaging with a client and would be grateful for advice/ views that may help. I registered as an AAT MIP doing bookkeeping services earlier this year and have struggled to get clients so despite this one's weak record keeping, never keeping to the payment terms they agreed in the letter of engagement and generally being less than professional I have not disengaged sooner, hoping I could introduce some better practice and record keeping.

Having struggled to make contact with the client for several weeks, last week I emailed my client to advise I was unable to do any more work until the arrears had been paid. Payments have ranged from several weeks to months overdue. In response I received a ranting email, including details of another personal drama they're suffering but more annoyingly questioning the work I had done in good faith and can back up with time-logs, emails etc and suggesting we disengage. I have issued invoices and statements each month and until recently discussed payment arrears and no query had been raised before. They do not wish to pay the remaining outstanding debt.
I am more than happy to disengage, as clearly this client will remain problematic and this would have been my next step if payment was not forthcoming.

My letter of engagement contains the right of lien over paperwork for non-payment. Has anybody made use of this right successfully? My client is an incorporated body so it appears that right of lien is void under Companies Act 2006. Can anybody provide any further advice in this regard? Also I am proposing I return the paperwork etc to the client’s accountant as we recently spoke and he needs some of the information currently and also to avoid a face to face meeting with a (as has become clear from the latest email) volatile personality. I also wish to avoid further costs with couriers etc. Does anyone have any guidance when returning clients papers e.g. should I get a signed inventory for everything returned or is this generally not an issue? Would appreciate hearing people's experiences in this regard.

My work was just to enter prime documents onto the Sage system and complete bank recs. I have read the AAT guidance re disengaging but not sure if its relevant to this case (strickly speaking the client has disengaged me) Should I still issue a disengagement letter? As yet I have not been advised of a new bookkeeper. What other information am I obliged to provide given I have not yet been paid for all my services to date?

I am considering starting a small claims action but my debt is less than £150 so not sure it’s worth it. Part of me feels that it’s worth swallowing the debt and chalking up to experience just to get rid of this client. Can anybody advise how they found the Money Claim Online service?

Many thanks


  • burg
    burg Moderator, FMAAT, AAT Licensed Accountant Posts: 1,441
    Hi Ali,

    Firstly I'm sorry that you have found yourself in this scenario. Not all clients are like this but there are a few around and you will learn over time how to cope with them, how to avoid the problems and how to avoid some of them completely.

    I have found the small claims system of little use in the past. We have found that we just have to chalk some of them up to experience and see what we can learn from it to stop it happening again. Out latest one was a client who was behind with accounts and tax returns by 3 years. We did 2 years worth and now they have disappeared without signing them off. We are now short of £900. Lesson learned is get money up front and only do one year at a time or refuse to do the work.

    I don't do very much bookkeeping but the problems often arise over what hours were done. I know it is difficult to agree a fixed fee and you may win or lose for a while but it means you can get regular payment without having to justify what you have done. Use something like Gocardless to get a direct debit in place. You can always state that you will offer a fixed fee based on their explanation of the work involved but you will review that fee in x time. Stress you are happy for the fee to go up or down based on how things are working out. This helps the client to gain some trust in you at that point. By all means then monitor your time and use this as a basis to adjust things.

    Even though the client has disengaged you if you are not going to do any further work then issue a letter of disengagement. This will make sure you are not responsible should they claim you were meant to say file a VAT Return after the disengagement date.

    Best of luck in finding new and replacement work and hopefully with better clients.

Privacy Policy