The Access Group charging HandiSoft customers a ‘read-only’ access fee after they switch to rival Xero

Modules in the HandiSoft suite include HandiTax, HandiLedger and Practice Manager. The Access Group said customers could download data from the systems before moving to other software providers. However, accountants said the export function provided a client’s data only in a raw form that was difficult to use.

‘A form of blackmail’

Brent Kirchner, director of boutique tax firm Active Business Advisory, said being in charge of accessing his own data was “like a form of blackmail”.

“I’ve gone from using HandiSoft for the business to using Xero and all the associated add-ons. I moved because we got to a point where HandiSoft kept failing. For example, they have a data hub where you are meant to get reports out of the system, but we couldn’t get it to work over an extended period. So, I was paying for a system that didn’t work,” Mr Kirchner said.

“When I told them we were moving but needed access to our old data, they said we don’t offer read-only access. You have to have at least one license. We’ve managed to cut that cost down to about $2500 by reducing the number of modules we’re licensing. We’re just hoping like hell that we had all the data we needed before the June 30 cut-off.”

He said HandiSoft was a “great solution” when he started his practice six years ago, but that customer service had dropped off after software company Sage sold it to The Access Group last year.

“The service standards have really dropped off … you could put it down to COVID, but their replies to queries, everything, has been disgraceful … Now they are [also] trying to push everyone on to their cloud platform, so they aren’t focused on the desktop product,” Mr Kirchner said.

McCann Taxation Service Principal Phil McCann.

A ‘big, bad commercial rip-off’

Another accountant, Phil McCann of McCann Financial Group, was charged almost $3000 by The Access Group for continued read-only access to archived data in HandiSoft when his firm moved to Xero.

“When our old subscription ended, we found we could no longer read the 28 years of tax return data on our servers in the HandiTax directories. To activate a read-only access to our own data on our own servers, [Access Group] charged us $2975 for a seven-year read-only access,” Mr McCann said.

He said that after “28 loyal years” of using HandiSoft, the one-off fee was “blackmail” and a “big, bad commercial rip-off”.

“I know many small firms who just leave the full tax return details on the server, inside the tax software. I wonder if they all know that their software provider might be about to hold a gun to their heads should they seek to change software” Mr McCann said.

Bluebird Accounting chief executive Liz Shimmin.

Liz Shimmin, the chief executive of Bluebird Accounting, said her firm had also moved from HandiSoft to Xero and another accounting package, Practice Ignition.

She said The Access Group initially quoted her a $6226 fee to have access to five HandiSoft modules for a year. Ms Shimmin has negotiated that down to almost $2050 for one year’s access to just the HandiTax module.

“HandiSoft do not offer a read-only licence/subscription renewal for their software. That means if our license expired, we would no longer have access to any of the data we have created and input, despite paying an annual license fee since inception of the practice [in 2014],” Ms Shimmin said.

She said she would have to buy additional one-year module licenses for the relevant software if the ATO or a client was in urgent need of data beyond this one-year renewal period.

Ms Shimmin said that only “parts of the data can be exported” and that her firm had called in a software consulting firm that specialized in moving data from one software package to another “due to the manual processing and complexity involved”.

‘We apologize for any inconvenience’

A spokeswoman for The Access Group said the company acknowledged there had been problems with the software, but blamed them on the large number of customers moving to the company’s new systems.

“We are currently transitioning a high volume of customers to new our systems and tools. As part of this process, we have been made aware that some customers are unfortunately experiencing issues. We are working directly with those impacted to resolve on a case-by-case basis, and as quickly as possible,” the spokeswoman said.

She said departing clients needed to continue to pay for a single-user license to have access to their data.

“If a customer chooses to leave the platform, they are able to download their data before their subscription expires. If they want to continue to access via the platform, they can do so via a one active user licence,” she said.

“We apologize for any inconvenience caused by the transition and encourage customers experiencing problems to get in touch with our team.”

Xero declined to comment on fees charged by The Access Group. The cloud software provider also declined to comment on whether it too charged departing customers for access to their archived data.

A Xero spokeswoman said the firm charged almost $2000 a year for up to 10 users of its practice management software. The charge can be waived under certain conditions.

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