Monday, April 27, 2009

Stopping the duff accountants and 'tax agents' spoiling it for the rest

HMRC published a new consultation document last week - the latest in a series under the heading 'Modernising Powers, Deterrents and Safeguards'

The document is titled 'Working with Tax Agents' and it explores how HMRC interacts with 'tax agents' - a phrase said to include "accountants, solicitors, payroll bureaux, specialist advisers and VAT specialists." The main target of any changes that follow are intended to focus on the small number within the tax agent community whose work falls below a professional standard.

The consultation is intended to raise issues and ask questions rather than propose definitive solutions. It contains assurances as regards "the reinvigoration of regular 'working Together' meetings between groups of local tax agents and HMRC staff".

I've no doubt there will be cynics who will doubt the sincerity of some of the aspirations set out in the document. In my view however I think the message has finally got home. Accountants and tax advisers are a critical element in making our tax system operate effectively. This is something that representatives of the main professional bodies have been trying to bang home for some years now. I recall Ian Hayes, my predecessor as Chairman of the ICAEW Tax Faculty, telling us how he had been stressing this point at every opportunity some years back. And many of us have repeated it more recently.

Simply stated, with ever reduced internal resources, HMRC need to be able to rely on the work done by reputable accountants and tax advisers. If you are in practice you have a choice. You can either help your clients to fulfil their legal obligations and do so in a professional manner, or you can (deliberately or otherwise) keep your clients' tax bills to a minimum through dubious means whilst hoping that HMRC's stretched resources will not catch up with you or your clients.

Now is not the time for cynics to dismiss this invitation to contribute to the debate. I think it's a once in a lifetime opportunity to contribute to HMRC's plans to enhance its relationship with accountants and tax advisers. This invitation is a direct result of the efforts made by many in the professional bodies over many years of debate and discussion with HMRC.

The Tax Advice Network will be formulating a response and welcomes contributions from 'tax agents' who have considered views but do not intend to respond to the conultation themselves.

Do please add your comments to this blog post or email us through the feedback facility on our website.


  1. The problem with the debate is that is all it is. The profession needs teeth and legislation is one way to deal with that.

    Dialog is good but if it's only a talking shop then there is no long term value.

    Bring in certification as they have in the US. That's where this makes sense.

  2. I doubt this is being driven by a "working together" theme, for which HMRC has shown a decreasing enthusiasm in recent years. Rather, I feel it is about clearing out, or clearing up, the less reputable or less competent elements of the tax adviser market. Ultimately, this points towards regulation. The CIOT press release of 24 April suggests to me they are thinking similarly.