Experts condemn move to legally define tax roles

The taxman’s new consultation document on working with the profession flags
up the possibility of defining the term tax agent, a move which prompted
comparisons with previous failed attempts to have the term ‘accountant’ defined
in law.

Advisers are unsure how a definition would protect taxpayers, or how it would
work without an accreditation scheme, which
HM Revenue &
admits would be a strain on the resources of all parties involved.

‘I can’t see any benefits for the profession,’ said Anne Redston, visiting
professor at King’s College London.

‘The Revenue seems pretty clear it doesn’t think it needs registration. But
if they have powers they’ll have to define “advisers” anyway.’

ACCA head of tax, Chas Roy Chowdhury, said HMRC would have to be careful not
to exclude well-meaning people helping with tax returns in the public interest.
‘If done the right way, I would hope it would weed out bad agents,’ he said.

head of the tax faculty, Frank Haskew, said because wholesale registration
wasn’t the way forward, HMRC’s consideration of a definition ‘stuck out like a
sore thumb’. He added: ‘If you don’t accredit then what are you trying to
achieve [with a definition]?’

CIOT incoming president, Andrew Hubbard, said the definition was probably
more of an attempt by HMRC to understand tax agents who weren’t members of
professional bodies.

He said: ‘A significant number of people do returns for friends, family, the
church or golf clubs. HMRC wants to say: “Perhaps there ought to be standards
for these people”.’

HMRC stated in the consultation document: ‘There may be benefits in seeking
to define “tax agent”, not least so that there is clarity about who would be
subject to any information powers or sanction in tax law.’

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