LETTERS – 19 February

Taking public funds too far

The debate concerning overseas visits by the Foreign Secretary does not yet appear to have considered the personal taxation implications of his being accompanied by his partner at public expense.

There are precise Inland Revenue rules covering the expenditure by an employer on costs relating to the wife of an employee when accompanying that employee on business trips, particularly those abroad.

The Revenue does not yet appear to have considered husbands, let alone mistresses or unmarried partners, but the intention must be the same. On this presumption, the costs of Mrs Regan would become a taxable benefit in kind for Mr Cook if he were working for a company.

Since Mr Cook had previously been perfectly able to perform his overseas duties without his wife, the guidelines make it clear that this would be the case. Is there any reason why the treatment should be different for government ministers – or, indeed, is it?

Perhaps Accountancy Age could investigate, and suggest that similar definitions of allowable expense apply to ministers of the Crown as do to Captains and Lieutenants of industry. However, rather than end up with both as benefits in kind, it would be hoped the Revenue might be more enlightened in what it allows.

AR Morton, Devizes, Wiltshire

Boomerangs at the Revenue

I posted a client’s tax return to the Revenue on 21 January, first class.

The tax calculation sheets have come back, dated 31 January. Is this a record?

Brian Clarke, FCA, Orpington, Kent

Competition for last return

I notice in the media much discussion of last-minute filings of said returns.

With such great interest, I thought it would be appropriate for you to hold a competition for the ‘Last legitimately-filed return’.

If you are interested, one of my clients would wish to be considered, with a return filed (with some little help from myself) at 11.15pm on 31 January at the Kensington High Street Offices of the Inland Revenue.

Sebastian Church, Church & Co, London SW1

Fraud panel is uninspired

It is a dismal Fraud Advisory Panel (‘New panel cash strapped’, page 3, 5 February) that can’t come up with some nifty wheezes to raise a few bob quickly. Perhaps they should co-opt Tim Smith.

Desmond High, Maidstone, Kent

Institute has lost objectivity

The clamour from those anxious to expel Tim Smith from the English ICA is unworthy of members of a profession trained to make objective judgements on the actions of others.

It should be remembered that Mr Smith did not break the law. His error was to omit to record a financial interest in the relevant Commons Register, a moral obligation specific to members of Parliament, not to other members of the institute.

For that mistake the political system has exacted a severe punishment: he resigned as a minister; he was criticised publicly by a Commons Select Committee; and he was pressured into not seeking re-election to a safe seat.

His is the first case I can recall where the institute has disciplined a member who has neither failed a client nor been convicted in a criminal court. It is a dangerous precedent. If moral lapses of members are to be a matter of discipline by the institute, the Disciplinary Committee will be kept extremely busy.

While our institute must be unceasing in its efforts to maintain our reputation for professional integrity, it is to be hoped that mature reflection will persuade those members, who are now so eager to attack a defenceless man that moral judgements are beyond the scope of our expertise.

Robert Jackson FCA, Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire

Institute seen as above it all

Although I am not an accountant, I read your paper. Your correspondent Mr Fluss who is an apologist for Mr Tim Smith seems to miss the point.

An institute is no good having a clever membership who can pass difficult examinations if integrity is wanting. One can smile at the snooty rank and file of the English ICA who think they are above other accountants as the creme de la creme.

These are often the people who are happy to have untrustworthy, corrupt colleagues oblivious of the effect on the standing of the institute’s image.

Mr Fluss’ hyperbole about callous bastards needs comment. If people delight in Mr Smith’s discomfort or if they feel emotions of revenge or envy of his ill-gotten gains, then Mr Fluss’ comment might have some justification.

But the small minority – and the institute should grieve if it is a small minority – probably view the wellbeing of the institute as paramount, and see Mr Smith as a sad casualty when calling for exclusion. In which case they should not be abused.

Finally, Mr Fluss can afford to be smug about declaring his name as he is just rowing along with the official tide of his institute. I wonder if he would ‘have the guts’ to sign his name in every circumstance – for example, if perceived business interests were at stake?

Oh, one other thing: a little quote for the attention of Mr Fluss, Mr Smith and all in the institute: ‘A gentleman takes as much trouble to discover what is right as lesser men take to discover what will pay.’ (Confucius)

Mr J Hudd, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

Mr Smith was not the culprit

The trouble with the Tim Smith affair is that, however inadequately the English ICA dealt with the matter (and I think that it has actually dealt with the matter correctly, bearing in mind Tim Smith’s past services to the profession) the real culprit here who seems to have got off scot-free is Mr Al Fayed.

While Tim Smith should not have accepted money from Mr Al Fayed, the perversion of the course of Parliamentary procedure by Mr Al Fayed’s payment of money to Tim Smith ought to be the main point of concentration. Surely our legal system can find a way of bringing Mr Al Fayed to book for this and other allegedly similar wrongdoings?

D M Cohen, chartered accountant, Surbiton, Surrey

How SA bred my insomnia

I appear to be suffering from withdrawal symptoms in a condition new to medical science, known as self-assessmentitis.

Having worked like a dog for the last three months, including most weekends and evenings without losing a wink of sleep, I am now regularly waking up at 1am with only one thing on my mind – and it is not how to spend the lottery jackpot.

All returns were filed with the last return dropped into the box at 10pm on the Sunday of the lost weekend.

I wondered if any of my colleagues are suffering from this curious phenomenon.

I considered phoning the helpline but suspected they had not received any training in sleeping disorders.

Kenneth Taylor, Crewe, Cheshire

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