Letters – 22 January

Tim Smith got off too lightly

Tim Smith, discredited and disgraced for his deceitful behaviour towards the House of Commons, has been punished by being fined #1,000 and costs of #2,150 – which is less than 20% of the cash he improperly accepted from Mohammed Al Fayed! The services performed for Al Fayed were, to say the least, dubious.

I note that he was an adviser to both the English ICA and one of the largest accountancy firms. It is feasible, then, to speculate along the line of ‘back-scratching’ when one starts to think of the implications of the affair. One also has to consider if the punishment really does fit the crime.

Some five years ago, I was punished by the same institute for not having a client account. The value of the transactions involved amounted to less than #5,000. Tax repayments went into the office account and payments to the clients concerned were made on the same day. Nobody suffered any financial loss. This was a technical offence which cost me #500 as a fine, #500 costs and a reprimand.

Justice, therefore, appears to be more costly for the apathetic, but tame, majority: ‘Step out of line, little one, and I will make sure you don’t do it again.’

Yet Tim Smith, who ignored the rules of the highest authority in the land, brought the institute into disrepute, betrayed the trust of his constituents, and added to the discredit of the government in which he served, was not expelled from the institute.

I have been a member of the institute for almost 40 years and for most of that time have been proud of my qualification. The ageing process, however, tends to erode this pride but the facts remain the same. People in high authority, while expecting respect, should behave with circumspection.

Those who abuse that authority and our qualification bring shame to our profession. And in this case, that shame has not been dealt with as it should, i.e. expulsion.

This decision is yet another gift to critics of the institute, such as Austin Mitchell, who consistently proclaims the ineffectiveness of self-policing. Who can say he is wrong?

Name and address supplied

‘What is an accountant?’

What do I say to my young grandson when he asks me, ‘What is an accountant?’

A suitable book would help, but although there are many books for children about other people’s jobs, such as Postman Pat and Fireman Sam, I am not aware of any about Accountant Alan or Accountant Alice.

I would be grateful for advice – and so would Jamie Lang (aged 4 & 3/4).

David Lang, ACMA MIMgt MRAeS MCIT, London

Commission still applies

Surely John Downes (Letters, 8 January) is being a little optimistic when he recommends that Malcolm Howard (Letters, 13 November) get a Visa card in order to avoid paying back commission for travel in Europe?

Hasn’t Mr Downes ever noticed the difference between the exchange rates used by Visa on his statements and those in the foreign exchange markets?

Commission by any other name …

Robert Ashdown, London

Hector into penalty time

I read with interest Jon Bunn’s article on tax in your feature ‘Global warning’ (Accountancy Age, 8 January).

Apparently, even he is still in the dark as to whether the Inland Revenue will extend the 31 January deadline for the submission of the new-style self-assessment returns.

I can exclusively shed light on an Inland Revenue working party report, written in conjunction with the FA Carling Premiership, on whether time limits should be extended.

Adding time to the end of the prerequisite 90 minutes has improved results tremendously for those domiciled at their chosen location – Old Trafford in Manchester.

You heard it here first.

Tim Sylvester, London

One payslip doesn’t go far

The Inland Revenue has recently issued final reminders (SA309A) to those taxpayers who have yet to file their 1996/1997 self-assessment tax returns. Attached to the reminder is a blank payslip. It is this payslip that I find misleading.

According to the reminder, the payslip is to be completed only if the tax return has been filed after 30 September 1997, in which case enter exact or estimated figures of tax to pay. It does not say what you should do if you have not yet filed, nor what to do if the return was filed before 30 September and the Inland Revenue has not yet calculated the tax liability.

My main cause for concern is that neither the reminder nor payslip, nor indeed the leaflet SA352, which accompanies these forms, mentions that in addition to 1996/1997 tax being due by 31 January, so too is the first payment on account for 1997/1998.

Assuming that a taxpayer uses the payslip to pay his 1996/1997 liability, how is s/he supposed to pay for 1997/1998? The first they will know is when a statement of account drops through the door advising that they have now incurred an interest charge!

All media attention and Inland Revenue propaganda is aimed at 1996/1997.

This really isn’t good enough. People are confused as it is.

Simon Paskin, Sole Practitioner, Paskin & Co, Worthing, West Sussex

Virgin concept in bad taste I suppose you think ‘Hector, the immaculate conception’ (Taking Stock, 8 January) is funny. I think it’s in extremely bad taste, particularly when you say ‘perhaps the greatest loss to the nation etc …’

I have been a reader of Accountancy Age since I qualified some 25 years ago and had a high regard for its content until now. I think you have seriously misjudged or, for that matter, failed even to take into account the feelings of the many accountants who read your publication who are committed Christians.

Whatever the religion of your readers, I think many would join me in saying that you should have left this well alone. The powers that be at the Inland Revenue thought it unsuitable for obvious reasons and I am very surprised that you too did not see likewise.

I hope we will not see anything like this again in Accountancy Age and also that you will have the courage to publish this and apologise to all those you have offended.

Ken Stones FCCA, financial controller, St Paul’s Cathedral

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