Accountants blocking Revenue investigations

Accountants are deliberately ‘muddying the waters’ during Inland Revenue investigations, an independent watchdog has claimed.

The Adjudicator’s Office annual report, released yesterday, says accountants and other advisers have shown a ‘worrying lack of professionalism’ during the last year and have contributed to client problems.

The office, headed by Elizabeth Filkin, dealt with almost 650 complaints last year – almost a third of which were self-assessment related.

Filkin said delays were possibly caused by self-assessment, but taxpayer agents frequently made the situation worse. She said: ‘I am still concerned by the contribution that some agents, usually accountants, make to their clients’ problems.

‘I continue to see cases where the agent has deliberately muddied the waters, spread venom or indeed caused the problem in the first place.’

Richard Shooter, chairman of the English ICA’s self-assessment monitoring group, said: ‘There will always be some accountants who are in a mess with self-assessment, but I would like to think the vast majority of them are unqualified. If Filkin has a problem with chartered accountants, she should report them to the institute, otherwise there’s not a great deal we can do.’

Self-assessment’s potential as a major complaints vehicle was confirmed by the report. Filkin, who deals with complaints only when all other avenues have been investigated, received 200 complaints last year and 170 have already been made since this April.

Filkin said: ‘We have been unable to draw any conclusions about whether delays have increased because of the implementation of self-assessment.

My office will monitor the position this year and I will report what we find.’

Filkin praised the Revenue’s efforts to train investigation staff, but said: ‘I still see examples of poor leadership and management, where inadequate guidance to the inspector handling the investigation has cost the taxpayer a lot of money and caused them anguish.’

Her report describes staff as ‘rude, aggressive or unhelpful’ on a number of occasions, and says complaints about staff behaviour are not taken seriously enough.

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