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ICAEW CEO Izza challenges government on tax regulation

THE CHIEF EXECUTIVE of ICAEW has challenged the government to deal with tax advisers operating outside the scope of institutes, as the row over tackling tax avoidance rumbles on.

This month, the government has sought to ramp up pressure on institutes including the ICAEW to take a “greater responsibility” as regulators in tackling tax avoidance, publishing a document to that effect outlining the strategy.

But following that publication, the ICAEW confirmed to Accountancy Age that despite making advising on tax avoidance a disciplinary issue in 2012,  not a single member had yet to face any disciplinary action on the matter.

And while the institute is “currently looking at a few cases with regard to tax advice”, no disciplinary proceedings are being brought against a member.

The institute, which is is “currently looking at a few cases with regard to tax advice”, stressed it can only investigate members if a complaint is made, for example from HMRC, or there is sufficient evidence in the public domain to justify a probe.

To date, HMRC has passed the ICAEW “little information that we have been able to act on”, an institute spokeswoman said in a statement to Accountancy Age.

While the tax authority has pledged to “significantly increase” the amount of data it shares with institutes, the ICAEW has challenged the government to do more about the ‘tax advisers’ who are not members of any institutes.

“According to HMRC, only about 70% of the 43,000 tax advisers are currently members of a professional body, so a significant segment of the tax market is not subject to the rules of a professional body, any oversight or potential disciplinary proceedings,” Izza wrote in a blog published today.

“The public rightly demands the highest technical and ethical standards from our members in tax, but equally government needs to address the risks posed by unaffiliated agents,” he said.

The point harks back to the question of whether accountants and tax advisers should see their professions protected in the same manner as doctors and lawyers.

As things stand, anyone can call themselves an accountant or tax adviser, and historically the courts and authorities have ruled against extending that protection.

Indeed, in 2012, the Supreme Court ruled against extending legal professional privilege to the tax advice provided by accountants when the same advice can be provided under protection by colleagues in the legal profession.

“We want to see reforms adopted across the whole of the tax profession and not merely by those bodies that sign up to and enforce a code,” Izza said in a pointed challenge to government.

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