Why can’t we be friends?

I was very concerned by Anne Redston’s perception of what our ‘Working with
tax agents’ consultation paper is about (Accountancy Age, 11 December).

HMRC values its relationship with tax agents (or advisers) and, because of
that, we put a lot of thought into how we work with them and how that
relationship can be improved.

Our document recognises that agents have a vital role to play in the delivery
of the tax system and we are well aware that the overwhelming majority advise
their clients appropriately and calculate the right amount of tax.

The consultation is concerned with how we can jointly address serious
shortcomings in the work of a tiny minority of agents.

To do this we believe we need to access working papers when connected to
inappropriate behaviours. This is not about arbitrarily fishing through an
agent’s records in order to find errors.

It would be targeted and subject to independent scrutiny. Action to consider
a tax agent’s behaviour in this way would require HMRC to demonstrate to a Judge
or Tribunal evidence of deliberate wrongdoing at a hearing to which the tax
agent would be a party.

We think it must be right that, where it’s found that negative behaviour in
one or more clients’ affairs is deliberate, we should review the agent’s working
papers to establish whether this wrongdoing is also present in other cases.
Again this would be subject to effective independent adjudication as the
Tribunal would have responsibility for deciding whether wider access to working
papers was appropriate.

None of this is about penalising individual errors – we all make mistakes.
Any tax agent behaving in accordance with appropriate professional standards
would not be affected personally by the proposals. Nor is the consultation about
the law relating to tax avoidance or the way HMRC addresses it.

We acknowledge that we need to improve the way we conduct our business with
tax agents and customers. The response document published on 9 December provides
examples of what has been done and there is clearly more to be done.

We want to work in partnership with agents to build the best possible tax
service for all our customers and we see this consultation as integral to how we
go forward. We need to hear from you.

The consultation is open until 3 March and responses can be sent to

Simon Norris is head of review of powers at HMRC

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