Finance Bill 2012: Tax agent strategy
Rebecca Benneyworth assesses HMRC's summary of responses to the Agent strategy consultation, and finds some evidence that the tax department is actually listening to the profession.
The responses and “Next steps” document produced by HMRC this week presents a picture of engagement at all levels of the profession. This is just what HMRC wanted, and it is clear that although smaller firms worried about the impact of potential regulation of the tax agent community larger firms also had concerns about the practicalities of the proposals.
HMRC has analysed the responses and highlighted next steps under the three broad headings of the consultation. Here is a summary of the issues.
The responses are summarised as “broad support” for the proposals for agents to register with HMRC. Most of the detail highlighted in the response document outlines the concerns of multi-office and larger firms. The views of some AccountingWEB members that enrolment represented the “thin end of the wedge” with regard to agent regulation were not dealt with in detail, but may have been reflected in the detail on the Agent View.
Where responses were positive, they welcomed self serve and considered the offering as appropriate, but quite a number of respondents did not consider that self serve was sufficiently attractive to compensate for the proposals under the Agent view, which were likened to regulation of the profession. There was most support for the ability to self-authorise, but many respondents were concerned that the ability to change data on HMRC’s computer system would introduce additional risks and would not be widely used by them.
The proposals for the agent view – regarded by many, including AccountingWEB members, as a worrying development - were less well received and almost all respondents were concerned that the proposals presented risks to the independence of the profession. There was wide support for independent input into any sanctions proposed by HMRC, and a view expressed by members was sufficiently supported to gain mention in the executive summary – that HMRC should improve its own service standards before seeking to regulate tax agents.
Members of AccountingWEB have already started to express their views on the response document. Was it worth being involved? I think the message to HMRC that we are concerned about the agent view got through – the tax authority sees it as an essential component of the new model, but is prepared to work slowly on an appropriate method, agreeing with agent representatives as we go along.