If after all this "consultation" we find the outcome unacceptable - what action could we take?

Every day we see unions use the threat of strikes and working to rule to blackmail employers. But just how militant are accountants/agents willing to be?

Let's assume that HMRC impose compulsary registration and regulation and a big fat registration fee (because that would certainly be the next step no matter what they say to the contrary). Let's assume (quite reasonable) that HMRC then use this scheme to effectively put out of business any agent who doesnt "roll over" and accept whatever outragious demands they make.

At what point would agents be prepared to say no more! And what exactly could agents do?  Take HMRC to court?  Lobby MPs ?  Work to rule and refuse to answer HMRCs letters?  And would agents stand together, or would the "sheep" simply continue to obediently allow HMRC to lead them by the nose into more and more regulation until they effectively work for HMRC and not their clients.

 

 

Comments
johnjenkins's picture

I don't

johnjenkins | | Permalink

think it will come to that. HMRC will realise that they will have to meet us a fairway up the line.

Now to the question "what if". Certainly agents will not strike - most of us can't afford to and we don't have a lot of leverage. No what will happen is that all those agents that get thrown off the "self-serve" list will go through their clients' just like it is now.

However we all know that without our help HMRC will continue into meltdown, so if someone started a pressure group with a professional "alternative" that is workable many agents would climb aboard. Would there be enough to make a difference though????????

 

ShirleyM's picture

Everyone is a 'sheep'to a certain extent

ShirleyM | | Permalink

We all abide by the law (well, most of us anyway!), and we abide by the rules of our professional bodies. We try to do our jobs as it should be done, and that is called 'conforming'.

If we didn't 'conform' we would be exactly the sort of agent that people should worry about.

I am not a miltant person (maybe it is my age!) but I believe the professional bodies should be the ones protecting our interests. If they all worked together, and had the full support of their members, and refused to accept HMRC terms (assuming they were detrimental to us), then who is left to fall in with HMRC's terms? The only ones left would be the accountants who were not members of a professional body, and they would hardly fit the bill for HMRC as being the only agents permitted by HMRC!

IF HMRC impose unreasonable terms then the professional bodies combined would be far more effective than any amount of individual accountants complaining to all and sundry! A massive targetted complaint (attack?) is always more effective than the 'scatter approach'.

I fear we are being diverted

david wilks | | Permalink

Talk of being part of a professional body is irrelavent. The problems all agents are experiencing with HMRC are not different be they a member of a professional body or not. Ok, being able to "go behind the scenes" as part of self serve may be useful but it will not, in my view, make dealings with HMRC any the better when things go wrong and need to be put right as soon as possible. Postal delays, time taken to deal with written enquries, never being able to speak with the same person again about a case, incorrect imformation being given out etc etc.

I really would like to see some concerted effort and a meaningful dialogue with HMRC on the lines of all agents saying to HMRC we will consider your proposals but you must put your house in order first and, only after a reasonable period of time of experiencing an efficient service (say 2 years minimum) will one consider your condoc. This cannot be restricted to members of professional bodies but must include agents qualified by experience.

I fear that none of the professional bodies will take a stand. It grieves me to say that I believe they are too political. 

As has been said before, HMRC are trying to pass the buck, no matter how the parcel is wrapped. 

 

RebeccaBenneyworth's picture

Ask for something that is in their power to deliver

RebeccaBenneyworth | | Permalink

I express this absolutely as my own opinion, and not for my body. However, it is no good asking for that david, it is not in HMRC's power to deliver it. They don't have enough resources and have been instructed to cut still further - another 25% by the end of this Parliament. You may as well ask them to gold plate tax returns before they issue them. It's just not in thier power to do that on the resources they have been allocated. Nor are they able to ask for more resources - that decision has been made by the Treasury.

To get more resources for HMRC needs a change in Parliament, and not within HMRC, so yes, some have said "lobby your MP" - that is certainly the right thing to do on that front. But that isn't part of this consultation, and refusing to engage with HMRC because MP's won't (or can't) persuade the Ministers that HMRC needs more funds not less is not going to help US who will be left behind by this initiative. We need to shape the outcome by saying what won't work (or what we regard as unacceptable) and continue to work after the consultation period to ensure that whatever comes is shaped as far as possible by the agents on the ground who do this every day. HMRC's fault, often is that they just gaily do stuff without asking those who are affected by it. Here's a first - we need to stay focussed on the issues and put our voice across loud and clear.

daveforbes's picture

Not an an accountant so none of my business ....

daveforbes | | Permalink

... but I am registered as an agent (one of the 80,000). It is useful for us for software testing.

Taking to your MP ? I think this is at least partially being driven from there anyway ... http://www.number10.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/HMRC-Business-Plan.pdf

"Use our understanding of customers to target resources to the areas of greatest risk, investing £900m to tackle avoidance and evasion, attacks by organised criminals and to improve debt collection capacity. This will bring in an estimated £7bn a year by 2014/15 in additional revenues"

The "attacks by organised criminals" mentioned is huge and often done via agent logins, so agent registration needs to be tightened up, but it could indeed be the "foot in the door" that many fear.

I have had my own attempts at changing HMRC policy - http://www.accountancyage.com/aa/news/1777864/exclusive-revenue-reported-oft 

Any long term effect - of course not - they found another way of providing free software.

 

DBlood's picture

I disagree Rebecca

DBlood | | Permalink

...............  because MP's won't (or can't) persuade the Ministers that HMRC needs more funds not less is not going to help US who will be left behind by this initiative.

 

Posted by RebeccaBenneyworth on Fri, 24/06/2011 - 12:07

 

Rebecca I don't agree because I don't think funding has anything to do with it.  You could treble HMRCs budget and they would still be useless.

What is needed does not cost money. What is needed is a complete change of attitude by HMRC staff from top to bottom.  The "cant be bothered" or "havent got time" or "it's not my job" mentality must change.  The way we can only speak to someone at a call centre (trained in fobbing people off) must change. 

HMRCs proposals mean that we will be held accountable as individuals if me mess something up (and everyone makes mistakes), well, it's time that individual HMRC officers were also held accountable for their mistakes.  Every return we submit should be allocated to a named officer - and we should be given the name, office, and direct hone number, for that officer - and that officer should be personally responsible for ensuring that the correct amount of tax is charged, that any refunds are made within a reasonable timescale (14 days I would suggest), that any investigations are carried out properly, and, that officer should be the one whose job is ultimately on the line if they foul up.

That is what they expect of agents, so we should expect and indeed demand the same of them.

 

 

Funding

Chris Wise | | Permalink

I think Rebecca is probably correct in that further funding is unlikely, so here are a few suggestions that should be within the realms of possibility.

1 Gather all the experienced staff in each area and let them whole case work like they used to. They'll be far more motivated and probably do a decent job.

2 Loose the ridiculous situation where coding allowances are input by one person and deductions by another. All it does is create a phone call saying the code is wrong. When i heard this I thought it was a myth but it was confirmed by my old HMIT group leader.

3 accept S336 claims online with the P11ds. OK agent scan ring up to change codes but only where the individual is a client. Where we are agent for the business it's a nightmare

4 - Use a bit of common sense in telephone calls. If an employer or an employer's PAYE agent calls about P11ds, P35s, P14s or codes in general they are unlikley to be perpetuating a fraud. chances are some poor swine in the workforce has had a code they don't understand, gone to the payroll office who aren't sure and someone needs to explain it.

5 Put calls thru to the service office, loose the call centres, the staff will pick up service office work on the job, phones will be answered more quickly and hopefully anything that can be done over the phone will be done instead of the sutuation at present where most calls simply generate a piece of post for the service office.

I'm with Dblood - again!!

david wilks | | Permalink

I have been pipped to the post by Dblood - had a client with me before I could respond to you Rebecca.

I would like to know how much is being spent by HMRC on the ever increasing number of complaints offices and officers. It's a bit like climbing the Tower of Babel (I would direct people to the bible story thereof) to get anywhere with a complaint (and this includes, very often, someone talking a different language to me - professional jargon I mean).

I do not believe it is funding situation. It needs someone to shake the organisation into a workable unit which, I am sure, can be done within the current budget. How much can it cost to ensure somebody is accountable to the taxpayer and agents? If less time and money was spent on creating policy documents, which only serve to confuse that we are all trying to do for our clients, and more on creating a workable relationship with us, the better.

How sensible can it be for a person in the Collector's office to have to say they cannot divulge details of monies they have received (or provide copies of ledger sheets) under a PAYE scheme but one has to write in with the details! It is going to take them longer to marry up the information they get with their records and then they have to reply! What a waste of time and resources. I know there are those amongst this forum that will say that this is one of the prime reasons for self serve and PAYE going "live" from 2012 but in the meantime it is chaos.

I stick by my original opinion. 

Marion Hayes's picture

Quite frankly we have to make this work - failure is not an opti

Marion Hayes | | Permalink

I am sorry DB but as a person who has worked on both sides of the fence, and for firms from Top 10 to tiny - it is a very rare occurence when one person has the input and responsibility for the accuracy of the work done on either side. Taxpayers are not that simple and training is targeted at specialist areas whichever side you are on.

Sole practioners will fall by the quality of their work, but in most larger firms the work is carried out by the cheapest charge out rate possible, reviewed, amended, passed up to manager/supervisor, reviewed/amended passed up to partner, reviewed, amended, issued to client, reviewed, amended, agreed and only then is finally sent to HMRC. This can be for advise, calculations, compliance etc etc. Profitability and potential liability from errors dictates this scenario. Who then takes the blame for an error - the person who made the mistake or the person who missed it?

In the same way HMRC have tried to follow our model by using different staff to do the right level of work. When I had a drawer full of concards for taxpayers I was responsible for all aspects of their tax affairs, but now that drawer is a computer list with on screen records. Specialisation on both sides means the end user has no idea who has been involved in the preparation of the work - whether it is HMRC or us.

I agree that taxpayers should be allocated to one section of officers, experienced in their type of taxpayers - Lloyds Underwriters and Farmers are just two examples that come to mind. Fronting that section with a call centre to filter out simple questions from taxpayers was and is a good idea - but we should then be able to transfer directly to the relevant section not wait for a call back.

Attitudes are created by the conditions you work in. I know we get frustrated and cross, but my friends within the service, as well as officers I speak to from day to day, would welcome higher involvement, would like to see things through, and would love the time to deal with something thoroughly instead of jumping from pillar to post just to keep going backwards. This is definitely a resources issue and the funding cuts mean that the resources are not going to be increased any time soon.

If we engage properly now, create a system we can all work in, and through managing our clients affairs to a higher degree release their time to deal with the rest, attitudes will change. Our calls will be welcomed as a help not a hindrance and our clients, who are the important people in this after all, will get the service they deserve to receive.

This will not happen overnight as attitudes on both sides of the divide need to change for this to work but it is a realistic possibility.

-- Marion

Some great posts here

pauljohnston | | Permalink

Yoiu all know I sit on the same fence as Marion.  But what does concern me most is that the ideas are comming (For instance they are going to have a dedicated section who only deal with agents).  BUT as I understand it this wont be up and running until the self-serve is working.

Making individual officers responsible is a no go.  Dont forget Civil Servants work for the state.

I gleen that the most worrying part for many is that if a mistake or two are made we will be liable and dont forget humans are only about 90% accurate in any case.  I am not sure whether this is on Rebecca's list and even if it is I am not sure of a fix.  But I think HMRC are going to have to address this concern and with real safeguards before they get many agents fully engaged.

I also disagree Rebecca because

mpurcell | | Permalink

even if we accept that the dreadful 'service' is purely a result of cost cutting, why should that cut our options? That surely just cuts HMRC's options and should strengthen our position.

Apart from anything else, many of us clearly have very little confidence in HMRC's ability or will to fulfill their part of the proposal. We do not need to allow ourselves to be bounced into agreement to anything. If HMRC are going down this route because they see it as their only option, well maybe it is but that means they need our agreement not the other way around.

If we think this through logically HMRC must think they have the resources to produce this 'self serve' system. There is nothing in the proposal that suggests we have to contribute or fund it is there? Well let's let them produce it. If it works, we will use it. We are very happy to collaborate with them in the development of the system but we do not have to agree to anything we are not comfortable with do we? Why can we not see this?

In addition, much of what is wrong with HMRC is unfortunately not about cost. It is about attitude.

DBlood's picture

.

DBlood | | Permalink

.....................  but we do not have to agree to anything we are not comfortable with do we? Why can we not see this?

 

Posted by mpurcell on Fri, 24/06/2011 - 21:24

 

Unfortunately there are lots of sheep in the profession, most of them running the professional institutes and larger companies, who will go along with HMRC because they really dont give a dam about the sole practitioner or small firm, and they don't get their hands dirty by dealing with "ordinary" clients.

The sole practitioner, and particularly the QBE, may well find themselves facing an "accept it or stop trading" ultimatum.

My opinion for what it is worth

kookies1ot | | Permalink

is that our FRIENDS at HMRC are to a certain extent sabre rattling and we are getting side tracked.  Whilst at this stage I think HMRC would in all honesty not want to control us they are certainly winding us up slowly and we are over reacting.  If we start off by talking about Money Laundering (this is where I open my big mouth and put my foot in it!) HMRC sanctioned that certain professional bodies could monitor their members but everyone else would have to register with them - this was their first stab at enrolment and there was a fee involved - does anyone know if HMRC has taken action against any one yet?

I personnally feel that there are enough professional  bodies out there for everyone to join to obtain some sort of recognition.  Having said that we are an argumentative bunch of characters in this profession and if you follow many of the previous AW threads then it has always provoked a lot of comments whether people are members of institues, qualified by experience and also which institute is best.  These days I feel the institutes are being abandonded because most members view them as too expensive for the benefits received other than a practicing certificate.  Mind you they do not particularly seem proactive at recruitment either.

My bottom line is that I feel it would be morally wrong for HMRC to control us so we are perhaps left to either the present institutes etc or the creation of a new body.  The comments on the current threads are that joining such a new body should be at a nominal fee - this is pie in the sky - yes the larger the membership the lower the cost per head would be but there have to be paid people to do the monitoring if it is going to be right or there will be fluctuating standards and this is going to cost money.  Now the argument against this is that the small firms cannot afford the cost - certainly the size of the firm must be taken into account but most new client's I take on never ask what my qualifications are or if I have PII cover.  If we are going to play on a level field I do feel there should be minimum standards within the profession so this issue does perhaps need addressing but not by HMRC.  If any conclusion should come out of this consultation then I would say perhaps we should tidy our act up BUT it is down to us to resolve it with either one or several professional bodies who can agree with HMRC the correct protocol to make us recognisable.

If we remove the qualifications for enrolment then we only have the technical issues left and these to my mind are being totally overlooked.  Brian Redford in one of his addresses said "We are going to make the 64-8 system much simpler and if you wanted to be authorised for David Beckham then you would just do it with the click of a mouse" - I appreciate being authorised for David Beckham was only an example but as soon as I heard this alarm bells started ringing.  The question of 64-8's has been one of my pet dislikes for many years and it is far simple - quite often different people require access to one Taxpayer's information and this is where most agents become frustrated especially where a client they have had for donkey years drops off the screen only to discover a specialist consultant thought he too was gaining access not realising his new 64-8 replaced the original authority.  If anyone can just click an authority then the system will just collapse.  Indeed on these new proposals I would prefer a "View only Access".  I am told once I have enrolled I will be able to amend "Coding Notices" - I don't want to become involved in coding notices - I have no objection to changing adresses etc but "Coding" is a minefield too far.  This consultation document should really be looking at we really want.  Yes if I can view my client's PAYE payments to ensure they paid what I told tham to pay and check that my client has been credited for a CIS deduction which the main contractor swears he has sent out but you have the gut feeling he has pocketed the tax himself - then I think we can not only be more efficient but if that contractor has not paid the tax over then I will certainly be shouting - so it can be a two way street.

As for the question should we be entering into the consultation because HMRC are is such a diabolical mess - then the answer is simple - this is going ahead whether we like it or not!  We all have bad experiences and I am sure HMRC have problems with some of us as well - deep down - I feel HMRC are trying to sort out the problems and they are not all as bad as perhaps we make out to be.  So how about concentrating over what we can view and what we do and don't want to get involved in!

Brian Cook  

DBlood's picture

.

DBlood | | Permalink

"We are going to make the 64-8 system much simpler and if you wanted to be authorised for David Beckham then you would just do it with the click of a mouse"

Posted by kookies1ot on Sat, 25/06/2011 - 12:53

 

 

So, according to this then, a client leaves - I still have his address, NI number, UTR, etc - so if, as it seems, the sending of an access code for the client to pass to you will no longer be required, exactly what is there to stop me simply re-enrolling him as a client by entering a few details?  Not exactly a "secure" system is it.

 

 

To be precise

kookies1ot | | Permalink

Brian Redford made no mention of an authorisation code being droped but he certainly intimated it would be easier - my main concern is security and I think (providing the posting out of the authorisation codes is done promptly) then the current on-line authorisation is not that bad (did I really say that!).  My father always told me "If it ain't broken, don't fix it"

If things are going to be relaxed then we need to insist that when our authority is altered we need to know immediately from HMRC that it has changed - I appreciate under data protection they will not be able to tell us who has superceded us but just knowing something has happened rather than the client just disappearing off the screen would help.   Yes at the moment they are being cagey about their intentions at HMRC are other than it is self serve but to my mind issues like this are far more important than enrolment.

Old Greying Accountant's picture

Brian ...

Old Greying Acc... | | Permalink

"Having said that we are an argumentative bunch of characters in this profession"

Brian Cook  

 

Posted by kookies1ot on Sat, 25/06/2011 - 12:53

I wouldn't say we are argumentative, but we are trained to look beneath the surface, not take things at face value, to analyse and question (and MLR is built round this) and if things don't add up, make sense or we see better ways of doing them then we speak up. It just shows how HMRC are either incompetent, stupid or just plain arrogant if they expected us to just say OK, looks good , go ahead then.

But (there are so many threads I forget what is said where), for Paul particularly, all we have so far is the condoc to rip to shreds, anything said by HMRC in response so far is just rhetoric at best, lip service at worst, until the follow up document is issued. In an ideal world they will have taken on board all  that has come from agents and present a revised set of ideas and questions, but as a cynic I'm not holding my breath.

 

oga

pauljohnston | | Permalink

Thanks....  You are right it is time for an up date.

Marion Hayes's picture

Update to condoc?

Marion Hayes | | Permalink

I am sorry Paul, forgive me for my naivety but on this I do not agree.

The consultation has asked for representations by 16 September. Unitl they are all received there should be no prejudgement of the outcome by either ourselves or HMRC.

-- Marion

Marion

pauljohnston | | Permalink

I know you are right but if they (HMRC) wait that long I am concerned that the impetus will be lost and if this happens one of two senarios will appear.  Either all the debating will start again or we will role over and accept the condoc.

I am of the opinion that HMRC should update those items that have been agreed.  It was a very long document rather than a number of documents that could have dealt with stages as HMRC are ready to step forward.  For instance all agree that there is insufficient funds to make all the proposed changes so what can be achieved now?

What do others feel?

Marion Hayes's picture

Morning Paul

Marion Hayes | | Permalink

I do see that it is frustrating to wait, and the dangers you refer to are real, but I have spoken to quite a few people in my area who are waiting for the holiday break to compose their thoughts/reply. Multiplied across the country that may well make a difference to what we see as common points of agreement. I would like to know whether there have been any responses from the general public and how they are being included as I have seen nothing about this in the media.

I personally do not want to see HMRC rushed into a response which has to be based upon the reaction of the professional bodies as that is probably the most co-ordinated reaction to date. Sadly that may well not be in my best interests as a QBE sole trader. (By the way Rebecca I love your new definition of QBE). It would be far too easy to create tunnel vision based on those first reactions.

There can be no doubt that there are no new resources on the horizon, but looking through the business plan Dave Forbes kindly linked in, the development of the dashboard for businesses has already started. I assume that this is the overall view for all taxes, so adding additional slices for our access is feasible. As the roll-out is targeted for April 2012 it is not as far away as we might have expected. 

Perhaps an objective summary of where we appear to have reached agreement, or more importantly where there are differences still, would be useful but as there is less than 2 months to the deadline perhaps we should carry on debating the other areas of the document rather than run out of time  

-- Marion

johnjenkins's picture

We (as normal)

johnjenkins | | Permalink

digress.

The question is what are we going to do if we don't like the con/doc in its fial final form.

Old Greying Accountant's picture

Not having a crystal ball John ...

Old Greying Acc... | | Permalink

... I really don't see the purpose in expending time and effort of hypothetical arguments. We have made our points, will continue to do so, and may even change our views over time as we see and hear other views and observations. Surely that is the consultation. Only when that has beed processed and a new scenarion been aired can we contemplate the next step.

Ultimately though, if we don't like the outcome but government enact it anyway, all we can do is lobby for it to be amended or repealed.

I think the date for responses to be in is fine. April to June is a busy time with many deadlines, plus loose ends to tie up before holidays, when as mentioned by others, there is time for reflection. I for one will seriously be contemplating a personal response to the con doc when I have the time to do so.

 

 

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Group: HMRC Agent Strategy
A forum for members to share ideas, evidence and common responses to HMRC's consultation paper, “Establishing the future relationship between the Tax