Qualified by Experience

Some members have already been looking at the possiblity of recognising an agent's expertise gained other than through the passing of professional exams.

The point (if there is one) of restricting tax agent work to members of certain bodies would seem to be the raising of standards, or maybe providing assurance to the world at large that the agent they select can be relied upon. However, as members have pointed out, just having passed some exams many years ago is no proof of technical competence now. Nor is the fact that someone has not passed exams an indicator of lack of competence. I'd also be very worried if I were HMRC and be seen to be "approving" tax agents as competent - think about the mess created by the FSA and the banks.

HMRC has asked the current "pool" of tax agents to give their views on whether the tax profession should be restricted to those who are members of a professional body (or association). The implication is not just that they have passed exams, but also that they comply with rules on continuing professional development, carrying liability incurance and so on.

While accepting that good and bad practice can be found on either side of the fence, please could those who are not currently members of one of the main professional bodies express their views on whether we (you) should be called upon to demonstrate your competence, both at a single point in time and/or ongoing (if you think this is appropriate). Your views on whether we should grandfather all current agents, and effectively shut the door on new entrants unless they pass examinations of some sort would also be useful.

Or do you think (please all respond) that any sort of control of this area of the market should not be attempted?

Please can you give some idea in your responses whether you are a member of a body or not.

Comments

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Constantly Confused's picture

I don't mind either way

Constantly Confused | | Permalink

I'm ACCA ATT and don't think any less of others who practice around me without any qualifications.  Certainly I have met plenty of people who are better at tax than me but don't have the letters.

But having said that, these people, if they had to, could easily pass the exams, so I don't see how forcing them to take them will do them any harm. 

My only concern would be that Joe Bloggs who is happily making a liveable amount off his handful of clients would have a relatively hefty bill to pay in fees, and arguably why would he need to learn the ins and outs of corporation tax if all his clients are pensioners (for example).

Perhaps HMRC could set some exams that give you no letters but show you are competent?  That would be cheaper than being a member of the ATT and remove, surely, the last issue?

RebeccaBenneyworth's picture

Posting links to some of the relevant comments

RebeccaBenneyworth | | Permalink

I'm linking here to the relevant comments that members have already made about this on other threads. It will make reading a bit tedious, but will give you a good picture of what's been said so far. I'm leaving out any of the "we're better than them" type of comments. I'm linking to the thread in case context is relevant but posting the comment in here in full - to the extent that I think relevant.

Paul Johnstone wrote on the subject as follows :

Professional training for NQ. In other industries there have been grandfathering schemes whereby those with experience dont go thru all the examinations but are effectively tested on what they have produced thus far. So for someone wishing to to be qualified under this idea would have his or her work reviewed by another appointed person and assuming everything was up to standard would get confirmation that they are qualified by experience. THe appointed person should be another accountant who has a practice of simalar size and is already qualified either by experience or by a profession. THere would for all of us the need to have CPD. For new bloods qualification would need to be by a different route.

Suepg wrote (I have selcted parts) :

As an NQ with 17 years at a Chartered firm , latterly as a Senior Tax Manager, and subsequently 7 years in practice on my own, with around 150 clients, I would welcome the opportunity to be assessed and recognised as 'Qualified by Experience'

I work to the same standards & protocols as I always have, and recognise the need for CPD and place a great deal of importance on ongoing training, as well as constanly updating reading and software. The service and advice I give is accurate and correct, and is as good as any. I am, however, well aware of other NQs in my area that lack knowledge & professionalism and give us a bad name and I would welcome an opportunity to be monitored, audited or assessed in order to demonstrate my abilities and provide confirmation that I am meeting acceptable standards & following required procedures.

While there may be others who view such monitoring, auditing or inspecting as an invasion, I would be the first to volunteer for any such scheme, and strongly believe it would only benefit those of us in a similar position to myself.

As a very busy, sole trading practitioner, I am reluctant to go back into full time training at my age, but would nevertheless be only too willing to undertake any form of examination or testing of my experience and see no good reason why this should not become mandatory for any NQ practitioners or those who are not affiliated to one of the recognised Professional bodies. We are, after all, accepting payment for the service we provide, and therefore should be prepared to meet certain standards.

Cymraeg draig wrote : (edited slightly)

Who would you suggest administers such a scheme?

The professional bodies - who would see it as a way of getting rid of QBEs and getting a bigger slice of the cake for their members ?

The tax office - who would see it as a way of ensuring that only obedient sheep could stay in practice, and use it to get rid of the "troublesome" QBEs who actually look out for their client's interests?

Whilst it may seem an attractive proposition, in practice it is too open to abuse and corruption.

Accountant78 said : (small selection from longer post)

I wouldn't advocate putting people out of business but rather a phased scheme to give people time to get appropriately qualified.

Cymraeg draig again : (in response to a query about why people don't just "take the exams" - smll extract from longer post)

Perhaps you should find out the many reasons why people don't obtain qualifications, some freeze in exams, others struggle with disabilities, and others simply cant afford it.

Constantly confused wrote

I still don't get the problem with becoming 'qualified', assuming HMRC say the ATT/AAT are suitable then they are quick and cheap to do (obviously anyone who thinks they don't need to do them knows it all already, so it'll be but 12 hours of their life wasted).

Over to you guys - keep it clean!

 

Anyway, if I can walk them I don't see how anyone has an excuse :)

 

RebeccaBenneyworth's picture

Membership fees

RebeccaBenneyworth | | Permalink

I can quite see how membership fees might be a barrier to practice - but what about the PI premium? What about CPD? All of these come with quite a hefty cost - throw in tax software and a decent set of reference material and you're working for nothing for a part of the year.  So a valid point. But is there an argument that if you are not set up on a "professional basis" whatever we decide that that means - then you should not be permitted to sell your services as a tax agent?

I once took on a client in a terrible pickle. His previous adviser was a member of a professional body, but had been excluded from membership for failing to carry PII but continued to practice for a number of years. My client was left out of pocket for additional tax due to appaling advice, and of course the cost of sorting it out. When he tried to take a case against the man concerned he did a bunk. These are the kinds of things that can happen when a public service is not controlled - which is why I'm interested to listen to members' views on this - particularly those most affected by any possible change.

So should there be an Office of Tax Regulation, and if so, who will pay for it (and staff it?)

johnjenkins's picture

QBE

johnjenkins | | Permalink

I am lucky enough to be qualified by paper (Institute of Taxation) and by experience (46 years). Although paper gave me knowledge it didn't give me wisdom.

I really don't think in this day and age there are that many cowboy agents, and those that are will always find a way round most systems. I would think that HMRC know who they are anyway.

Unfortunately since Maggie got kicked out we have seen compliance rise to new heights, which is totally destroying our work culture and HMRC have jumped on it to cover the deficit that their mission to re-classify the self-employed and tax avoidance has produced.

All Q's are covered by their own Institute and UQ's are covered by Customs under MLR so why have another ruling body that has to be financed.

We really don't need any more controls.

 

RebeccaBenneyworth's picture

Question for CD on this one

RebeccaBenneyworth | | Permalink

CD, I'm interested in your views on this in respect of your staff. I appreciate that you employ your professional staff on merit rather than membership of one or another body (just background for those who don't know your practice). In reality of course, your practice would (if these rules ever come in) be registered under the name(s) of the principal(s) so any change would only affect your staff if they ever decided to leave and set up their own practice.

I know you have strong views on the possible restraint of trade issues but I wondered whether you see any future in a "reference" system under which a current agent could provide a reference to a member of staff seeking to set up in practice, as to their competence (at that point in time). I know that this could be abused by unscrupulous employers, but what do you think in principle?

 

RebeccaBenneyworth's picture

Thanks John

RebeccaBenneyworth | | Permalink

Can I draw you out a little bit on your expression "compliance is killing it". Do you mean checking up on tax returns, or checking up on people - in other words checking that people have complied with their obligations? Or do you mean "compliance work" as some agents refer to it - form filling? Is it forms and more forms that are the problem?

And just one come-back on your post - I think the whole issue is that HMRC have no idea who all the agents are and what they are up to - this knowledge went with the DI. (I know it's their fault, but there we go). And in particular those registered for money laundering are just that and nothing else - this would have to be a totally separate regime, as quite a lot of the MLR people don't do tax - it covers bookeepers etc too.

 

I support the restriction to members of appropriate bodies

chatman | | Permalink

A bit reluctant to go into all the arguments as we know this results in an undisciplined shouting match, but I support the restriction to members of appropriate bodies. If HMRC then considers agents to have misbehaved they can complain to the agent's professional body, who would then be responsible for taking any action. That way HMRC would be less able to manipulate agents into becoming compliant.

Maybe HMRC could set up their own scheme for examining people who do not want to take professional exams. They could have one exam for personal tax, one for Corporation Tax, one for VAT etc.

I appreciate that some people freeze in exams or have other very good reasons for not taking exams, and that is a shame, but no system is ever going to fit everybody. The system of assessing people by exam in the UK (and, I assume, most countries) is well established because it is the least bad solution that anyone has come up with. I would definitely not want my appendix taking out by a person who never took the medical exams however good their reason was.

cymraeg_draig's picture

Rebecca

cymraeg_draig | | Permalink

Question for CD on this one

CD, I'm interested in your views on this in respect of your staff. I appreciate that you employ your professional staff on merit rather than membership of one or another body (just background for those who don't know your practice). In reality of course, your practice would (if these rules ever come in) be registered under the name(s) of the principal(s) so any change would only affect your staff if they ever decided to leave and set up their own practice.

I know you have strong views on the possible restraint of trade issues but I wondered whether you see any future in a "reference" system under which a current agent could provide a reference to a member of staff seeking to set up in practice, as to their competence (at that point in time). I know that this could be abused by unscrupulous employers, but what do you think in principle?

 

 

Posted by RebeccaBenneyworth on Thu, 02/06/2011 - 16:54

 

I'm not simply thinking about staff, but also about many fine QBEs who have been in business for years doing a perfectly good job.  "References" simply would not work as there are many QBEs who havent worked for another practice in years, if ever.

I would therefore oppose any scheme which placed any additional requirement or burden upon them.  For example, take a QBE of, say 63 years old. Are we really proposing that he/she should be forced to take exams or quit working ?

I did a little "back of fag packet" calculation about a QBE I know (and who we sometimes sub-contract to) who has a very nice little practice, operating from his home.  Given his age, and his annual turnover, if he was to be put out of business as a result of these proposals, I could very easily justify - and win under european legislation - a claim for restraint of trade of around £2million + costs. 

So, I think the first requirement of any such scheme must be that anyone already trading at the time the scheme commences should be excempt from any requirements for reference, exams, etc.

Making it a condition of new agents commencing might be possible, but not for existing agents.

I certainly believe that the "snobs" (because that is all it is) who want to somehow "protect" the term accountant, need to seriously look at their true motives.  And I believe that those of us who are qualified should take a reality check. I have seen some appalling messes over the years caused by acountants who are obviously totally incompetent - and the vast majority of them were caused by qualified accountants.

Finally, any "scheme", any "registration" and any "policing" of agents should never be administered by HMRC. Indeed, I believe that if agents are to be "policed" then HMRC staff should be subjected to exactly the same regime to ensure that they too are competent and knowledgable (which means a lot of Revenue staff will be unemployed). 

 

 

cymraeg_draig's picture

Chatman

cymraeg_draig | | Permalink

I would definitely not want my appendix taking out by a person who never took the medical exams however good their reason was.

Posted by chatman on Thu, 02/06/2011 - 18:04

 

If you've had an operation - you probably HAVE been operated on by someone "unqualified". Try talking to surgeons. The vast majority of "routine" operations are carried out by junior part-qualified staff while the surgeon stands back and observes.

I'm sorry but your prejudice against QBEs merely says a great deal about your fear of competition, not your desire to protect clients. 

Would you suggest we fire half our staff ?

And just what qualifications do HMRC staff have ? 

 

 

RebeccaBenneyworth's picture

QBE

RebeccaBenneyworth | | Permalink

I agree with CD on this one. Expecting someone who has been in practice for 30 years to prove their competence would seem beyond the pale to me too. It seems that grandfathering existing agents would be the only way to go, to avoid some of the problems he has described. If we genuinely accept that there is both competence and lack of it on both sides, then we have no choice but to treat everyone the same at this point.

I, too have an uncomfortable feeling that there could be a little of the "pull up the gang plank, I'm all right Jack" in some of the responses to the consultation on this area. Of course we (those who have passed examinations and been regulated by their body for years) want to be recognised for the time and effort we put into obtaining our qualification, but it is difficult to do this without the detriment of some of the existing members of our profession (however they got to be here). However, we may like to comment on whether ALL should be required to carry PII etc etc.

Maybe the answer is to restrict entry in the future to those who pass an examination and meet other criteria (holding PII for example) and treat those already "on the books" all the same?

But what about ongoing regulation if they are not members of a body? Nobody seriously wants HMRC to regulate them (and this is not even contemplated in the condoc) so how do we go forward with that one?

" the vast majority of them were caused by qualified accountants

chatman | | Permalink

Maybe qualified accountants should be excluded then.

I do not understand

chatman | | Permalink

Rebecca - The following two statements seem to me to be contradictory

"Expecting someone who has been in practice for 30 years to prove their competence would seem beyond the pale to me."

"Maybe the answer is to restrict entry in the future to those who pass an examination"

I am sure they are not, but could you please explain.

We are sliding off the subject somewhat

pauljohnston | | Permalink

HMRC wants to see some sort of qualification if we are to go done this road so it is down to us to put forwards ideas, if we dont I fear their ideas will be imposed on us.

Perehaps the way forward should be that the principal in the practice should show competence and perhaps for all Tax Agents not just those QBE.  I know this is a very difficult subject for some to swallow but it has happened to others (electricians), and maybe it is time for us all to make a stand and remove the rogues and those who just are not up to it.

Using Rebecaa's idea that all new entrants should pass exams I think is a great one and a line should be drawn in the sand at say 1.1.12 but I think to be accepted one must be an HMRC registered agent by say 1.12.11, is this realistic?

Practice Recognition

dpeart195 | | Permalink

Recognising a practice as offering proper and professional advice is different from recognising that an individual practitioner has some particular qualification that may (or may not) be a mark of competence.   Any practice offering tax and accountancy advice should be able tp prove that they have all the necessary provisions in place:

1.   Registration for Money-Laundering and under the Data Protection Act

2.   Ongoing CPD with relevant certificates of attendance - not just for some members of the practice but across the board.

3.   Proof of adequate Professional Indemnity Insurance

4.   A good mixture of staff - whether qualified, aiming to be qualified, and qualified by experience - and for sole practitioners a recognised referral process.

5.    Recognition of the value of membership of professional bodies - not just in accountancy and taxation but also in management (Chartered Institute of Management) and an understanding of risk assessment, continuity for the practice in the event of death or illness and how to manage compliance dates, staff, client needs and follow proper procedures to protect clients.

There is no ISO for this but if it were to be introduced these points could be the basis of discussion to identify what constitutes a properly qualified professional practice.

RebeccaBenneyworth's picture

@ chatman

RebeccaBenneyworth | | Permalink

Sorry if I wasn't clear. Here's what I meant:
Those with an established practice now who have been working as tax agents might be assumed to have proved their competence and therefore be allowed to register without taking any examinations. Then if their performance is very poor indeed it will become apparent and remedial action could be taken - of whatever nature we agree might be appropriate - this is open for comment.

After a certain cut off date - which would need to be quite soon to avoid a rush I guess - anyone wishing to register as a tax agent will have to prove their competence by being a member of a recognised body (I guess we also suggest a list of bodies to HMRC). That way nobody is put out of business, but we start increasing the technical base of the profession as new entrants join and the older ones retire. Maybe a new set of basic exams are needed for new entrants - but for my money those not wishing to be an accountant, just a tax adviser, the ATT would be an excellent bet for an entry level exam. What do members think of that?

I do have very mixed feelings about this area, and one of my concerns is that the agent community is in the vast majority a member of a body, so it would be easy for the "majority voice" to push this through. That's why I particularly welcome CD's comments on this as he is a member of a body but has quite clear views on what should not happen.

Exam content

Chris Wise | | Permalink

I'm a CIOT member. I know there were things on the exam syllabus that are rarely seen in a small or even a medium practice, and things not on the syllabus that could've done with more content. so the problem for everyone of is is knowing what you don't know.

I would imagine for QBEs that's more of as minefield, as anyone whose done some study might just recall a paragrapg or a chapter they read once.

 

Overall I think CD and Rebecca are right and that you can't, and indeed shouldn't assume anyone unqualified by exam, is incapable.

That said a quick trawl of Any Answers will throw up a lot of people, who may or may not be qualifed but clearly shouldn't be allowed to practice unsupervised.

Assuming anyone registered by say the end of the year was accepted as is, and new applications had to be accompanied by a Cert of Excellence or Inst. Membership, would anyone already accepted but found wanting regularly be offered re-training (at their expense) or disqualified from acting?

anyway the way round for these people will simply be they do the returns either on third party software or via HMRC portal but on the individual's Gateway access.

cymraeg_draig's picture

Exams

cymraeg_draig | | Permalink

Maybe a new set of basic exams are needed for new entrants - but for my money those not wishing to be an accountant, just a tax adviser, the ATT would be an excellent bet for an entry level exam. What do members think of that?

Posted by RebeccaBenneyworth on Fri, 03/06/2011 - 09:02

 

Whatever "exam" is devised I would presume it would seek to demonstrate a certain level of competence in dealing with taxation, and perhaps basic accountancy.  The aim would be to ensure competence, not expertise.

  1. I would suggest that ALL agents be required to take such an examination, not just QBE's but qualifieds too. There are many qualifieds who post qualification spend 20-30 years working in industry or local government where they never see a tax return - what makes them any more "competent" that a QBE with similar experience ? - (I'll await the outraged comments from those who seem to think it unacceptable to denegrate their bit of paper).
  2. I would also suggest that all HMRC staff should be subjected to the same requirements before they are let lose on taxpayers - or are we to have another example of "one rule for us and another for them" ?

I would also suggest that this "exam" be devised in such a way that it can be completed anywhere, anytime, online, and NOT in a "classroom" type environment - this being to ensure that those who dont take qualifications because of disability, exam nerves, etc are not disadvantaged. (I know someone who suffers from agoraphobia who earns a living from home, but would never be able to travel to take an exam).

As regards existing agents - if they are to be required to pass an exam or lose their business, then I suggest that every tax officer should also be required to prove their competence, or face loss of their job without compensation. (its called a level playing field). Perhaps the first to sit the exams should be Hartnett & Strathie.

 

How about an

pauljohnston | | Permalink

Institute of Professional Agents.  If everyone had to be a member I would have thought that £10 a year would be about right assuming 60,000 agents.  This body would mean that everyone whether Charted Certifiied or QBE would have to be a member and meet the minimum standards. HMRC would have no say in this body and if the early guiding light was some one like Rebecca B I feel this could work very well.  Has this idea any merit?

johnjenkins's picture

Rebecca,

johnjenkins | | Permalink

what I mean by "compliance". The rigid control, with no flexibility and no say in the conseption (look what the EU has done to Greece, Portugal and Southern Ireland), with automatic penalties if not adhered to.

We have swopped common sense and flexibility for compliance and rigidity and it is destroying our work culture. It's the whole package that is wrong.

When rules are made to try and stop the minority (which they never do) at the expense of the majority, then we will always have problems.

Someone, somewhere decided that we can't think for ourselves and that all agents and tax payers are trying to "con" the system, so we have "compliance". Now let me think who could that someone be????? Any ideas????

Old Greying Accountant's picture

I agree with CD to a point

Old Greying Acc... | | Permalink

I think the first thing, as CD states, is that it must be reciprocal, and HMRC staff must demonstrate competence too.

I think the way to go is to have an approved list of agents, available on the HMRC website (but not controlled by HMRC), and if the client chooses to use someone not on the list then HMRC should still deal with them but caveat emptor as far as the client is concerned. All those practicing at a given date should be automatically put on the list on application, and give HMRC 6 months to object.

What I propose is I suppose a bit like the shot gun licence, where the onus is on the government agency to demonstrate why an applicant should not be on the list. The list should be controlled by an independant body, preferably non-government.

Obviously there would have to be an independant tiered appeals process to cover where HMRC seeks to block inclusion of an agent on the list, and to re-iterate, the onus should be on HMRC to prove lack of competence, not the other way round!

There was an analogy to electricians and ongoing testing, personally I do not think this valid. Electricians and plumbers working with gas do work which has the potential to kill if not done properly.

Once an accountant has qualified, they have proved they have the ability to take on and process data. It is up to their professional bodies to ensure their knowledge is kept up to date and not renew practicing certificates as appropriate. If the government approved ACCA/ICAEW as competent tax advisors, it is not up to HMRC or anyone else to check on the membership specifically - that dialogue is between the body and the government and if the government feels the members are not up to it they should remove the approved status of the body, although it should  not  be instant removal, but a chance for remedy must be given. If HMRC feel an qualified agent is incompetant, they should address the issue to the appropriate body for investigation, and not apply to have them struck from the list direct.

The government is currently carrying out business record checks, why not have a similar scheme for agents not covered by an approved body, funded by an annual subscription, as I think has been said, like the MLR scheme.

So to answer the question:

HMRC has asked the current "pool" of tax agents to give their views on whether the tax profession should be restricted to those who are members of a professional body (or association). The implication is not just that they have passed exams, but also that they comply with rules on continuing professional development, carrying liability incurance and so on.

This agent thinks there should be no restiction, but there should be a mechanism so the client can choose, in the same way they do in servicing their car at Dagenham Motors, or takin it dahn the Arches and letting Phil ave a butchers at it.

 

Hang on a minute!

Homeworker | | Permalink

Are we missing the point here?

If the proposal is to allow registered members additional access to HMRC records, surely non-registered members should be able to continue to practice in the way we all do now, with access limited to sending information and viewing records?

I am ATT qualified (since 1990) but not ATII, as I froze in the exam and chose not to re-take it.  To say anyone can pass these exams is unfair, as they are necessarily challenging, but in real life we have more time and access to more reference material when dealing with queries.  In my daily life I do not expect to read a client letter, carry out any necessary research and formulate a reply to a complicated query in the totally unrealistic 20 minutes (or whatever is allowed nowadays) allowed in the exams.

cymraeg_draig's picture

People who live in glass houses -

cymraeg_draig | | Permalink

Obviously there would have to be an independant tiered appeals process to cover where HMRC seeks to block inclusion of an agent on the list, and to re-iterate, the onus should be on HMRC to prove lack of competence, not the other way round!

 

 

 Posted by Old Greying Acc... on Fri, 03/06/2011 - 11:39

 

The problem is - HMRC have a culture which states "we dont have to prove your guilt, you have to prove your innocence".  I don't see that despicable attitude changing.

Quite frankly, before HMRC start talking about improving the standards of agents they need to put their own house in order.

cymraeg_draig's picture

.

cymraeg_draig | | Permalink

I know you have strong views on the possible restraint of trade issues ...............

 

 Posted by RebeccaBenneyworth on Thu, 02/06/2011 - 16:54

 

I have a natural hatred of injustice, and a loathing of petty bureaucracy and "jobsworths".  Common sense, and indeed plain decency seem to be concepts that are disappearing as government agencies (and private companies) rush headlong towards their "one size fits all" policies.

The last labour government introduced over 3,000 new criminal offences and this would appear to be just another step towards the socialist pseudo-communist ideal of everyone needing an official "permit" to do anything.

 

 

Marion Hayes's picture

‘Qualified?’ I think I am

Marion Hayes | | Permalink

 

I am not a member of the CIOT or ATT, I am not an Accountant.I have worked in taxation since 1972, first for IR and then after a family break in practice. My career took me from Tax Officer to HG, then Tax Assistant to Senior Tax Manager and all shades between. I decided 2 years ago to become a very small sole practinioner as well as volunteering with the charities who support the lower paid.I cannot hide within a larger structure so by introducing a need for exam qualification you are going to prevent me and many others from practicing within the system. I have investigated recently taking the exams and it is financially prohibitive. I have no great financial means. Realistically, as the syllabus contains many areas of tax that most of us do not have day to day contact with, a candidate will need to take courses for passing the exams to be possible. My research showed that it would cost me over £3,000 to take the ATT and a further amount of over £4,000 to go on to CTA.  Never mind the study time costs. I cannot afford it.I am one of those who have always been able to pass exams but many people who are excellent practitioners in their field are not. Why should we be able to say to their counterparts in the future you will not be able to fulfil your potential.I have studied over the years, I go on training courses regularly as well as attending the CTA conferences, I do all I can to keep up to speed.My biggest concern in the introduction of the need for qualification is that it will make matters worse, not better, for standards and accountability. I think this will create a large number of people who work outside the system. In America the majority of practitioners are not registered, they process information to give to the client, who then submits it to the IRS. These people are totally anonymous. If that happens in our system such people would also be able to avoid the need to register for Money Laundering or Data Protection, PII etc etc. I fail to see this as an improvement.If there is a need to prove competency then it needs to be competency on using HMRC's system, not tax overall. An online test for each of the operations you wish to use would be more effective I think. Can you create a code from the information provided. Can you understand the statement of liabilities and payments on their screen prints? (I never could)

Incompetence is not the province of non-qualifieds. It permeates all practices at times and is most easily hidden within a larger firm and this suggestion would do nothing to address that issue.

Marion

‘Qualified?’ I think I am

wblewis | | Permalink

 Well said Marion! It is unfortunate that HMRC has raised this issue again. Having experience the declining level of competence within HMRC over the last few years I do believe that they do need to be able to assure us that they will  improve their internal standards before threatening agents, whatever their status, with sanctions. 

The way they try to disguise their true intentions is laughable. HMRC has always disliked dealing with small organisations so I believe their true intent is to try and get rid of the sole practitioners, with or without formal qualifications/memberships.

CPD is key!

ademoore | | Permalink

 Well said Marion, I think attending update seminars, and various CPD meetings is sometimes what can make or break a good accountant, from a lesser abled one.

I myself, am an AAT member, and finished CIMA a couple of years ago, though have not as yet obtained membership. With regards to this argument overall, am I deemed a lesser accountant by HMRC the day before I apply (and there would be no problem in getting membership based on experience), compared to the next day/month when it would be awarded, and then suddenly deemed more competent?

I attend various CPD events between CIMA and AAT, plus other external events that happen either locally or via webinars, but still, fail to see why having the letters, and paying the hefty cost for them, would make me a better accountant in the eyes of HMRC. I studied to better my knowledge, and to be able to give a better service to my clients, and I believe previously said, maybe HMRC should be looking along the same lines as the MLR route, whereby if not a member of a body, you are looked over by HMRC, and just have to keep tabs of the CPD you do, with an audit every couple of years? This is what AAT expect of me, and it feels reasonable of them to do so! Yes, this would take some time and effort on their behalf, but it could, like having letters, be something you have to pay for, with some kind of recognition from HMRC that you are meeting at least minimum criteria for clients, as an agent.

 

Old Greying Accountant's picture

Therein lies the problem Marion

Old Greying Acc... | | Permalink

What happens if something occurs that is not within your scope of knowledge. You cannot live in a tax bubble and say I only deal with CIS, I don't need to know about CGT, IHT etc.

If you spot it you may well refer on to someone with the relevant expertise, but if you have not studied the full breadth of the tax spectrum, you may not spot it in the first place!

No one is suggesting you should know everything about all taxes with instant recall, but you must be aware of them.

CD, I agree, there needs to be a sea change in the attitude of HMRC, enforced by statute or otherwise, which is what I am suggesting would do.

Again, the whole problem, exacerbated by Brown, is micro-culture - you cannot just look at HMRC and agents, you have to look at the big picture - IMHO the whole UK tax system is complete pants, is open to abuse by the rich and powerful and the career scroungers, leaving the law-abiding middle income earners to carry the can, the whole thing needs to be re-built from the ground up - all this is just tinkering round the edges and it wont work until we have a simple, fair system that has a little potential for abuse as possible. 

RebeccaBenneyworth's picture

Careful

RebeccaBenneyworth | | Permalink

I think we don't not want to get into the position of criticising one qualification over another, but I absolutely believe that both AAT and ATT are excellent qualifications - although AAT doesn't cover tax, but the body does have professional standards and require PI, CPD etc. One of the things we need to debate is what professional bodies would be on the list of approved (if there is such a list) - and logically it would be those with some element of tax content.

I think we are reaching quite abroad consensus that to intorduce mandatory membership of a body effectively retrospectively would be wrong, so anyone in practice now has indeed proved their competence - until otherwise demonstrated. We'll have another thread next week on "to whom, and how do we decide" that point.

I also do quite like the idea of a tax exam for HMRC BUT it may not make sense. Most of the technical people I meet know a lot (more than I ever could) about a tiny area and not much about areas outside their field of work. There really isn't a call for a "general tax practitioner" at HMRC. It's pointless introducing exams for people who don't need that knowledge - and a waste of OUR (taxpayers') money. While equitably the suggestion is attractive I wonder if it is best use of resources?

Old Greying Accountant's picture

Yes but

Old Greying Acc... | | Permalink

I also do quite like the idea of a tax exam for HMRC BUT it may not make sense. Most of the technical people I meet know a lot (more than I ever could) about a tiny area and not much about areas outside their field of work. There really isn't a call for a "general tax practitioner" at HMRC. It's pointless introducing exams for people who don't need that knowledge - and a waste of OUR (taxpayers') money. While equitably the suggestion is attractive I wonder if it is best use of resources?

 

Posted by RebeccaBenneyworth on Fri, 03/06/2011 - 13:05

What may be a better use of resource, is for agents to be able to use that expertise and sort things out up front. If agents can easily get to the relevant HMRC experts the issues can be ironed out prior to submission and ensure the right amount of tax is paid at the right time, which is surely what it is all about.

I know, CD will say they want you to get it wrong so they can sting you for interest and penalties ...

I for one would far rather submit something and know that is the end of it, rather than having to dig it all out again 6 months later and then every 6 months for the next 3 years.

Taking it further, we should be able to have issues pre-ruled, so that HMRC give binding advice up front in writing, which will be ring-fenced from future investigation, surely that is a better use of resource? (especially as regards VAT which is farcical at present).

"anyone in practice now has indeed proved their competence"

chatman | | Permalink

Rebecca - How can this be correct?

johnjenkins's picture

OK

johnjenkins | | Permalink

lets go back to basics.

Of course there is no problem with a register. Most of us are already signed up on the Gateway. It's when you start saying - oh he can't be on it cos he sends us nasty letters - oh they can be on it cos they agree with all our proposals - things get steamy. I know my examples are far fetched but as WD says, who decides who goes on the "List" and who monitors it etc. etc.

There is one area overlooked and that is ;- Is the tax payer allowed this information? If so then by virtue of authority HMRC would have to offer the same info to the agent. If not why not?????

cymraeg_draig's picture

.

cymraeg_draig | | Permalink

"anyone in practice now has indeed proved their competence"

Rebecca - How can this be correct?

 

Posted by chatman on Fri, 03/06/2011 - 13:31

 

It's as correct as saying people who have acted for years suddenly cant unless they pass some kind of test.

There are also the potential issues raised under Article 7 Human Rights Act which bans retrospective legislation.  Whilst originally drafted to cover criminal laws, this has been interpreted by the courts to cover any retrospective act which has adverse consequences on the victim.  In this case it could (and would) be argued that when the agent commenced in business there was no requirement for "qualifications" etc and that to now introduce such a requirement for existing agents contravened Article 7.  Indeed even the imposition of an annual registration fee without the need for exams could still be held to breach Article 7. 

 

On the subject of fees, ongoing training, etc. etc. can it really be right that accountant A with 500 clients pays the same annual fee as accountant B who is semi retired and looks after half a dozen clients to earn a bit of pin money on top of his pension?

 

 

 

RebeccaBenneyworth's picture

Getting it clear

RebeccaBenneyworth | | Permalink

If you want to be an agent and have access to people's records other than your own then you will have to be on a "list of agents". The information you provide to get on this is very slightly more than you currently provide to enrol as an agent, but the "new list" is proposed to be effectively the "old list" - just sign up (once) to the new process. The condoc asks if the info asked for is appropriate. It also asks when and how this might happen - I'll do another thread later on this.

If you are a registered agent you will also be able to (if you wish) access the new agent only portal which will give you access to certain systems which are also accessed by HMRC staff - so that you change certain things "live" rather than asking for someone to change them for you. Idea : quicker, more accurate and more effective service but only for agents.

If you want to carry on in the old way you will still be able to, but my understanding is that if you want to tralk to HMRC about your clients and do all the normal agent things you will have top be registered as an agent.

We then need to debate what we agree are the criteria for sanctions against an agent (and what those sanctions might be) and how this is controlled - by an independent body, by the current rep bodies or by whom (including HMRC). Again, a new thread later on this and I'll pick up your relevant comments as I have on this thread.

Marion Hayes's picture

‘Qualified?’ I think I am

Marion Hayes | | Permalink

OGA - Thanks for reading such a badly formated response - the paragraphs got lost in the pasting.

My point was that when sitting exams, unless you deal with matters on a day to day basis, you would need to undertake formal study to meet the needs o the exams and have a chance of passing. I believe someone had suggested, however tongue in cheek, that if we were QBE the exams should be a doddle!!

I do take your point about tax bubbles but even if you are CTA, under the new exam structure there are areas of tax you will not have studied. We all need to be aware of how little we know and who to refer to but that is not helped by letters after your name. Indeed in my experience I find that a little knowledge in some hands is the most dangerous.

I am glad you feel as I do that there should be no restriction made by HMRC unless conduct creates it.

A register of all tax agents, in independent hands, where we lodge our cv, mlr and dp reference, PI limits etc is a good idea. This does already exist to a degree on Business Link with their list of approved suppliers - if we could request an expansion/amendment of their criteria it should not be too expensive to initiate-- Marion

cymraeg_draig's picture

That made me laugh -

cymraeg_draig | | Permalink

If you want to carry on in the old way you will still be able to, but my understanding is that if you want to tralk to HMRC about your clients and do all the normal agent things you will have top be registered as an agent.

 

Posted by RebeccaBenneyworth on Fri, 03/06/2011 - 14:56

 

Sorry Rebecca but that comment made me laugh out loud. Have you tried talking to anyone who actually knows anything or, more importantly, can do anything, at HMRC ?

Still, I suppose "we cant talk to you youre not a registered agent" will make a change from "we cant talk to you because by not knowing your clients 3rd cousins inside leg measurement you failed our security check".

 

 

 

Old Greying Accountant's picture

Agreeing with CD, but less flippantly so

Old Greying Acc... | | Permalink

It is, in my view, the right of any tax payer to appoint whosoever they wish as their agent and HMRC MUST talk to them.

I agree with agents only having enhanced access to HMRC systems, but some people feel equally ill at ease talking to professionals as they do to persons in authority and to do so causes them undue and avoidable stress.

Similarly, they may be on very low incomes and not be able to afford to appoint an "approved" agent.

From what is mooted, a persons wife will not be able to talk to HMRC on behalf of her husband unless she is on the list of agents!

This is fundamently wrong on many levels.

So, to re-iterate, my view is that a person should be able to appoint whomsoever they wish as their tax agent, and HMRC must at minimum talk to that person and take verbal or written instruction.

The enhanced level of "approved" agent should only be for access to HMRC systems, technical services and fast track telephone numbers etc.

I think on the whole the Human Rights legislation is the worst piece of legislation ever conceived, but in this instance I support it. This country is the supposed bastion of freedom, so tax payers should have free choice on whom to have acting for them, and if they choose to use an "unapproved" agent for whatever reason, then that is their choice alone.

johnjenkins's picture

Rebecca

johnjenkins | | Permalink

are you sure that HMRC can have an "agent only" list. If the onus is on the tax payer to get things right how can you say that the agent only is entitled to certain info. Surely that defeats the object of the exercise.

Have you asked HMRC why they feel neccessary to monitor agents on a carte blanche basis as opposed to just going with the flow?

Old Greying Accountant's picture

I think what is the concern ...

Old Greying Acc... | | Permalink

... is that "lay" persons should not have live access to amend HMRC records, not that a person is not entitled to information about themselves (they just can't amend it autonomously).

I think anything else is probably in breach of the data protection act and almost certainly of Human Rights legislation.

That said, I couldn't view my own SA account online until I appointed myself as my own agent!

BKD's picture

Have you tried talking to anyone who actually knows anything or,

BKD | | Permalink

You're obviously using the wrong communication channels, because I usually do manage to find such people - quickly and easily - when it matters.

cymraeg_draig's picture

.

cymraeg_draig | | Permalink

You're obviously using the wrong communication channels, because I usually do manage to find such people - quickly and easily - when it matters.

 

Posted by BKD on Fri, 03/06/2011 - 16:01

 

That depends on the level of staff you require. Getting through to "agent lines" is fairly quick - but of course the level of staff there are unable to deal with anything but the simplest of issues.

Oddly the chairmans office are also easy to contact. Its what might be termed "middle management" who are elusive.

This does seem to be common throughout Britain. Even at government level contacting your own MP can prove problematic, whereas I've had no trouble contacting the PMs office, and unlike HMRC he actually does call back in person and at the time promised.

It seems that there is something of an "attitude problem" endemic in middle management and indeed in some "professionals". Rather like the "class system" where it's not the aristocracy who are snobbish - it tends to be those who think they should be "upper class" who display snobbishness.

 

Old Greying Accountant's picture

Pray tell

Old Greying Acc... | | Permalink

Especially if it involves limited company subcontractors and excess CIS deductions and CT!

BKD's picture

Getting through to "agent lines" is fairly quick

BKD | | Permalink

I'm not talking about agent lines - though when I do use them (which is very seldom), I find little difficulty in getting through to the right person.

Of course I experience difficulties, some of them worse than others. Only last week I was talking to an absolute muppet in Debt Recovery whose logic defied all belief. But I was put through very quickly to a superior Officer, and the matter was dealt with there and then. It shouldn't have happened, but it did. I spoke to the correct person and it was resolved (with an unprompted letter of apology to the client) - end of story as far as that particular matter is concerned. I'm not going to make a diary note of it to drag up at every opportunity to illustrate how dreadful HMRC are. The point is - in my experience (again, others' may well differ) is that such instances are few and far between.

cymraeg_draig's picture

.

cymraeg_draig | | Permalink

HMRC (page 10) note "as only HMRC holds data on how tax agents and their clients comply with tax obligations, it is for HMRC to monitor performance of this using risk based principles. Where shortcomings are identified, the first step will always be for HMRC to discuss those with the agent direct to determine whether a problem does exist, and what might be done to remedy it."
 

That looks to me as if consultation is a waste of time as minds are already made up.

Old Greying Accountant's picture

CD, are you saying ...

Old Greying Acc... | | Permalink

... BKD is an HMRC plant!

Old Greying Accountant's picture

Cuts both ways ...

Old Greying Acc... | | Permalink

OGA note "as only agents hold data on how HMRC deals their clients tax obligations, it is for the agents to monitor performance of this using risk based principles. Where shortcomings are identified, the first step will always be for agents to discuss those with HMRC direct to determine whether a problem does exist, and what might be done to remedy it."
 

:0)

Seems to me, what is the point of being qualified, if this is what transpires then being ACCA will mean squat all if HMRC decide you are too much of a thorn in their side!

BKD's picture

..

BKD | | Permalink

 

All I was trying to do was maintain some degree of balance and perspective by pointing out that we don't all share the same experiences. Perhaps we are indeed more fortunate in this area in being able to find competent HMRC staff easily - I hear very few complaints about specific individuals during CIOT local area discussions - yes, we moan about the system in general but on a case by case basis we all seem to manage to have most issues dealt with promptly and satisfactorily.

 

@ Rebecca

chatman | | Permalink

Rebecca - I do not see how you can say that "anyone in practice now has indeed proved their competence". How have they proved it?

BKD's picture

Proof of competence

BKD | | Permalink

I think people are getting a little hung up on the word 'proof' and also the notion that anyone is suggesting that all advisers in practice are competent. Clearly, that is not the case. But generally (yes, I know Rebecca warned about the dangers of generalising) if a tax adviser is not competent, how easy will it be for them to keep a practice going for 20 or 30 years? Some will undoubtedly manage it, most I suspect will either fail, or end up ticking boxes for mediocre clients.

cymraeg_draig's picture

.

cymraeg_draig | | Permalink

Seems to me, what is the point of being qualified, if this is what transpires then being ACCA will mean squat all if HMRC decide you are too much of a thorn in their side!

 

Posted by Old Greying Acc... on Fri, 03/06/2011 - 17:52

 

Qualifying involves a lot more than tax - indeed if my memory serves me correctly (and its a long time ago) actual taxation was a fairly minor part of gaining a professional qualification. So really, if we are truthful, just how much does it qualify you for dealing with client's tax affairs?  Does it really make you any more qualified in that particular area than, say, an ex tax inspector with 20-30 years experience ?

And just what "guarantee" of honesty and ethical standards does a qualification actually provide? Face it there have been a ot of qualified accountants convicted of assorted frauds - possibly because they are put in positions where they are tempted, and possibly because they are arrogant enough to think they can get away with it.

And HMRC isn't without it's fair share of criminals either.

Poor Rebecca

chatman | | Permalink

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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