ICPA: HMRC & Agents at the point of no return?
On the point of no return?
In the February 2012 issue of our e-magazine Tax Update I wrote: “By the time you read this the 31st January/2nd February filing deadline will have passed, and many of us will be taking a breather and making plans for the forthcoming year. How we are to conduct our dealings with HMRC will doubtless be at the forefront of our thoughts.” The past few years has seen the relationship between agents and HMRC strained almost to breaking point. Why is it that our post goes unanswered? Why is it that telephone calls are dealt with by staff who are not capable? Why is it that our clients have to deal with insufferable debt collectors, and why do these cut-priced car clampers believe that ’phoning the agent and wasting our time with their vitriol directed towards our clients will in any way help matters? Why is it that our clients are subject to hours wasted with HMRC’s untrained staff undergoing ‘Business Record Checks’, which could result in fines (again), even though nothing has been filed in relation to the year under review? Why are there no fines in place that the taxpayer can levy upon HMRC for their myriad failings? The possible privatisation of HMRC ‘call centres’ fills me with dread, even more dread than I feel whenever I make a call now.
Every single accountant reading this will have suffered at the hands of HMRC, yet it is us, the accountant, who has to waste time dealing with a government agency that believes we should always agree with them and do their work for them. If we have the temerity to make demands they quote ‘workload’ as a reason to not help us, and if that isn’t enough the veiled threat of an ‘agent view’ is always in the background.
Let’s not forget that we couldn’t file our CT returns for months simply because HMRC were unable to amend the CT rate on the gateway. Now I wonder what their reaction would have been if I were appealing against a late filing penalty based on my computer problems? I think we all know the answer. To accommodate their problems we had to amend our working practices and we are not taking about a few days but months.
Accountants do not operate in a vacuum. We are businesses, and we are plying our trade in the same recessionary times as our clients. News reached me one January morning - to quote the song of the same title - from our long-time ICPA supporters Bloomsbury Professional that the number of high street accountancy practices had declined by 5% since the start of the recession. Accountancy practices with a turnover of £100,000 per annum had fallen from a peak of 20,800 in 2009 to 19,790 in 2011. Martin Casimir of Bloomsbury Professional says: “Many high street accountancy practices are struggling with stagnant or falling fees, coupled with rising costs. Small firms can find it particularly difficult to pass on those costs to clients, so often end up absorbing the increase themselves.”
Yet HMRC still feel able to add to our costs with their own inefficiency, which is then compounded by their actions/reactions when challenged to justify their actions by us or our client.
ICPA members are making their views known at Working Together meetings around the country, and with our responses to various consultations we are determined to make HMRC aware that small firm practices are not an ‘arm’ of HMRC who can be simply told what to do to make their lives easier. We believe that small practices do a valuable job in keeping businesses afloat in recessionary times, in making businessmen and women aware of their responsibilities under the system and, frankly, being “a shoulder to cry on” when something goes wrong. What HMRC needs to do is to recognise these facts and help us to help our clients in getting through these most difficult of times.
If the country is to drag itself out of the recession employment will be key, and as every accountant knows, small businesses are the biggest employers. So we should actually be given help in our endeavours, not being constantly threatened with fines, penalties, investigations (I refuse to call them enquiries) and, ultimately, liquidation or bankruptcy if we have a problem.
What every accountant in practice wants today is a HMRC that is fit for purpose, that recognises our work and endeavour on behalf of our clients, and takes cognisance of the fact that we are not ‘the bad guys’ and, in the main, nor are our clients.
Every accountant has suffered at the hands of HMRC in the past few years and this treatment will continue towards us unless we make a stand. But what can we do? That is what is running through my mind at the present and no doubt every reader of this magazine.
We certainly have to be determined to ‘go that extra yard’ to get our feelings across to HMRC at every available opportunity, be it in writing, on the phone or at Tribunal. The ICPA are doing exactly that and if we, small practices, make HMRC feel our anger then maybe, just maybe, we can get attitudes to change for the better.
Obviously, one way to get our message across is to complain, but for any complaint to be effective it has to be correctly made. To this end we have commissioned a series of articles about how we as accountants can complain effectively on behalf of our clients and ourselves (see page 15). I know complaints take time and time is money, but unless we are prepared to invest in an effective complaint we really can’t moan, can we?
The ICPA will continue to present the small practice agenda at every opportunity, and continue to provide our members with unrivalled benefits to help keep practice costs down, including PI insurance, helplines, software, fee protection and practice support. The ICPA is the natural home for the small practitioner and the more members we have the more our voice will be heard. Below you can read about our 700th member – a testament to our success in such a very short space of time. On to our 800th!
Tony Margaritelli, Chairman ICPA
This article is taken from “Accounting Practice” the ICPA quarterly magazine. Dedicated to supporting and promoting the needs of the general practitioner. You can find us at www.icpa.org.uk or email email@example.com or by ‘phone on 0800-074-2896