A chance to learn?

On Thursday 12 November I attended one of the ICAEW Tax Faculty’s thought leadership events. The Hardman Dinner and lecture every year provides the opportunity for a leading figure in tax to speak on the Faculty’s chosen subject, and this year, Dave Hartnett, HMRC’s Permanent Secretary for Tax and no stranger to Tax Faculty events spoke to the title “Tax, Transparency and Trust”.

Continued...

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April 1st?

BBB | | Permalink

From one of my recent posts people will not be surprised to learn that I think this a crazy idea. For a second or two I wondered if this was some kind of joke, or April 1st.

 

Having worked in practices that have hired staff from the Revenue, and it has always been against my wishes because of their different “work ethic”, lack of commercial reality, lack of common sense and judgement, poor training but principally because we would lose the trust of clients which means losing the clients. 

 

Any firm of accountants who has one of the enemy, and they themselves chose and still choose to make themselves the “enemy”, will lose clients, open themselves up to all sorts of allegations when someone is investigated, and basically end in a terrible reputation and financial suicide.

 

The idea of HMRC Officers coming and sorting out problems is a laugh, we are the ones who tactfully teach them how to do their specific job for which they receive poor or no training.

Instead of articles about papering over cracks, why not look at the cracks and accept they are really cassims and deep craters resulting from years of political interference and rank mismanagement that have crippled a once decent tax system.

A chance to learn?

Mark Cairns | | Permalink

I agree wholeheartedly.  Perhaps a stint with small practices may provide HMRC staff with some sort of appreciation of the impact of taxation and HMRC on small businesses in general.  Also they may experience the frustation and costs of dealing with HMRC errors and the fact that it is us as practitioners that lose money when they make mistakes through not being able to bill our time on many occassions.  A sharp dose of reality would do no harm although I would suspect that once back within the HMRC fold any empathy would be lost and they will be return to their indoctrinated ways.

stevebritgimp's picture

HMRC really need to learn

stevebritgimp | | Permalink

I strongly agree with this article, although I am not a partner in my firm, just an underling - but then I'm the one who has to spend time sorting out government mess in CIS, Tax, VAT, PAYE... - the laughable way the government can't even tell me over the phone or even in writing what someone owes in a particular tax, when my client is meant to have creditor and debtor ledgers for all their business contacts, the weird conversations I've had explaining how clients arrange to deduct money in tax, the unbillable time I end up with...

I can accept the idea that they are 'the enemy', and the attendant pitfalls, and I can accept that it should be the government training their own staff and not us, but the reality is unless you do it you don't learn.  Particular care and a chinese wall would be needed with seconded staff on sensitive areas.  This, combined with accountants billing the government and not their clients, and accountants bringing pressure to simplify tax (I think we have work enough), are the only ways anything is going to get better.

bookmarklee's picture

I like your suggestion Rebecca

bookmarklee | | Permalink

Of course i'm not in practice myself any more so it's reasonably academic.

I disagree with the above correspondent who thiknks it's a bit of a joke and seems to see HMRC staff as the 'enemy'. My experience oif working alongside ex-IR and ex-C&E staff at a HCW, BDO and Chiltern is very different from his.  The more junior staff quickly understood the different work ethic. And the more senior staff evidenced a depth of technical knowledge and understanding that frequently impressed me. I get a similar impression when chatting with ex-Revenue staff at conferences and seminars.

Mark

 

What big eyes/teeth you have!

JackHarper | | Permalink

I am totally available for secondment to the most sensitive operational areas of HMRC

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The text at this point has been withheld under the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information

 

I suspect that some are more secondable than others

 

 

 I can't seem to edit out the rogue text. May indicate that I am under surveillance by the Stasi

 

 

 

 

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Get them while they're young...

Andy3T | | Permalink

If you want to teach someone an attitude, the best time is before they have already concreted their worldview, i.e. while they are young.

I'd recommend secondments of junior HMRC staff into audit departments - they will be young enough not to intimidate anyone, and they would be ideally placed to get to know large numbers of accountants and clients. The problem with a tax department secondment is the compliance cycle, which usually stretches for long than a secondment would last.

Training on secondment

Peter Bonetti | | Permalink

Well not completely but maybe HMRC staff could spend time on secondment early on in their training. That way they could develop an appreciation of the trials and tribulations of work on the coal face but, crucially, before they have the inclination to view what they see as an avoidance factory.

Cart before horse

mikewhit | | Permalink

" there is almost no opportunity for them to gain exposure to real business" - how about HMRC recruiting people who already have some experience "from the other side of the fence" ?

 

PS. how about seconding HMRC staff to be "HMRC liaison" - then, once "embedded" and briefed by the seconding organisation, they could spend time on the phone trying to get their HMRC colleagues at the other end to understand the client's requests/difficulties, with the benefit of knowing the insider processes and terminology ... then on their return to HMRC they could write up all the problems they had with HMRC as an external user !

HMRC secondments

paddymillard | | Permalink

For years I tried to encourage HMRC to second someone to TaxHelp for Older People (TOP) in order to gain some relevant experience of the real world of older people on low incomes, i.e. most pensioners, but endless procrastination spun negotiations out until HMRC decided that secondments were no longer available.

Regularly I invite HMRC to attend TOP surgeries to learn what real people feel and understand about the tax system but somehow something more important prevents, even when arranged at the request of Parliament Street.

What could be more useful than HMRC learning what actually happens rather than paying expensive consultants?

How about a campaign, Rebeccca?  Much more advantageous to win over "the enemy" than endless confrontation.

Paddy Millard

Oh dear

pauljohnston | | Permalink

I wonder how many HMRC staff having been seconded to practioners decide to leave HMRC

Over the years I have spoken with many who have jumped to this side of the fence never to return.

When I was 17 years old I worked for HMRC for 6 weeks as a holday worker.  I made the decision never to work for any dept of HM Government again.

Now at 53 I still feel the same why?  As indicated by others the thinking is totally alien to working in the private sector.  By all means those who want to offer secondment but what if he or she that is seconded gives bad advice, who is liable?

 

An observation

Anonymous | | Permalink

Those who work with clients  / taxpayers 'at the coal face' on a day to day basis take a common sense approach and immediately see the ludicrousy of the idea that HMRC staff should be trained by them on how to adopt a commercial approach.  HMRC should properly invest in recruiting the right staff and training them properly and remunerating them accordingly.  Then there are those 'tax academics' who sit in their ivory tower and have long ago given up the day to day slog of trying to deal with HMRC in a fair and open manner.  These people need to take a reality check and observe that increasingly the cards are being stacked against tax agents - the new penalty regime is evidence of that.  A generalisation perhaps, but I suspect I strike a chord with some with my comments. 

johnjenkins's picture

No Hoper

johnjenkins | | Permalink

A fantastic idea but a no-hoper.

Since Mr Brown decided to batter the self-employed and now has the nerve to try to make them workers on PAYE without the benefits (newer cis) what hope is there of trusting anybody in the treasury. Government want the most amount of tax. Tax Payers want to pay the least amount of tax. There is such a wide divide that job swapping would cause even more problems.

I'm an Accountant "get me out of here" springs to mind.

Hands up how many of us could do a far better job than Mr Darling??????????

John Jenkins

Nowhere near as many ...

Peter Bonetti | | Permalink

who think they can without any real knowledge of the true position.

RebeccaBenneyworth's picture

Maybe we should call it

RebeccaBenneyworth | | Permalink

"shadowing" rather than secondment. What HMRC staff who deal with businesses and agents lack is an understanding of how our minds work and what it is like to actually run a business. This gives the staff we deal with a better insight into why things happen as they do, and perhaps a richer understanding of tax issues than they would otherwise have.

A personal example might illustrate. Last year, when presenting a series of courses for the ICAEW Tax Faculty I asked for front line HMRC staff to be invited along to the events - a maximum of 6 to each. Different regions applied different policies as regards who was invited, but chatting to HMRC staff afterwards they were astonished by the complexity of some the practical issues I covered. The main one was incorporation. Their view had previously been that accountants were all shoving clients into limited companies based on the published rates of tax. When I demonstrated in the lecture the current tax issues within the context of all of the other issues which bear upon that advice the HMRC people felt they had really gained a better understanding of what they thought was a simple open and shut issue. This type of understanding cannot be book learned, hence my view that a significant benefit could accrue to both us and HMRC by a deeper understanding of each others' work. I shall at the same time continue to lobby HMRC for joint technical training sessions between accountants and their counterparts within HMRC.

We can whinge about them not understanding us, our clients, the pressure people in business experience, or we can do something about it. I'm in the latter camp.

julianshaw's picture

Been there, done it

julianshaw | | Permalink

I'm ex-Revenue. When I left I thought I knew the score. But it was quite a culture shock coming into even a small practice, let alone a larger set up or industry. However, I don't think there is as much of an "us and them" feeling as is suggested.

That was 13 years ago, but I can say with some authority that I would have done a better job had I experienced the "real world". And then, as is pointed out above, I'd have left anyway. Because the grass is greener over here - even if it's more work to keep it nice.

Really?

Anonymous | | Permalink

Not as much of an "us and them" - have you read Dave Hartnett speeches and their 'tone' over the last few years?  Are you aware of the proposals in relation to the proposals to penalising tax agents where the taxpayer is not at faulty?  See Anne Redston's article in Tax Journal 16/11/2009 - she sums it all up rather well.  Sadly there is a lot of delusion on this posting.  

Secondments

donald.parbrook... | | Permalink

I really don't think it is plausible that we would welcome HMRC staff in to our offices. Rebecca Bennyworth suggests it is really having a "shadow". I already feel like HMRC are invading our privacy as agents without having one as my "shadow".

Sorry, I don't think that the British Army is inviting the Taliban to exchange soldiers to get a better understanding of each other - and nor should agents cosy up with the Crown. My job is to ensure my clients pay the lowest "right" amount of tax and not to train HMRC how to be more effective at investigations into my clients.

I think the proponents of this idea must have a different "rapport" with HMRC than most tax agents. We are not an extension of HMRC's tax collection authority. We are here to help clients minimise their tax bills legitimately and to defend them against the excess and incompetence of the machinery of the state.

Sorry, I'll happily attend joint initiatives, training and "work together" - as that is all good stuff - but my office is my office, not theirs. I would have thought that Anne Redston's article in this month's Tax Journal would have made the position agents must take with HMRC very clear - they want in our door to snoop - it's up to our professional bodies and media to highlight the dangers of such a system.

Stalin would be surprised at the powers we are giving to the state. Why don't we just all become a Government agency paid for by the taxpayer?

Dave Hartnett acknowledges that HMRC staff do not have sufficien

taxwhizzard | | Permalink

Another way for HMRC to tackle the problem would be for HMRC to recruit more professionals from outside the service. There are, after all, plenty of experienced tax advisers looking for work due to the recession and the fact that HMRC seems to be doing very little with its new investigation powers and the massive amounts of information it has forced from the banks.

I recently made enquiries whether I could rejoin the service having left as an Inspector of Taxes twenty years ago. No-one seemed to know what to do with such a request.  I was not categorically turned down but sent from pillar to post before coming to a dead end.      

Courses

BBB | | Permalink

With Rebecca’s incorporation example it is surely the case that the HMRC staff were simply not given basic training.

In theory I love the idea of joint courses and training between a tax authority and the general profession. But, if the private sector ran the courses then our tax authority (HMRC the bully) is unlikely to allow its staff to attend and learn the actual law, if HMRC ran the courses there wouldn’t be too many takers for their interpretation of the law that even they can’t “substantiate” at times without being obtuse and unreasonable. If the courses extended to dealing with “customers” then I could see “real world” practices bringing the world of HMRC to a halt, they can't handle accountability, integrity and the truth. It is not accidental that thousands of HMRC staff across the country repeatedly choose to misinterpret the law, lie, bully taxpayers and generally act dishonourably.

Dave Hartnett - not understanding the frustrations of a small pr

djtax | | Permalink

My experience of Mr Hartnett is that he is more style than substance. Two years ago he was quoted in the accountancy press as complaining that we accountants moaned too much about HMRC without providing detailed evidence to back up our concerns. I wrote to him setting out my experience and enclosed details of a number of specific cases to support my criticisms. Despite an acknowledgement from his office I never received any reply either from him or any HMRC officer on his behalf.