An Impossible Dream?

Rebecca Benneyworth sets the scene for HMRC's latest consultation around its working with agents strategy. There are a lot of good things being offered, but also some significant points of concern. What do you think about the proposals?

The consultation launched on 31 May 2011 is probably the most important document affecting agents working in tax for the rest of their careers. Entitled “Establishing the future relationship between the Tax Agent community and HMRC” it includes proposals that will transform the way we work and our relationship with the tax authority – which at present might be described as heading for an acrimonious divorce.

Members of AccountingWEB (even recent members) will be familiar with stories of frustration by those trying to execute simple transactions with HMRC on behalf of clients. Unopened post, unanswered telephones, incorrect notices of coding – these are the daily grind of the tax agent. Just getting authority to act seems an almost impossible challenge sometimes.

Well this consultation doesn’t exactly wave a magic wand, but it does look pretty close to it. It offers some radical possible solutions to the litany of complaints – and radical is what is needed in the current state of affairs – but will it work for you?

 HMRC is openly acknowledging that service standards sometimes fall short, and that a simpler, more effective solution must be found for agents – one that is not available to the wider taxpayer base, is special to us. The essential proposal in the document is that agents will be able to enrol for access to a special online agent facility. Under this facility, the following would be possible :

  • No more waiting for authority; agents would self certify that they hold a signed authority from a client (retaining the signed authority) and start work straight away
  • Notices of coding can be amended and generated; for those PAYE clients outside self-assessment, the agent will also control the End of Year reconciliation (P800 procedure)
  • A view of all tax payments and liabilities in respect of a single client, covering all taxes in a single view
  • Use of online education modules to augment professional training on legislation changes and processes
  • Tracking and tracing paper repayment claims and correspondence through the system; and
  • Correspondence and returns / forms that are not currently online can be lodged in an electronic work area, shared by the agent and HMRC.

In principle, most agents would not have a problem with the information requested and indeed in respect of some of it there would seem to be a perfectly reasonable basis for the request. But, you may say – is this the thin edge of a very nasty wedge?

The cons
For each enrolled agent, HMRC intends to create an “agent view”, bringing together the details of all clients that we act for. The document states that this “will bring together details of them and their client portfolio into a consistent and coherent picture to support communication and engagement”. As part of this agent view HMRC would include “compliance performance of an agent’s clients”. This, it says, “would provide a foundation for HMRC to target technical updates, support services and compliance campaigns to those agents with the most relevant client portfolios”.

One assumes that this means that each agent will have recorded against their firm the number of clients with compliance failures – such as late returns – and even late payment. I am highly suspicious of any attempt to assess my performance as an agent by my clients’ behaviour. The explanation goes on to acknowledge that the vast majority of agents are well qualified, technically able and competent in their role, but warns “The ‘agent view’ will support HMRC in identifying those agents whose total engagement is significantly outside of the average performance for agents with a similar client portfolio.”

So here is the rub – HMRC will assess agent performance using the enrolment information. Is this a short step to regulation by HMRC? Well, not if you read as far as page 28, where you will discover that HMRC believes that structured self-government of the tax agent market is the correct model for a future relationship. The identification of the very few “wrong ‘uns” would contribute to that end, by raising standards overall.

The consultation is open until 16 September. I thoroughly recommend that all of those working as tax agents read it carefully, and make their views known, either through their own professional body or on AccountingWEB. We have launched a discussion group on the consultation which I shall chair, and we’ll be holding a number of special events during the consultation period. I’ll be writing some more in-depth analysis of various aspects of the consultation to get the discussion going, but it is essential that you make your views know – this really will change your life – unless you plan to retire in pretty short order.

AccountingWEB will submit a formal response to the consultation in September - so please give us your views so that we can represent them. Do please also respond to your professional bodies, if you are a member.

Continued...

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nogammonsinanundoubledgame's picture

A question:

nogammonsinanun... | | Permalink

If HMRC has the technical capability to run statistical analyses of an agent's performance, what is there to prevent them from running such an analysis on an agent who has NOT enrolled in the fast track process?  Whilst I appreciate the concerns that agents might have about such monitoring, if HMRC can, and will, run such an analysis also on those agents who are not so enrolled, how is that a disincentive to enrolling?

With kind regards

Clint Westwood

BKD's picture

My responses already in

BKD | | Permalink

Via CIOT (though it's not the best-worded survey in the world).

Broadly, I'm in favour - but there must be safeguards. In particular, tax advisers must continue to be seen as agents of the taxpayers and not of HMRC. Being able to describe oneself as "HMRC-approved" may have apparent advantages but at the same time could easily be misconstrued.

And, as Rebecca says above, there is a danger that agents will be judged according to the behaviour of their clients.

Therefore, I see a considerable number of hoops to be gotten through before this is workable, but I welcome the consultation.

nigel's picture

Oops

nigel | | Permalink

 I was just about to post a comment when I realised that the headline DOESN'T say "New Age Strategy". Now that would be an interesting approach. Maybe HMRC should take a stand at the Glastonbury festival.

cymraeg_draig's picture

.

cymraeg_draig | | Permalink

For each enrolled agent, HMRC intends to create an “agent view”, bringing together the details of all clients that we act for.

 

Or put another way - if a couple of your clients are found to be fiddling (even if you didnt know) we will target you and all your clients and drive you out of business.

Anything HMRC is being done for HMRCs benefit - not ours.

 

BKD's picture

"Anything HMRC is being done for HMRCs benefit - not ours"

BKD | | Permalink

Unfortunately, when one's jaundiced view of HMRC has been so clearly and repeatedly demonstrated, such comments are valueless, and add absolutely nothing constructive to the discussion.

memyself-eye's picture

valueless? Maybe

memyself-eye | | Permalink

But he does have a vaild point. Not only are we currently expected to police our clients, sdoon we will be taking their punishment too!

 

Nick Graves's picture

Seems such a great idea

Nick Graves | | Permalink

but given the near-breakdown of the current system, the Pythonesque/Talibanesque new penalty regimes, I cannot help but think it's just another one of Dave Hartnett's Fantasy Island specials, with hidden sinister motives.

So; I'm with the Dragon on this one.

Maybe under a more real-world, coffee-sniffing HMRC regime, I'd be very pleased indeed. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Following this line of reasoning

pauljohnston | | Permalink

if you have a client who is always late with the self-assessment return etc.  There would seem to be two options, sack them or at least remove an authorisation from HMRC so that you would not be tarred by his/her actions.  Is this a good move?

Probally better to make sure the agernt is upto date.

Doesn't this already work well in Australlia?

Jekyll and Hyde | | Permalink

My understanding is that this has been working well in Australlia, where tax returns must be filed sooner if a non approved agent is used. So I cannot see why it wouldn't work here, except HMRC cost cutting exercises.

In theory it is a very good idea, and if we follow Australlia's model should achieve good results all around. My query is who would be able to become a approved tax agent? would any qualifications be needed or can a cleaner become an approved agent?

Ermintrude's picture

Damned if you do, and damned if you don't?

Ermintrude | | Permalink

Sign up, and maybe expose yourself to the risks per Cymraig D's and others' fears.  

Don't sign up, and maybe it'll look like you've something to hide, so maybe pop you (and your clients) on another HMRC risk list?

Logically, all new moves by HMRC will (should) be about money.  Cutting their costs by improving their own efficiency - as with for example electronic filing, and delegating more tasks/responsibilities to the taxpayer and their agent.  Also by concentrating efforts on tax recovery to where the amount recovered > the costs of recovering it.  And to this end, improvement of the idenfitification of risk as well as value involved (enhanced by the electronic review of electronic filings), as well as the minimal cost tax amnesties being offered to professions and trades at present.

Improvements in service and relationships with agents are bound to be motivated by the above.  But that doesn't make them a bad thing.  I think I'll be signing up.

 

Alastair Johnston's picture

Jaundiced

Alastair Johnston | | Permalink

After 40 years, you're bound to have a jaundiced view of HMRC.  Anyone who doesn't, can't have been paying attention to what has been going on. 

I have friends who work for HMRC, and even they have a jaundiced view of it.

cymraeg_draig's picture

.

cymraeg_draig | | Permalink

I wonder how much the "annual registration fee" will be for signing up ? 

I smell another sneaky stealth tax on accountants.

Embrace It!

accountant78 | | Permalink

There are always the negative posters about HMRC and I am one of the many agents who has to deal with issues described by Rebecca above.

Surely though this can only be a positive step!

Also yes let's get our profession restricted to those who have passed appropriate examinations and get rid of 'Dave from down the pub'.

And yes, I hear the protests from all of the competent unqualifieds of which I know there are many - the simple answer for you is to take the exams.

Orphaned clients

bobhurn | | Permalink

It is not uncommon to take on a new client behind with compliance filing and work hard to bring everything up to date.  It would appear that if I do so under the new systems the late filings will count against me.  I and many others are likely to refuse new clients with overdue returns, leaving then "orphaned".  Yet what we are currently doing, in bringing returns up to date, must be in all parties' best interest.

cymraeg_draig's picture

.

cymraeg_draig | | Permalink

 

And yes, I hear the protests from all of the competent unqualifieds of which I know there are many - the simple answer for you is to take the exams.

 

Posted by accountant78 on Wed, 01/06/2011 - 13:06

 

A silly, short sighted, and very selfish proposal.  So all the unqualifieds and part qualifieds are put out of business and onto the dole?  Are you really that afraid of competition ?  We have several "unqualifieds" - there are often very good reasons why they havent taken exams, but they are often far better accountants, far more knowledgable, and far more competent, than those who pass exams by regurgitating facts parrot fashion whilst lacking the intelligence and drive to apply that knowledge constructively.

Perhaps if you spent more time assessing the true motivation behind HMRCs proposals, and the potential negative effects of them, you might see a little more clearly.

Misgivings in relation to HMRC intentions

nig1954 | | Permalink

I recall when the initial consultations were announced several years ago that i challenged where  this was leading to. Even back then there were concerns being expressed within HMRC ranks of the poor standard of work exhibited by some Tax Agents during the course of their enquiries. I brought this issue up at an ICAEW evening seminar in Sheffield 2 years ago. Attendees included senior personnel within ICAEW's ranks but it hadn't appeared on their radar. I do wonder if the ICAEW has acted in it's members best interests in so far as this subject is concerned.

There have been several recent ocassions when HMRC have inferred that the actions of some Agents  were undermining the tax system but when pressed they were unable to clarify the numbers involved but suggested it was a significant minority. I thought they already had sufficient powers to deal with this type of situation, given the numbers involved. I have yet to see any reasoned argument as to why they need  to extend their existing powers and what all of this is leading up to. It is therefore unsuprising that some feel very aggrieved at this state of affairs and question their motives and intentions.

A couple of months back i read an article by Trevor Johnson, who i've always found very moderate in expressing his views and opinions. He was very concerned by what he was hearing being whispered in the corridors of power and in particular by the fact that the proposed changes weren't being subjected to Parliaments gaze but there was a grave risk they would be introduced through the back door. I don't know if he broke rank when he made his observations but it does lead me to question what is this   leading up to. It al seems to have been dealt with surreptitiously so is there another Agenda. If not, why can't there be more transparency

CIOT only?

Ian McTernan CTA | | Permalink

Maybe they should restrict access to those properly qualified to do tax work only, ie members of the CIOT.

I don't do audits (I'm not qualified to- braindead box ticking exercises don't appeal), chartered accountants shouldn't assume they can do tax properly (warning- thinking might be required!).

Would be great to see the sudden rush to try and pass the exams by accountants, only to see the failure rate skyrocket!

I welcome the Revenue proposals in principle, and await the devil in the detail- I'm probably already on their list of agents who give them a hard time and have a lot of 'non-compliant' clients..as I deal with a lot of enquiry cases!

Being able to actually appoint an agent in less than two months would be bliss- currently waiting on a partnership UTR to register it for PAYE, applied for in MARCH, would be a thing of the past if this access is given.

First sensible suggestion I have seen from the Revenue for ages- even if it is designed to save their own staff time and resources and make them able to better target us.

Not qualified then?

accountant78 | | Permalink

@ cymraeg_draig

'A silly, short sighted, and very selfish proposal.  So all the unqualifieds and part qualifieds are put out of business and onto the dole?'

 

Qualifications are an indication of competence and they also give the client the confidence that their accountant/tax advisor is appropriately regulated in terms of MLR, CPD, PII etc, things that many unqualifieds simply ignore.

I am guessing you are not a chartered accountant as I remember the ACA examinations being a little more challenging than learning things parrot fashion and I don't remember many unintelligent people lacking drive in my class - most if not all are now in senior positions accross the business world or running successful practices.

Like I say, there are many excellent unqualifieds out there but equally there are many jokers who should not be practicing. I simply don't know what the problem is in getting some qualifications - if they are that knowledgable, it should be easy.

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

Oh and I rather believe HMRC's motivation is to improve things - I must be so naive!

Anyway I am off to get my tooth out, John who once worked in a dental practice is going to do it in his front room.

CD - you are way too cynical on this one

MBK | | Permalink

I've been in the profession a little (not much) less time than you and, yes, there are bad eggs in HMRC and, yes, they are under-resourced. But they are not (generally) "out to get us".

The vast majority of those on the other side of the fence actually do care. The reason they come across as petty and vindictive at times is borne from a combination of lack of training and the world weariness that goes with working for an employer they know is completely dysfunctional. Not because they are inherently nasty human beings!

The signal behind this consultation from HMRC is "we give up - we can't do it efficiently so we'll hand it over to the agents". It annoys me that we will have to do some of their work for them, but at least it will get done.

Balances, checks and limits will be required, but I suspect that I am far from alone in saying I have no reason to be concerned if agents become regulated. It won't stop us acting for the "orphans", and I won't lose any sleep over our averages - because I know we act very much for our clients, but within the law. If you accept the need for people having the promised access to be regulated (as I do) then why would you have a problem being regulated?

Any fee we are charged will be massively outweighed by the extra chargeable time that will drop back into our laps as a result.

So - let's go for it. Not in a cavalier fashion, but in a way that accepts that HMRC might, just might, want to put the past 10 years or so behind them.

Nick Graves's picture

Good point, Nig

Nick Graves | | Permalink

It is highly likely; there are many good people within HMRC itself who are as outraged by the self-serving and cynical actions of the delusional few (who seem to hold sway there) as we are. It is well-known that many are frankly embarrassed by it.

Of course, they may well be right; yet another thread disappears into the usual childish qualified vs disqualified spat as all the other do, whilst the true enemy gets on with the raping & pillaging.

I truly despair...

 

 

 

 

Agents judged by clients ...and clients judged by agents?

MC1 | | Permalink

If clients with "good" agents get less attention from HMRC then will "bad" clients be able to shelter behind (apparently) "good" agents?

And a start-up agent that makes a couple of bad decisions to start with is doomed?

Will HMRC publish a league table?

Do the very small tax or self employed cases need to pay a CIOT qualified?

BKD's picture

Ah, but ....

BKD | | Permalink

"The signal behind this consultation from HMRC is "we give up - we can't do it efficiently so we'll hand it over to the agents". "

The very real danger with that view is that agents are perceived to be working for HMRC and not for their clients. Whilst nothing may be farther from the truth in reality, care will need to be taken to avoid clients developing that perception. This, for me, is one of the biggest potential downsides to the proposals.

As for being 'targetted' by HMRC, I'm not worried in the slightest about poor compliance of my clients - they are by far and away a small minority. If you read the consultation carefully, you will see that HMRC's concern is with practices that, on the whole, are out of step with the rest, compliance-wise. If the majority of an agent's clients are not compliant, I think it is only right to question the agent's competence in managing his clients' affairs.

As for qualified v unqualified, I suggest that is best left as a matter for the individual and his response to the consultation. To atrempt to discuss it here will result only in one of those interminable "I'm right, you're wrong" table-tennis arguments, which gets no-one anywhere and will eventually result in Becky pulling the plug.

jndavs's picture

Valueless?

jndavs | | Permalink

 Remember all the antics regarding Christopher Lunn & Co?

http://www.contractoraccountants.com/2011/01/11/accountancy-firm-embroil...

cymraeg_draig's picture

.

cymraeg_draig | | Permalink

Qualifications are an indication of competence and they also give the client the confidence that their accountant/tax advisor is appropriately regulated in terms of MLR, CPD, PII etc, things that many unqualifieds simply ignore.

No - they are an indication that once upon a time they managed to pass a few exams, and now pay fees to an organisation which, allegedly, regulares them.

 

I am guessing you are not a chartered accountant as I remember the ACA examinations being a little more challenging than learning things parrot fashion and I don't remember many unintelligent people lacking drive in my class - most if not all are now in senior positions accross the business world or running successful practices.

Again you are very wrong, I qualified some 40 odd years ago, and run and own a medium sized practice which I started myself.

 

Like I say, there are many excellent unqualifieds out there but equally there are many jokers who should not be practicing. I simply don't know what the problem is in getting some qualifications - if they are that knowledgable, it should be easy.

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.

 

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

And breach european legislation by unlawful restrain of trade ?

 

Oh and I rather believe HMRC's motivation is to improve things - I must be so naive!

[removed by mod - personal attack]

 

 

BKD's picture

Christopher Lunn

BKD | | Permalink

And your point is?

jndavs's picture

The point is

jndavs | | Permalink

Isn't this the kind of thing cymraeg_draig was referring to?

cymraeg_draig's picture

EXACTLY

cymraeg_draig | | Permalink

Isn't this the kind of thing cymraeg_draig was referring to?

 

Posted by jndavs on Wed, 01/06/2011 - 14:46

 

HMRC setting themselves up as judge & jury and blatantly breaching a firms right to continue trading unless or until it has been convicted of some wrongdoing.  Whether the firm has done anything wrong is totally irrelevent, it is for a court of law to decide, not some muppet at HMRC.

 

 

BKD's picture

The real point is

BKD | | Permalink

That "Christopher Lunn" simply indicates that HMRC already have the power, even if that power wasn't exercised properly in that particular case, to have sanctions imposed against tax agents that are not up to the task (or are indeed involved in criminal activity). There seems to be some paranoid belief that all HMRC are seeking to do with their proposals is to make it easier to find agents such as CL. It takes a real blinkered and prejudiced state of mind to reach that conclusion from the consultation document. As I've acknowledged (and as have the likes of the President of CIOT), there are indeed a number of real and perfectly valid concerns about what some of the detail may be - but anyone who persists with the belief that "HMRC are out to get us" is paranoid indeed. And, as the President says, one of the key features of the system must be that disenrollment should be overseen by an independent body, and not HMRC. So, in effect, the new system would, if properly implemented, remove any right that HMRC is perceived as having to ride rough-shod over agents.

And even if a consequence of the system, if implemented (which is far from being assured), does result in a few more Christopher Lunn's being flushed out, so what? Or do those that are so vehemently opposed to the proposals think they have something to worry about? Hmmmm .....

johnjenkins's picture

Typical HMRC

johnjenkins | | Permalink

They can't just come up with a good idea (although I said they would have to do something like this ages ago) they then have to tinker with it so that it becomes unworkable and charge you for the privelege.

Its not about controlling, viewing or whatever Agents. Its about giving Agents the correct information they are entitled to, in the shortest possible time so that, not only can we get returns in on time, we can get on with our job instead of chasing our tails.

What they are proposing, without all the compliance and charges nonsense, is what should be happening.

Spot on again WD.

HMRC Agent Strategy

anthonymaddison15 | | Permalink

I deal solely with private individuals, many of whom have no idea on tax matters - as a result I always have some that fail to make the deadlines.  Am I to deregister any client who fails to make 31st January?

Equally, as mentioned by a previous comment, am I to refuse to take on those who have only come to me because HMRC have just picked up that they have income to declare.  Who would help these, if agents don't want to risk their other clients welfare, should that cause the agent to be de-registered or his clients picked on.

Like HMRC, I have tried everything I can think of to get people to submit their data before the end of January, by discounting my fees for those who make 31st October and even giving higher discounts for those who submit by end of August.  My Letter of Engagement requires submission by end of June, as recommended by my professional association; all this without great success.

In addition, I do remind clients at the start of the tax year of the high penalties that will be issued to them if they fail to make the 31st January deadline.

All this despite my then being left with two months in which I have no clients until the next tax season starts - not a very businesslike way to work, having to lay off staff for two months, just because HMRC want two months between tax seasons - if they want efficiency from tax agents, the tax return dates should start and end with the fiscal year.

RebeccaBenneyworth's picture

Can I clarify

RebeccaBenneyworth | | Permalink

For those who haven't read the consultatoion yet. It does not presently include any suggestion that we will be monitored only on our client compliance profile - but it does suggest that agents of a similar size acting for a similar spread of clients will be compared to see if any are "way out of line" (my words - don't have a copy to hand). I think we have made the point pretty robustly here that there are dangers with this approach so it needs to be done very carefully. There is also no suggestion at all that it will be "out you go" if we slip up ocassionally. HMRC's approach would be to approach the agent to see what extra support they might need. I know that sounds a bit patronising but my reading of it is that they will act co-operatively to help agents sort out technical shortfalls not just jump on them.

Please lets not go donw the Q/UQ debate in public again - there are far more important issues to be explored here. I'll be writing an article each week focussing on a particular area so that we keep the debate moving. If the changes are designed to save HMRC money, then they save US money too - we are all taxpayers. And if that involves making our lives considerably easier (as agents) - what are you voting against? What we need to do is nail down the use to which data is to be put and the future governance (by whomever) of the tax profession.

Oh, and no there will be no charge to enrol (although I think it was considered for a while but then dismissed).

And by the way, as an ICAEW member I do take immense insult at the suggestion above regarding accountants/tax advisers, both personally and on behalf of my professional body. Comments - and attititudes - like that are not helpful.

A challenge to WD and those expressing the same view - can you set out clearly for me what you think you have to lose? Can you then steer the debate to focus on those aspects and how to minimise or neutralise them. Because we gain little by "going to the mattresses". And there is quite a lot on offer.

Please ... not that old sausage again about qualified vs unquali

SimonP | | Permalink

"Also yes let's get our profession restricted to those who have passed appropriate examinations and get rid of 'Dave from down the pub'."  [accountant78)

I agree that there are some very good unqualifieds out there but also some extremely ropey ones.

However, I'll never forget taking on clients some years ago from a well-known firm of local chartered accountants. The clients owned an hotel. Well blow me down if these highly qualified exam-passing chartered accountants hadn't gone and omited the entire hotel from the balance sheet. Half a million quid written off in a stroke. Goodness knows how they made it balance. Unbelievable!

I also remember when learning the ropes, in my much younger days, that my chartered accountant boss told me that once he had passed the exams, he forgot the majority of what he had learned because it was never needed.

So, from my own experiences, (some) examinations mean nothing except to indicate that one has an ability to memorise stuff on the day of the exam. Letters after one's name prove nothing.

Ermintrude's picture

I thought it sounded good, but now I'm having second thoughts...

Ermintrude | | Permalink

... could this be a trade of what, as John Jenkins in his comment above points out, is a level of service to which all (taxpayers and) agents are entitled and should already be receiving from HMRC, in exchange for agents allowing  themselves to be even further used to do what has previously been HMRC's work?

For example, I have been asked by HMRC to pursue a client's tax bill with them, and also asked to pursue a client for his overdue tax return.

I've also already been asked by an HMRC Agent Account Manager to sign up - which seems a bit quick off the mark?

BKD's picture

Well said, Rebecca

BKD | | Permalink

 Some of the key words I think you were looking for are (my emphasis):

"In a very few cases, clients’ non-compliance may reflect an agent’s own performance being below the standard expected by and of the professional community. In these cases HMRC believes that there should be a dialogue to understand if improvements can be made, and what support may be needed by the agent." And   "The 'agent view' will support HMRC in identifying those agents whose total engagement is significantly outside of the average performance for agents with a similar client portfolio"

 

weaversmiths's picture

Embrace It

weaversmiths | | Permalink

posted by Accountant78 -

Also yes let's get our profession restricted to those who have passed appropriate examinations and get rid of 'Dave from down the pub'.

And yes, I hear the protests from all of the competent unqualifieds of which I know there are many - the simple answer for you is to take the exams.

I wondered how long it would take for a 'proper' accountant to jump on the bandwagon - just 14 posts(:-).  

My simple answer ?

a)     I am far too ancient to take exams but still have 33 years experience under my belt (from gamekeeper to poacher as the District Inspector said at my retirement 'do').

b)     I take on clients with little or no idea of keeping paperwork and induce them to find years' worth of papers, bank statements etc as they are usually years behind (akin to pulling hen's teeth), and have little money to pay a 'qualified' accountant who would not want the job anyway.  Some of us have to get down and dirty with the type of taxpayer I represent.  When HMRC have inquired into such clients they have accepted my accounts as they are perfectly aware that such taxpayers exist. I only act for sole traders and  partnerships, never Companies, so I am hardly a threat to the legions of 'qualifieds' out there.

c)     I am certain that this will be a money making exercise by HMRC. I already have to pay £120 for MLR so I would expect that it will be a similar amount for little fish like me.  I am trying to wind the practice down but HMRC is forcing me to keep in business just to pay for their "licences".

 

TheAncientOne (Dave down the Pub)

 

Thumbs down - absolutely.

SimonP | | Permalink

I wrote the following comment on the Accountancy Age website yesterday in response to the article entitled " Government proposes tax agent registration". 

Obviously the UK has looked across The Pond and seen that the IRS in the States has already implemented such a ploy.

Unsurprisingly, it will cost agents to become 'enrolled' and no prizes for guessing where that money goes.

It should be noted, however, that if an agent cannot or does not wish to become enrolled, s/he would simply complete the returns and give them back to the taxpayer to submit for themselves, as happens in the States.

I have seen accountancy practices in the US with several hundreds of clients who all file their own returns in this way as the firm is not an enrolled agent.

I really don't see any advantage other than for the Treasury. If anything, I think clients suffer as there is no continuity of service.

I do not see where HMRC define what "trusted" means:

Does it mean trusted to toe the HMRC line without independent thought; or

Does it mean trusted to always get the tax right every time and respond to all correspondence within 30 days; or

Does it mean trusted to answer telephone calls speedily and without running up exorbitant charges via 0845 numbers; or

Does it simply mean trusted to supply correct information as provided by the taxpayer, in which case it is not the agent who is being 'trusted', but the taxpayer?

If the latter, then what is the point of having enrolled agents. Why not instead have enrolled taxpayers then HMRC can collect oodles of cash just for enrolling.

Another stealth tax? I thought they went when Brown & Co. got kicked out. Let's not go back to those bad old days, please.

Read more: http://www.accountancyage.com/aa/news/2074702/government-proposes-tax-agent-registration#ixzz1O2Uv7GUS

rorywilliams's picture

Tax Agents Number

rorywilliams | | Permalink

I suggest it would make sense for a firm to have a single tax agents reference number that covers all taxes for all clients. This is what we have in Ireland

BKD's picture

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BKD | | Permalink

"Obviously the UK has looked across The Pond and seen that the IRS in the States has already implemented such a ploy."

Actually, the USA is only one of several tax administrations that have been looked at. I know for a fact that the Australian policy works very well, to the benefit of all. Of course, the Australian tax authorities have been better organised than their UK counterparts for some time now.

"Unsurprisingly, it will cost agents to become 'enrolled' and no prizes for guessing where that money goes."

The last part of that comment suggest that you think there will be an enrolment fee (in addition to other costs that agents may have to bear in getting ready for the system) - can you direct us to where in the consultation document such a fee is mentioned (bearing in mind Rebecca's words a few posts above).

Working with Tax Agents

kencurran | | Permalink

Having read the document it amused me to see on page 33 a serious error.

"Impact on individuals and households" section is a repetition of the "impact on businesses and civil society groups" section. Too much copying and pasting.

I would have thought that someone within HMRC would have read the document first before releasing it. Perhaps someone did but for certain they were not trained in tax where attention to detail is paramount.

I will be responding to Bush House and also via the CIOT of which I am a member.

I would make the following comments:-

The overall view of HMRC is that "customers" with agents are inherently more compliance adverse.  Somehow it is the agents fault.

There are some seriously bad agents out there who are, in the main, unqualified. Lets ignore what the top four/twenty get up to shall we?

The document does not detail what, in the opinion of HMRC, makes for a poor agent. Perhaps undertaking tax planning?

Access to "self-serve" options sound great and as RB said where can I sign up.

However, this is more about a system designed years ago which HMRC cannot afford to resource any longer, in terms of training staff and dealing with correspondence.

As a member of the CIOT I would appreciate agents only being allowed to file tax returns if they are a member of a professional body. The membership of which has been obtained by exam as opposed to merely paying a fee.

An independent body needs to be set up as HMRC cannot be allowed to judge, jury etc with regard to an agents performance. Imagine the Minstry of Justice judging the performance of lawyers as opposed to the Law Society.

 

 

 

 

 

johnjenkins's picture

As Agents

johnjenkins | | Permalink

we already "enrol" via the Government Gateway and are given a list of "services" that we are allowed to use.

Surely its not rocket science for HMRC to decide what level of IT information it can release via these "services".

To me, all this compliance nonsense shows that HMRC do not trust Agents Q or UQ. As for comparing "client base" I doubt if there are any that are anywhere near the same.

So what is the thinking behind the "compliance proposals"??????????? It has to be control (are we sure GB hasn't sneaked in HMRC as a post room operative or something).

This really is worrying as the only defence would be to use the "taxpayer" to enrol (unless HMRC decide that the taxpayer isn't allowed access to "fast track info.") and have a private authority between you and the taxpayer to access that information.

Come on HMRC, put your trust in us "you know it makes sense".

Sally26's picture

part qualified and happy

Sally26 | | Permalink

Thanks for the endorsement !

Sally

BKD's picture

Qualifications

BKD | | Permalink

[entire comment removed by mod - undisclosed reasons]

cymraeg_draig's picture

Beware of Greeks bearing gifts -

cymraeg_draig | | Permalink

A challenge to WD and those expressing the same view - can you set out clearly for me what you think you have to lose? Can you then steer the debate to focus on those aspects and how to minimise or neutralise them. Because we gain little by "going to the mattresses". And there is quite a lot on offer.

 

Posted by RebeccaBenneyworth on Wed, 01/06/2011 - 16:03

 

At this moment I have on my desk a very thick file. In it are the court papers drawn up to pursue a large claim against HMRC. Obviously I cannot go into details, but suffice to say that it is the worst case of abuse of position I have ever seen or heard of, it includes a claim under s3 Protection from Harassment Act, a claim against a Revenue office for procuring an assault occasioning grievous bodily harm, misfeasance in a public office, computer hacking, and a whole variety of other offences.  The evidence is overwhelming and indesputable. 

And yes, a complaint was filed about what was occuring, and a complete and unbelievable whitewash received in return, the content of which proves that no "investigation" was carried out and simply a string of feeble excuses were cobbled together in the hopes of shutting up the complainant.

The victim - is an accountant whose practice has been destroyed by a member of HMRC staff - AND, other staff have aided and abetted in these illegal actions.

Sometimes it is necessary to "go to the mattress".

 

As for the "proposals" - isnt it time that we, as accountants put our own "proposals" to HMRC via our MP's and demanded that the standards of HMRC are raised, that taxpayers and their agents can actually access tax inspectors instead of waste-of-space call centres, and that instead of paying lip service to simplification, they actually extract their digits and do it. ?

 

_________________________________________________

 

The last part of that comment suggest that you think there will be an enrolment fee (in addition to other costs that agents may have to bear in getting ready for the system) - can you direct us to where in the consultation document such a fee is mentioned (bearing in mind Rebecca's words a few posts above).

 

Posted by BKD on Wed, 01/06/2011 - 17:02

 

Can YOU point us to any guarantee that such stealth taxes will NOT be introduced in year 1, year 2, year 3 ?   Experience says they will.

 

 

 

 

 

cymraeg_draig's picture

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cymraeg_draig | | Permalink

[removed by mod - continuation of above]

A Question of Trust

bobhurn | | Permalink

The ideas may have been better received in a different era (okay the technology didn't exist then).  At present there appears to be a complete breakdown of trust between agents and HMRC.  The HMRC language is passive but will the implementation be?  The speech by the new CIOT president shows how bad relations have become and with only 15 years until retirement I don't feel that is likely that I will see a return to the days when we viewed each other with respect and as worthy opponents.  Personally  I think that a valid first step would be for all professional institutes and associations to withdraw from the "working together" scheme.  This may give HMRC some indication of the frustration we feel at their lip service "consultations".  I will not bother making any submissions as recent history suggests that the decisions will have already been made.

I don't see myself as an enemy of HMRC. Indeed the breakdown of trust that has occurred must have fault on both sides, not having worked in HMRC myself it is impossible for me to know their side of the story.  I do feel that they are often being used as the Government's shield, perhaps are complaints are actually against UK Gov.

If you take off your tinfoil hat..

ireallyshouldkn... | | Permalink

It would seem to me - paranoia aside - it’s rather sensible to allow more detailed access of a client’s record by agents.
In particular it is rather annoying to have to call up to do basic things such as:
1. Get a copy of a coding notice
2. Change a coding notice
3. See what details employers have submitted in terms of P11D and P60.

Having access to this would cut down the number of calls we make to HMRC by about 70%.

I don’t have any real objection to "doing HMRC's work for them" if it’s easier and quicker for us to do so. We already do heaps, especially with iXBRL. It makes little sense to have to ring someone up to press a button on a computer, when we could press the same button.

I would also welcome the ability to do simple tasks such open and close a payroll direct into HMRC's systems, as opposed to now - the current web form is just a data collection tool which is then manually processed. PAYE is in a nightmare to deal with, and all for the sake of some quite simple programming.

The suggestion of access to clients files in terms of correspondence would also be a boon especially if this includes internal notes on progress on a case. Often you simply don’t know if an issue is being resolved or has been forgotten about, which leads to further contact.

Regarding authorisation, i don’t see the current on-line system as that bad - if it worked properly. That is to say if I knew that by submitting a request before (say) 3pm, it was in that days post to my client - who could get the letter and give me the code the following day it would work a treat. It's the 2-3 weeks delay that kills it, and this is 100% down to HMRC's processing of these authorisations and the absurd unexplained postal delays. A commercial operation would design a simple system spitting out letters into a mail sack as the requests are made which is then collected every day by posty. One simple process. This would avoid having to re-investing the authorisation system with the scope for fraud and other dark deeds such as 'stealing' clients which could get a bit sticky. They also need to sort out the nonsense with VAT authorisation requiring both a manual and an electronic registration.

On a wider point, frankly if HMRC are NOT currently trying to find dodgy agents, and NOT using existing enquiry work to identify a lack of knowledge then they are not using the data properly that they already have.

 

 

 

 

RebeccaBenneyworth's picture

How to secure change

RebeccaBenneyworth | | Permalink

I mentioned "going to the mattresses" which some seem keen to do. What would that involve? Withdrawing your labour? A process of work to rule - not correcting HMRC's errors made in our clients' affairs maybe? Where are you going with that?

It seems to me that either we crack on and try to improve the system for all of our benefit or we carry on whining and whingeing about how terrible the world is.

We can imagine all sorts of things that are NOT in the condoc - like transportation for anyone practising tax who is not a member of your chosen institute, or tarring and feathering for anyone found to be technically deficient, but the truth is, the point of a consultation is to gather views on the content of the document and the proposals on the table.

With respect WD, I know that you have experience of the worst excesses of the tax authority through your particular area of specialism, but we aren't talking about those cases - we are talking about the millions of taxpayers and tens of thousands of agents who have a different experience altogether than you have.

Please will someone from the Nay's tell me where the pitfalls are (I'm not saying there are none) and what we need to do to neutralise them.

I'm also concerned about how an independent regualtor would work. Will the various professional bodies stand aside in regulating their members in deference to an independent body? I'm uncomfortable about where that leaves the professional bodies, but maybe a Joint Supervisory scheme could be created? Are you willing to increase your membership subscriptions to fund it? HMRC are absolutely clear - THEY do not want to regulate the industry, but can self regulation work if a sector of the industry are not members of a regualted body? Do we NEED regulation?

RebeccaBenneyworth's picture

Just to add

RebeccaBenneyworth | | Permalink

I've started the first thread in the discussion group which is intended to draw out the proposals in a bit more detail. Do feel free to add your comments at any time and keep coming back as ideas come to you.

Every so often I'll summarise the discussion group on the main site so that those not joining in get a flavour of the views expressed on there, and can add comment further.

Oh and before I go, do you really think withdrawing from WT will achieve very much? I know that progress is often slow, but it really is a way to explore some of the detailed issues - many of which in truth could be resolved through the proposals in the condoc.

Dave down the pub.

whiteways | | Permalink

As an "unqualified" accountant with 26 years' experience I find your language offensive. I have clients who have come to me from so-called "qualified" accountants where I have had to repair the damage done.   

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