Tax Knowledge Level

Addressing weakness

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My level of tax knowledge is concerning for an accountant in practice. Thankfully, the PFP tax help line that we use is very helpful. On occasions,  I use Cathy of Raven Tax for written tax advice who is also a real help.

Like most here, it is finding the time for further study. I started ATT and thought it was more calculation rather than explanations. Not the right level.  Tolleys have agreed to move me to CIOT. I am thinking about it.

My last proper study of UK taxation was many many years ago. Further, I am NOT attending classes type. Reading and doing questions is the way for me.

My question is how do you address your weakness (?) in tax knowledge since you passed tax exam(s)? 

Replies (36)

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By SteveHa
10th Aug 2017 08:46

I didn't pass exams, I trained at HMRC over a period of 20 years. However, I left HMRC 17 years ago, and I admit, it can be a challenge to keep up to date.

Part of my morning routine is to check HMRC news releases (Not the Newsdesk stuff, but rather the announcements etc. on their home page) which often gives notice of changes.

Then I check here. Any time I see reference to a tax case which I see as being relevant, I read it over financeandtaxtribunals.gov.uk.

I watch each budget speech, noting what looks most relevant, followed up by a read of the red book, and any policy documents released.

Finally, I have Tolley's yellow and orange books within easy reach (quite well thumbed, now) to research in depth anything out of the ordinary.

Oh, and the odd webinar, though I'm finding these decreasingly useful.

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By bajones
10th Aug 2017 08:50

Most professional bodies' CPD requirements say that you should identify and act on areas of weakness, and undertake courses as well as reading.

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By User deleted
10th Aug 2017 10:17

Firstly, I have to admire you for your honesty. However, your shortcomings suggest that your practice is weak, in the field of taxation, which should be a pressing concern for you and, more importantly, your client's. Ignorance is not an excuse.
Without wishing to be disrespectful, your website promotes a series of tax based services and, unless you, or some of your members of staff, are well versed in those topics, it is a worry that you openly suggest some form of expertise.
Have you considered; further in-depth study and, in the meantime, wouldn't it be a sensible interim solution, to employ the services of a good general practitioner, or even a tax specialist?
From what you've said on here recently, the new premises seem to be a "front" for a practice which isn't able to provide the level of knowledge, which the website might suggest.
I must stress, I offer the suggestions, with the greatest of respect.

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By Steve Holloway
10th Aug 2017 09:28

Ha ha ...having just had a practice assurance review, I hope you find the answer to your question before they visit you!

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Replying to Steve Holloway:
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By andy.partridge
10th Aug 2017 09:53

Steve, you are alive! Good to hear from you.

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Replying to Steve Holloway:
Red Leader
By Red Leader
11th Aug 2017 12:11

I was actually disappointed that the content of advice I was giving WASN'T reviewed by the PA visit! More of a box-ticking exercise re client bank a/cs, engagement letters, AML, etc.

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Replying to Steve Holloway:
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By chatman
11th Aug 2017 12:58

I've had two practice assurance reviews. If they checked competence, I'd have been found out years ago.

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By andy.partridge
10th Aug 2017 09:58

You might not be a classroom type (not sure what that is) but as you know you can bring the lecturer to your office. I am talking Webinars.

All that is lacking is discipline, to set aside a regular hour for some formal learning. There has to be some genuine interest from you in your subject which will motivate you to browse, informally, on topical subjects that you will undoubtedly come across here and other outlets.

I'll say it again - discipline. Your clients would expect nothing less from you.

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Replying to andy.partridge:
By Steve Holloway
10th Aug 2017 11:36

Thank you Andy ... yes, very much alive! About 3 years ago I had the opportunity to take on a significant piece of additional work which has been great but really meant I had to pull my finger out and break my Aweb habit!

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Man of Kent
By Kent accountant
10th Aug 2017 11:19

Lack of knowledge in certain areas - refer client to specialists or take advice from specialist.

As an example I don't do IHT, instead I refer clients to a specialist at a mid size regional firm.

Anything I'm uncertain on I take advice.

Give sh.1.t advice to clients and it reflects badly, nothing wrong with asking for assistance.

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By mrme89
10th Aug 2017 11:32

If you can find time to go on social media courses at your local college, you can find time to do some structured CPD.

You just need to remember where your income comes from, and get your priorities right.

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Locutus of Borg
By Locutus
10th Aug 2017 11:51

I largely: -

1. Stick to what I know.

2. If it is on the fringes of what I know, tell the client I will look into it, research it myself and / or take advice.

3. If it is outside of what I know and have no interest in learning it, refer that client / prospect to a few specialists that I know (for instance IHT, offshore tax, etc).

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Replying to Locutus:
Red Leader
By Red Leader
11th Aug 2017 12:09

Spot on.

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By Moonbeam
10th Aug 2017 12:09

I have seen advice in the past that working your way through Tolley's taxwise every year would help with the CIOT exams. It's a very good place to start.

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By User deleted
10th Aug 2017 12:21

I can also recommend the virtual tax partner Nichola Ross-Martin. The monthly subscription is money well spent and, could possibly provide some of the support, which you admit you need.

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Glenn Martin
By Glenn Martin
10th Aug 2017 16:26

If you only have a basic tax knowledge and have not studied for years you will drop out of CIOT after a few weeks as will find the step up to hard and you don't have the staying power to see it through. You should re think continuing with AAT.

To get back into practice I did the ATT and found it excellent to bring knowledge up to speed and is more than sufficient for what I need for my clients.

I got the online study from Tolleys and found it very good. I would re think about dropping out if I were you as if you can stick at it it will pay dividends.

My tax needs are fairly basic within my practice and on the times I need further advice there are a few local guys who will help me out alongside the helpline from my PFP provider.

I have been doing some research on R & D work as a few potential clients have asked about it and it looks quite interesting to offer as a service.

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By marks
10th Aug 2017 22:36

Like many others have said we are mainly an accoutancy firm with knowledge of a bit of tax.

We can do the basic tax but for anything more advanced we

1. Use 3rd party resources ie IPCA helpline, Taxwise helpline, Tolleys online, Nicola Ross online

2. We use a VAT specialist and CIOT practitioner for more advanced tax.

3. For specialist tax we use specialists who work just in that area eg R&D claims, major capital allowances, IHT, residence issues, advanced tax planning. We use AVN proactivtax who can put us in touch with a specialist in a whole list of areas.

Key thing is not to advise what you are not comfortable knowing the answer.

We would rather work with clients on their accounts, help them grow their business and act as business advisers and leave tax to the specialists.

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Replying to marks:
paddle steamer
By DJKL
11th Aug 2017 09:25

marks wrote:

Key thing is not to advise what you are not comfortable knowing the answer.

Mine and Clint's philosophy, "A man's got to know his limitations."

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FT
By FirstTab
10th Aug 2017 22:57

Thanks for the response. Making me rethink.

My perspective is that a deep tax knowledge is a core requirement in our line of work. As we all know, it is an area client value most. Most of client questions are around tax and NOT a particular accounting standard.

Getting outside advice is good. Would it not be better to have the skill and knowledge on this key area?

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FT
By FirstTab
10th Aug 2017 22:57

Thanks for the response. Making me rethink.

My perspective is that a deep tax knowledge is a core requirement in our line of work. As we all know, it is an area client value most. Most of client questions are around tax and NOT a particular accounting standard.

Getting outside advice is good. Would it not be better to have the skill and knowledge on this key area?

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Replying to FirstTab:
Stepurhan
By stepurhan
11th Aug 2017 12:51

FirstTab wrote:

Thanks for the response. Making me rethink.

My perspective is that a deep tax knowledge is a core requirement in our line of work. As we all know, it is an area client value most. Most of client questions are around tax and NOT a particular accounting standard.

Getting outside advice is good. Would it not be better to have the skill and knowledge on this key area?

Of course it would be better to have the knowledge in-house.

However, it is impossible for any individual to have all the skill and knowledge of a subject as wide as tax, especially since tax is actually multiple subjects anyway. That being the case you have to work out how to deal with that.

If you have a reasonably sized staff, you can have individual experts with more knowledge in specific areas(payroll, corporation tax, VAT, etc). The plus side of this is you have a wide range of knowledge in-house (though you will still have more obscure things that need looking up). The big down-side is that they may be able to hold you to ransom if you don't at least have some knowledge yourself. ("Give me a raise or you can say goodbye to your firm's VAT resource")

If not, you concentrate on broad knowledge of the areas of most relevance to your clientele, and use external support for the less common parts. Most clients will be fine with you researching less common areas if you still get back to them reasonably promptly. In fact, wanting to be sure you are giving them accurate information rather than winging it will be seen as a plus by many.

But you are likely to have skipped over this entire post because of who is posting it. It will therefore be interesting to see if you answer this question. If your perspective is that a deep tax knowledge is a core requirement for our line of work why, by your own admission, have you been so lax (many many years ago?) in maintaining that core requirement yourself?

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Replying to stepurhan:
Portia profile image
By Portia Nina Levin
11th Aug 2017 12:57

And if you're in doubt about any particular area, you can always just try and bull5h1t your way through it.

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Replying to FirstTab:
paddle steamer
By DJKL
11th Aug 2017 13:14

The Catch22 is gaining experience, which is very much a chicken and egg scenario.

To get the experience you deal with transactions about which you have no experience which is really not that fair, in some instances, on your clients.

This is why the outside "Pros from Dover" route is really useful, it applies, under supervision, some real practical nous over and above the textbook understanding already acquired.

Picking the brains of others is really useful, it is after all why accountancy apprenticeships have always been more than mere book learning and one kept a diary documenting one's experience.

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By chatman
11th Aug 2017 13:05

Fair play for posting this question FirstTab; many would not have had the courage. Ignore the rude answers, despite any respect they claim to be showing you.

I would recommend revisiting ATT. Calculations help you understand the underlying principles. By all accounts, CIOT takes an enormous amount of work, and I don't think you'll have time for it. Plus I think it will have lots of calculations in it.

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Glenn Martin
By Glenn Martin
11th Aug 2017 13:34

FT you need to build your practice around your strengths which does not have mean you have an massive tax resource within the practice, unless you want to develop a specialist tax practice.

I have a reasonable tax knowledge but by no mean an expert but I would not say I have a tax heavy practice and I imagine my practice has a similar client base to your own.

The tax needs of my clients are fairly basic really. SA wise my hardest return will be P60 + Dividends + Rental Income. All my clients are small husband and wife companies or contractors and again are fairly basic. I get odd questions about what happens if someone sells a property or if they sell their business, but I don't feel exposed on the matter.

As I have split my time 50/50 between practice and industry I have a similar split in my practice 50% compliance work to pay the bills and 50% business advice for the thrills. That is where I can add more value to a client so that is where I focus my offering. I do not want to be a tax specialist, and I dont feel you have to be succesful small practitioner as long as you have someone to call on if needed.

I do get some tax investigation work that comes my way not for my tax skills, usually its when clients have [***] records as I have good technical skills to pull them together and I have a tax guy that does all the case law stuff which I find tedious, I am also decent at getting results and negotiating.

You have a lot of Xero clients you should focus on developing that and subscribe to a tax service but you should still persevere with the ATT or at least get M,P or Q to do it if you cannot be arsed.

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By MBK
11th Aug 2017 14:01

For me the secret for you is to know there is a question - you don't have to know the answer, but if you don't have sufficient tax knowledge to know there's a question in the first place then you are letting your clients down.

So, from where you are, I don't think CPD etc is the way forward. Reading current stuff (particularly Taxation magazine) is much more relevant. And if you can get your hands on the STEP UK News Digest that's really good too.

Change is our enemy, and that's what you have to cope with most.

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By tonyaustin
11th Aug 2017 15:02

The basic stuff you look up in the legislation, then a publication such as Tolleys or Simons or CCH then check the HMRC manuals. If you cannot get the answer easily that way, consult a tax specialist such as myself who is happy to act as your tax partner when needed. I will assist with the tax aspects you are not confident with and let you get on with the rest of the work for the client.

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Replying to tonyaustin:
Glenn Martin
By Glenn Martin
11th Aug 2017 15:09

Please update us Tony of how that relationship pans out.

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Red Leader
By Red Leader
11th Aug 2017 15:26

Your ideal tax knowledge can be thought of as similar to your doctor's medical knowledge. When necessary, they refer you to a specialist. Bad knee? Referred to orthopaedics. And so on.

You don't expect your local GP to do an appendectomy, etc. In fact, you might be rather worried if he offered to.

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Replying to Red Leader:
By SteveHa
11th Aug 2017 16:06

I used to do specialist medical. I'd be rather more worried if it was some of the consultants I had to deal with.

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Replying to SteveHa:
Red Leader
By Red Leader
11th Aug 2017 16:17

SteLacca wrote:

I used to do specialist medical. I'd be rather more worried if it was some of the consultants I had to deal with.


Please don't say that! I'm seeing a consultant at the moment. Fingers crossed, they have a steady hand if they have to wield the knife.
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Replying to Red Leader:
Portia profile image
By Portia Nina Levin
11th Aug 2017 16:26

I've given it a quick Google, and an appendectomy looks like quite a simple procedure. Be happy to oblige.

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Replying to Portia Nina Levin:
Red Leader
By Red Leader
11th Aug 2017 19:02

Portia Nina Levin wrote:

I've given it a quick Google, and an appendectomy looks like quite a simple procedure. Be happy to oblige.


How much? I've already got some pretty cheap quotes, so you'll need to be competitive if you want the business.
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Replying to Red Leader:
By mrme89
11th Aug 2017 19:14

I wouldn't trust Portia with a colouring book and crayon.
She'd find a way of doing something sinister with 'em!

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Replying to Portia Nina Levin:
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By D V Fields
11th Aug 2017 21:04

For a fair price I trust?

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By D V Fields
11th Aug 2017 21:38

Yes, accountants are expected to be tax experts; mathmeticians too! I use every new opportunity to improve my knowledge of taxation and try to ask myself the question "on what piece of legislation do you rely on to make that assertion?" when engaging on something new. Indeed a great challenge to any assertion. Responses on this site that add the source of such legislation is a credit to its contributors. Identify weaknesses and fix them.

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