HMRC to deal only with 'good agents'
At the introductory event of the newly formatted Working Together, HMRC said that they were ‘acting on feedback’ from agents and as such would be trialling a series of interactive online sessions called "Talking Points”. The idea behind these sessions is to give agents the opportunity to talk with HMRC subject matter experts on different topics relevant to agents. The first “Talking Points” meeting was held on Friday 23 October.
If HMRC had been ‘acting on feedback’ then why were there not more attendees present? But only 78 attended.
The subject matter was important– “what the Agents Strategy is seeking to achieve, how HMRC are seeking to implement it and where they are up to.”
To get the feel of the mix of attendees the session started with a couple of online poll questions. The first being on the question of qualifications – “which of the main four professional bodies were attendees members of - ICEAW, ACCA, AAT or CIOT or “others”’. Interestingly 51% ticked ‘others’. The next question asked for confirmation of the number of clients - 68% had more than 100 clients.
The presentation itself
The presentation revealed HMRC’s concern about the level of competency of some agents. Their intention is to categorise each agent on a scale, the highest being “good/high risk”, the lowest being ”poor/high risk”.
If an agent is deemed by HMRC to be “good” then that agents’ clients will be given a “lighter touch” – what this “lighter touch” meant in practice was not detailed.
We were told that:
- A “good/low risk” agent:
Adds Value: Due diligence, up-skilling the client, helping ensure compliance and aiding their growth and prosperity
Behaviour: Engaging with HMRC on a professional basis and in a professional manner
Competence: Meeting high professional standards and continued professional development
- A ”poor/high risk” agent has:
Weak technical competence, lack of sufficient due diligence and lack of reasonable care:
Placing tax at risk and an unnecessary burden upon resource
Disengaged with HMRC processes: Unnecessary obstacles to good compliance
Abusive behaviours to HMRC staff: Disrupting and hindering enquiry work
Deliberate non-compliance: including dishonesty
The result will be that certain agents work will be deemed ‘unacceptable’ and as such that agent will be marked “Refuse to deal with (RTDW)”. The intention is to give ‘assured status’ to those agents they believe are “good” enabling this to be highlighted to potential clients.
A “good” agent will be given certain privileges. A list came up on screen of suggestions as to what those privileges should be. 70% of the attendees wanted a ‘Kitemark style’ recognition (obviously assuming that they themselves will be deemed “good”); 64% wanted quicker access to current HMRC helplines; 50% wanted easier access to subject matter experts and 33% wanted shorter enquiry windows.
Authors view – too many questions not answered
The content of this “Talking Points” session is very worrying. It is surely not HMRC’s remit to be judge and jury. What will be the criteria? Will the designation be only “good” or “poor” or with there be varying levels? What about agents who specialise in sorting out problems? Will they be downgraded? What about the effect on the clients of a “poorly” rated agent – will they be subject to increased interest from HMRC? What will be the procedure? Will there be any right of appeal? Will there be a ‘logo’ of some form that says that that agent is a “good” agent in HMRC’s eyes?
This sorting of agents into “good” or “poor” must surely be the sole responsibility of the professional bodies where an agent is a member.
When this idea was originally mooted a couple of years ago HMRC were looking to restrict full access to their site only to those agents who were large enough to be VAT registered. That idea has now gone but it is obvious that this is an area of regulation that HMRC are intent on imposing. As I say... worrying...and so far only 78 agents are aware.