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Robert Maas rejects assured tax agent status

6th Nov 2015
Tax Writer Taxwriter Ltd
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Rebecca Cave reports on the 2015 ICAEW Hardman lecture presented by leading UK tax expert Robert Maas.

Robert Maas has over 50 years’ experience in tax, probably more than anyone inside HMRC. He has strong views on the role of the tax profession and its relationship with HMRC.

Maas doesn’t see himself as being in a relationship between HMRC and the taxpayer. He sees two separate relationships:

  • With his client - a contractual relationship where Maas provides the tax services the client wants to buy
  • A separate relationship with HMRC – one based on trust between professionals.

However, some tax agents and certainly some HMRC officers don’t regard the other as their equal. Both sides need to recognise the other not as enemies, but as professionals doing a professional job. 

Maas is not impressed by HMRC’s vision to monitor the performance of paid tax agents and to be involved with the setting of professional standards for those agents, as stated in an interview with Jim Harra, HMRC Director General for Business Tax in the March 2015 issue of Tax Journal.

Professional Conduct in Relation to Taxation is part of the ethical code for Chartered Accountants and Chartered Tax Advisers produced solely by the professional bodies, it is updated regularly. There no need for it to be replaced. Maas would be concerned if ICAEW allowed HMRC to dictate its ethical code.

Maas said what we really need to be concerned about is HMRC’s desire to set the standards they expect tax agents to meet.

Maas related his experience of a HMRC webinar on Tax Agent Strategy, which made it clear that HMRC want to differentiate between tax agents by reference to the value the agent adds to tax compliance. By “adding value” HMRC mean the agent will do due-diligence on his clients’ records, educate the client about their tax obligations, and help to ensure tax compliance.

HMRC want to split tax agents into four categories:

  • Assured Agents
  • Good and Acceptable agents
  • Poor agents
  • Unacceptable agents

The Assured Agent status will not be easy to achieve so HMRC is planning to give tax agents incentives to strive for assured status by providing them special benefits such as:

  • Priority access to HMRC helplines and experts
  • Prompt tax repayments for their clients
  • Shorter enquiry windows for clients 

Maas observes that this action ignores a key part of the HMRC charter which says: “You can expect us to treat you even-handedly”.

When questioned about this during the webinar the HMRC spokeswoman said she didn’t think that giving special benefits to clients of assured agents created inequality with clients of other agents or with unrepresented taxpayers. After all, clients of agents whom HMRC rate as “good” are free to move to assured agents and, indeed, HMRC hope that is what would happen. 

Maas doesn’t want to be an “assured agent”. He hopes that no other member of a professional tax/accountancy body would want to be one either, as tax professionals should be seen to be acting for their clients and not for HMRC. Maas feels such a “gold star” from HMRC would undermine his professional integrity, his duty to his clients, and his obligation to act in the public interest to uphold the rule of law in relation to tax.

It is clear that HMRC do not see all taxpayers or tax agents as equal. Maas appealed to his audience not to help HMRC’s vision of the categorisation of agents turn into a reality. That he says would be a “National Disgrace”.

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Replies (103)

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By cparker87
07th Nov 2015 18:23

What choice will we have
It really will get to the stage where agents will fear any dispute with HMRC in case they subsequently decide they're untrustworthy because they don't do as told.

Very worrying. They might as well pay me instead..

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Replying to Echo761:
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By the_Poacher
09th Nov 2015 11:30

If HMRC start paying you be prepared for ten years of real term pay cuts

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Tony Margaritelli, ICPA Chairman
By Tony Margaritelli
08th Nov 2015 15:26

At long last HMRC are coming clean on DAS. Those who have followed my blogs, interviews and postings will know that HMRC are looking to favour one agent over another based on a criteria that is wholly their own. This must be resisted on every level as HMRC seek to undermine the work of all the professional bodies and bases tax compliance on a code of rules that they alone are drawing up and if you go against HMRC on behalf of your clients what will happen to your "status" nor for that matter are we being told how are HMRC to monitor their own standards? will they withdraw assured status as easily as they will give it? will it be up for appeal. Remember this is a dept that cannot answer a telephone in a reasonable timescale. We all need to get together to fight this. Tony Margaritelli - Chair ICPA     

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blue sheep
By NH
09th Nov 2015 09:31

what criteria?

I am sure we are all agreed that incompetent and dishonest accountants should not be free to ply their trade to the general public, but to be policed by HMRC seems ludicrous.

My initial questions would be, what are the criteria that will be used to determine an agents status?  What rights of appeal would an agent have?  And what exactly would be the benefits of being in the top two tiers, and what would those in the bottom tiers be excluded from?

The public in general wont even know or understand about this so I dont see that clients will choose an accountant on this basis.

On the other hand, if for example, HMRC say that if an agent belongs to a professional body that has rigorous CPD standards then they automatically are given extra privileges that seems fair to me.  We have all seen the poor quality of advice given by so called tax agents, so anything that weeds that out has to be good.  

Not all agents are equal are they?  Some are dishonest.

Trouble is, it will never work.  One local "rogue" I know of isnt registered as an agent, to file returns he uses the client's own SA login.

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By ireallyshouldknowthisbut
09th Nov 2015 10:06

.

I wouldn't want to be "assured" either. Kiss of death commercially. 

I can only assume in reality this will need to be applied for with some laborious forms, no doubt attend some 'training' sessions and all sort of guff that only larger firms will have time to deal with.

It will be like getting your ISO9000.  Proves nothing but your ability to form fill. 

The real stinker is if you get marked down as a "poor" agent, at which point it would appear they withdraw all your ability to do your job, such as calling the priority numbers.  Which in turn would mean more errors in returns (there is one thing checking some data on a scan if its an "8" or a "6" if it takes 10 minutes, quite another if it takes 90 minutes)  trapping you in a loop.

What is more worrying is the statement that the "assured" will get access to priority numbers. So by definition everyone else gets those withdrawn? Not good.

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By johnjenkins
09th Nov 2015 10:06

Great Article

However we've all known that HMRC want to get rid of small business, and that includes the one man band agent. This is just another step in that direction. I was at the first ever seminar regarding agent strategy and I felt as if we had turned a corner. I was elated at the prospect of HMRC having a bit of trust in us to take on some of their admin work. It all turns out to be spin and PR crap. Robert Maas is right and he should be very concerned tha if we don't tackle this head on, the small practioner will be gone. Well not gone just not registered and using client SA login. Does HMRC really want that?

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By Ken Howard
09th Nov 2015 10:34

Should be either professional body or properly regulated by HMRC

Accountants who are already members of the main accountancy bodies already have a code of rules and ethics to work to and that should be policed by the professional body.  HMRC should not get involved.  It should be the accountancy body who has the right to censure or punish their members for mistakes or misconduct.

Unqualified accountants need to be regulated by someone.  If they don't have a professional body, then HMRC needs to act as such and enforce similar rules of conduct and ethics.  If there are mistakes or misconduct, then HMRC would have the power to remove/reduce the agent's status.

I just fail to see why HMRC want to get involved in regulating those who are already subject to adequate regulation from the accountancy bodies.  The most they should do is vet the professional bodies' procedures and if found lacking, insist the bodies up their game to police their members properly.  Each professional body should be "licensed" by HMRC to regulate their own members to an adequate standard, at the risk of their license being removed if they don't do it properly.

Massive waste of resources for two different bodies regulating and policing the same people.

HMRC need to concentrate their resources on agents who aren't qualified and who aren't members of respected professional bodies.

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By Andrew_hound
09th Nov 2015 10:37

But how good are the big boys?

Some years ago, I was retained with regard to accounts preparation for a high wealth client who retained one of the big 4 (5 or 6) for taxation services.

The large firm recommended some particular treatment for tax purposes which had the effect of (naturally) reducing the client's tax liability in the immediate future if not forever. I went in writing advising against it on the grounds that it was too edgy but they went ahead anyway.

Not long after, there was an enquiry that cost the client a fortune in fees as well as tax and penalties. (Had i been the 'tax accountant, the fees would have been insured but, of course, the large firms did not offer this at the time).

The point of my comments?

I have no doubt that the large firm would get 'gold star' from HMRC whilst my firm could be lower down the list - not much lower or I would have experienced a higher level of enquiries so hopefully 'good and acceptable'.

As the ultimate relationship is between HMRC and the taxpayer, how does treating an intermediary differently with regard to the taxpayer's affairs ensure that all taxpayers are treated 'even handedly'?

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By Tim Vane
09th Nov 2015 10:41

Using a client's own SA login will soon become a thing of the past as HMRC implement their new systems - that will cut out the first tranche of rogue agents. This appears to be a key goal for HMRC and I doubt any of us will be unhappy about that.

I agree that after that on HMRC's hit list will be the next tranche of agents who are registered but lacking in the knowledge to do the job. Removing this tranche is also good for the profession and putting a few hurdles in the road to stop the really poor agents is a good thing, but it is not clear how this can be done and this is where it starts to get worrying.

After the incompetents come the just plain crooked. This will probably be the hardest group to combat, but hopefully there are not quite so many of these.

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Replying to Cheshire:
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By AndrewV12
09th Nov 2015 12:20

Rogue

I like to use the SA login,to file my clients tax returns it works for me, and I am a fully qualified Accountant FCCA, and a rogue apparently.

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Replying to Paul Crowley:
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By qhas
10th Nov 2015 08:32

Intrigued

AndrewV12 wrote:

I like to use the SA login,to file my clients tax returns it works for me, and I am a fully qualified Accountant FCCA, and a rogue apparently.


Why do you 'like' to use the Client's login? What is the attraction ?
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By canderson1107
09th Nov 2015 11:02

Totally unfair

I am an unqualified agent. I have over 25 years experience. I have came across many a qualified accountant who does not know what they are talking about. I am sure we all have.

I do not advise any large client's but it appears to me that I will be penalised and also my client's will be penalised even further as their fees will go up if only larger firms are able to represent them.

HMRC get to call the shots when many a time I have had to point out to their "call centre" staff that what they are saying is incorrect.

We should totally be behind Robert Maas on this one.

 

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By cfield
09th Nov 2015 11:02

They should get their own house in order first

It really is the height of hypocrisy for HMRC to appoint themselves as arbiters of our professional standards when they give such poor service themselves. When they start answering phone calls within 10 rings, responding to correspondence within 14 days and re-opening local branches for "customers" to make visits by appointment, then maybe they can cast judgement on us. Until then, they should shuffle their feet and look suitably embarrassed at their own standards.

Having said that, there is a need for the public to be protected from bad tax agents. How about the Government giving it protected status, such as solicitors and health professionals enjoy?

Mind you, membership of a professional body does not guarantee a competent advisor. I came across a ICAEW member a couple of years ago who didn't know the rules had changed on capital allowances for cars. He was still claiming £3k a year for an expensive car (purchased after 5/4/09). Makes you wonder what he puts on his CPD returns.

If HMRC get their way, no doubt a lucrative market will soon spring up helping agents to achieve their desired status. The fees will be extortionate.

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By P&G
09th Nov 2015 11:02

Need our own lobby group
It's patently obvious that our lords and masters at ICAEW/ACCA seem to have been seduced by the spin, or worse maybe they don't care about the small practitioners either! By way of example I emailed Chas Roy-Chowdhury on 31 July regarding my views on the new online Working Together initiative and interaction I had with HMRC's Colin Ford (Deputy Director Digital Support for business and agents). Needless to say still waiting a reply and not holding my breathe waiting.

We need some big hitting names such as Robert Maas leading from the front on this and forming a lobby group that will really be heard, but also we all need to stand firm and not be bullied by HMRC. It's time for the "worm to turn"

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By billgilcom
09th Nov 2015 11:02

HMRC should stick to doing their own job - that is closing the tax gap (whatever figure that is ) ; administering and applying the tax laws as set by Parliament to collect the taxes consequentially due and policing those with appropriate chastising of offenders ( both professionals and taxpayers).
Once they get that right and their staff are providing a consistently correct service we might then feel like taking some note of how they perceive all tax agents should act. They dont pay my fees and would I really take note of their "monitored by HMRC" tag they want to attach to my work.
Certainly not the way forward and I wouldn't give it any validity by entertaining any form filling.
How can you provide a proper independent professional service to the person paying you if you are taking any notice of the organisation put in place to extract the funds from your client.
Into the bargain if because of this certain professionals are excluded from the favourites club then perhaps that might be the point at which the members become revolting.

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By johnjenkins
09th Nov 2015 11:04

@Ken

Back to quals, unquals arguement. There just aren't the number of rogue Accountants out there. Bent ones, yes and they will always use the system, whatever it is. To allow HMRC to decide what level Accountants should be designated is pure lunacy. All Accountants that submit are regulated. Either by their body or Customs and Excise. Trouble is HMRC can't, and never will, get it's act together. It's rather like saying cancer is in everone, kill everyone and you eradicate cancer. Well I see the only problem is HMRC. So get rid of HMRC, Give Accountants the admin and set up a government dept which just investigates and collects.

@Tim and how many of these "lacking in the knowledge to do the job" are sitting in high paid jobs protected by their respective bodies.

From what Robert was saying it really does look as though there's going to be a conflict between HMRC and the Accountancy profession.

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By TaxMatters
09th Nov 2015 11:14

Disagree


Like Mr Maas I too have strong views about the status of tax agents. If he saw some of the cases we have to sort out which result from unqualified people setting themselves up as accountants and taking a percentage of the refund he would soon change his mind. I am in agreement with the HMRC Strategy as should any self respecting tax adviser be.

An example might help: A hospital porter consults a so called accountant who prepares a tax return containing over £8000 of "allowable" expenses. Need I say more?

 

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Replying to memyself-eye:
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By canderson1107
09th Nov 2015 11:38

Reply to "Disagree"

My question in the first place would be why would a hospital porter need to complete a tax return in the 1st place. Is he self employed? I am an unqualified accountant. By your example I am to be tarred with the same brush!! There are varying degrees of tax advice and by eliminating competition it only means the bigger firms flourish and can charge the exorbitant fees they already charge the bigger client's.

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By Ian McTernan CTA
09th Nov 2015 11:21

Two Tier System

The HMRC spokesman says 'clients can move if they want the 'assured' accountant'.  How condescending is that coming from a department that can't even get it's own act together, yet sacks so few incompetents every year?

And the whole 'customer' things from HMRC...we're not customers, we're taxpayers.  We don't have a choice.

My guess is the 'don't rock the boat' bigger firms will get the top rating and sole practitioners will come near the bottom, despite all the wonderful schemes that come from the bigger firms costing HMRC billions in taxes and leading to endless Court cases.

Next they will be advising on what fees we can charge dependent on the size of firm we are and the banding they give us...

Whatever happened to 'treat everyone equally'?

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Replying to Paul Crowley:
By cfield
09th Nov 2015 11:38

Could it be actionable?

Ian McTernan CTA wrote:

My guess is the 'don't rock the boat' bigger firms will get the top rating and sole practitioners will come near the bottom

If HMRC are going to label some agents as "poor" or "unacceptable" simply because they don't reach their own unilateral standards (or toe the line in some other way) presumably that would be actionable in the courts. Not that many sole practitioners would be able to risk taking them on.

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Replying to Richard Hattersley:
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By norstar
09th Nov 2015 11:36

Class action

cfield wrote:

Ian McTernan CTA wrote:

My guess is the 'don't rock the boat' bigger firms will get the top rating and sole practitioners will come near the bottom

If HMRC are going to lable some agents as "poor" or "unacceptable" simply because they don't reach their own unilateral standards (or toe the line in some other way) presumably that would be actionable in the courts. Not that many sole practitioners would be able to risk taking them on.

 

If this affects as many people as I think it could, a class action could follow.

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By johnjenkins
09th Nov 2015 11:27

@Taxmatters

So really you agree with my thoughts.By taking the admin side away from HMRC it would allow them the man power and time to investigate these breaches. Please don't tell me it's only unquals that cause problems because the number of quals that get caught is more than the number of unquals. So you apply that logic to the amount of errors or cockups and hey presto.

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By norstar
09th Nov 2015 11:31

HMRC effecting restraint of trade - Illegal?

I agree with "Ireallyshouldknowthis"  - if for any reason (whether right or wrong), HMRC mark you as a poor agent, it seems they are effectively removing your ability to assist the taxpayer.

Not only is that unfair and prejudicial to my business, it ends up harming the taxpayer. How does that make sense?

Put it this way, my firm spend a lot of time on the phone to HMRC trying to help clients stay up to date, correct errors, get refunds paid, look into HMRC cockups etc. I know of other firms who don't interact with HMRC at all on these issues and leave the client to it.

If for any reason, our firm is designated below the top level, we're being told that our already unacceptable delays (which threaten client relationships and harm fees), will be worse.

I'll say this now - if this comes to pass, and my firm is compromised further in its ability to interact with HMRC, I will be looking at legal action, and I'd welcome others to do the same.

I didn't study and work hard for years, building up a loyal client base of hundreds of people who depend on me, just so that HMRC can come along and damage that by casting judgement on me from afar.

The ACCA regulate me. I jump through hoops to stay a member. HMRC have no right to do so and dictate the level of interaction I experience with them.

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By ronlfoot
09th Nov 2015 11:37

Levels of "assuredness"

I wish I'd been a LUMBERJACK.

"They" won't be totally happy until they nationalise and integrate into HMRC the whole profession, at least those of us toiling at the bottom end of the coalface.

Ron, the unchartered accountant

 

 

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7om
By Tom 7000
09th Nov 2015 11:40

Howay lads

Some of the clients cant even tell the difference between a chartered accountant and a carpark attendent...You think they will have any interest or know about assured agent status..

 

Well unless hMRC publish a website with it on and put it on TV  and if they did would they then allow advertising on it to bring some revenue in...

 

Just wondering

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Replying to carnmores:
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By ronlfoot
09th Nov 2015 11:47

Howay lads

I don't expect that anybody much in HMRC knows where Sunderland or Newcastle is now they've closed all the offices.

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By Casterbridge Hardy LLP
09th Nov 2015 11:46

HYPOCRISY

Maas is quite correct here and I, for one, find in truly astonishing that an organisation which is continually the subject of excoriating criticism from the lowliest taxpayer to select committees in Westminster should have the gall to attempt to set itself up as an arbiter of the quality of members of professions of which it has only the scantiest of knowledge (largely confined to day to day tax matters and completely without regard to the larger remit vested in accountants generally [and may we, please, not get side tracked in to the pointless qualified/non-qualified sideshow as this threat is too important for that sort of trivia to dilute attention).

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By lme
09th Nov 2015 11:56

Just to make it simple

Why don't HMRC and the professional bodies work together to establish whether these qualifications provide a level of competence and ethics that would give HMRC comfort, as surely should be the case, rather than invent a new layer of costly bureacracy. This would be a lot simpler than anything else and given the challenges HMRC are facing the simpler it is for them to differentiate the better. Our doctors, teachers, lawyers all have to be professionally qualified so why should HMRC not seek to distinguish between agents initially, at least, on the basis of their qualifications.

Given the strong public interest objective, I'd expect the professional bodies to be doing everything they reasonably can, with HMRC (though not taking orders!) to investigate this as an option to make things as simple as possible for HMRC and for their members.

 

 

 

 

 

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Replying to Paul Crowley:
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By carachapman
09th Nov 2015 14:24

Some do!

There are ongoing discussion between HMRC and professional bodies about the agent relationship and what would give HMRC sufficient comfort over standards, many of them led by ICAEW.

Unfortunately, in recent months, HMRC seem to be taking a rather less collaborative and more dictatorial approach to such matters. It's an incredibly frustrating process, because there are those at HMRC who seem to want to listen and work together to move things forward (I attended an Agent Strategy meeting a couple of weeks ago and saw this), but I fear that the senior levels at HMRC are paying lip service to the idea of collaboration and only happy if it falls in with what they want.

From what I have seen, particularly from the ICAEW side of things, the professional bodies ARE doing everything they can to try and simplify things, but getting HMRC to listen is a bit like banging your head against a brick wall at the moment.

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By johnjenkins
09th Nov 2015 11:56

OK Tom

What is the difference between a Chartered Accountant and a Carpark Attendent? They're both CA's. They both look after vehicles for a fee etc. etc.

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By RM and Co
09th Nov 2015 12:05

Maas

At first we all might panic that clients will be leaned towards the so called Assured Agents. But lets face it. Who would choose an agent knowing they will work for HMRC rather than taking all fair steps to make sure client pays the right amount of tax? I would like to say no one. It is as if the agents are being bribed here to work for HMRC.

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By johnjenkins
09th Nov 2015 12:06

@Ime

That's what agent strategy was supposed to do, but like all HMRC initiatives they go around in circles and all is lost. WT and OTS classic examples.

The truth hurts and HMRC don't like the truth. HMRC is obsolete and doesn't have anywhere to go.

Robert, why not start a petition stating that there is no confidence in HMRC? We only need 10,000 signatures and DC has to look at it seriously. 

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Replying to Cheshire:
By RM and Co
09th Nov 2015 12:11

I totally agree.

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By DenholmHay
09th Nov 2015 12:12

Assured Agents

Crooked agents I agree should be removed

 

We regularly check on the actions of HMRC and whether or not they are complying with legislation. Looks like the Assured Agents will give HMRC a free reign so that they do whatever they want.

 

I always thought one day HMRC would attempt to vet those agents who do a good job and get rid of those agents who do a better job. Looks like that point is now on the horizon.

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Hallerud at Easter
By DJKL
09th Nov 2015 12:16

A house divided against itself cannot stand

 

Well, divide and rule springs to mind here.

First say split out those in professional bodies  from the rest, thereafter eradicate the rest from the marketplace.

Second, once all in practice who are QBE etc  have been eradicated, tighten the hold on the rest using the professional bodies as the enforcement tool.

There are a few posts on here that certainly suggest some within the chartered bodies etc see this as a route to help themselves remove some competition, however they maybe ought to be careful what they wish for here; the profession standing unified will likely lead to a result that in the long term better suits their aspirations as smaller practices, petty divisions now may not lead to the anticipated outcome but something far less palatable.

Vested interest alert, I am a QBE (unfinished ICAS); however frankly by the time most of this hits I will probably be retired so doubt any changes will really impact my finances.

 

 

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By rogertax
09th Nov 2015 12:21

ASSURED TAX AGENT STATUS

Who could possibly disagree with Mr Maas's views?

But, what of unqualified agents? For many years I have advised some ACCAs, FCAs, and ACAs, on taxation matters because I know more about taxation than they do. Hardly surprising, because they usually know more than I do about practically everything else in the accountancy field.

I have nothing but admiration for anyone with those qualifications but, I would resent being treated as any less of an agent simply because I do not have them.

Consequently, I would echo Mr Maas's appeal to ALL accountingWEB members "not to help HMRC’s vision of the categorisation of agents turn into a reality."

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By AndrewV12
09th Nov 2015 12:26

Split into 4

Extract above

HMRC want to split tax agents into four categories:

Assured AgentsGood and Acceptable agentsPoor agentsUnacceptable agents

The above article is a bit light on detail on what criteria HMRC are going to use to categorise Accountants into the above. 

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By johnjenkins
09th Nov 2015 12:27

Ode to HMRC

No Income Tax, No VAT

No money left for HMRC

It's no to Agent Strategy

What's left is blatent Anarchy.

 

God bless Downing Street

where Osborne and his cronies meet

just to get away from the heat

It's revolting time. It's toungue in cheek.

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By stebo
09th Nov 2015 12:28

Assured tax status
What the point of being a member of an institute if this happens.

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By AndrewV12
09th Nov 2015 12:29

Its funny

A while ago on Accounting web there was an article on  'is it worth being fully qualified' these days, the overall  feeling was no.

 

Does the above change anything.

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By Homeworker
09th Nov 2015 12:52

Not all agents with bad clients are bad agents!

What about those of us who keep the clients who don't send in tax returns for two or three years and then decide to catch up...or who quite innocently make mistakes (I have three very honest but elderly clients who forgot to tell us about interest on some savings accounts)?

I never give up on clients unless I have to.  I have a couple who are always behind with their tax returns but I stay on board and nag them until we finally catch up.  I have pensioners who try very hard to get it right but despite my best efforts still manage to overlook information and are then "found out" by HMRC. 

I am a qualified tax adviser and a member of a professional body, who has been dealing with tax for more than 30 years.  I worked for big firms for many years but choose nowadays to work from home and have a small but loyal band of clients. Will my firm be penalised because I choose to support the "wrong" kind of clients? 

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By ringi
09th Nov 2015 12:55

Depends on the client type.

An “assured agent” that helps building trades people with Construction Tax Refunds and is assured due to keeping a copy of all the builder’s paperwork and cross checking with their bank statement resulting in quicker refunds makes complete sense.

But a client that has complex tax, needs a different service from their accountant.   So in my case as a landlord I would not be looking for an “assured agent”, but that does not stop it being of value of other client types.

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Replying to sparkler:
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By Sheepy306
09th Nov 2015 13:10

Benefits to clients

ringi wrote:

An “assured agent” that helps building trades people with Construction Tax Refunds and is assured due to keeping a copy of all the builder’s paperwork and cross checking with their bank statement resulting in quicker refunds makes complete sense.

But a client that has complex tax, needs a different service from their accountant.   So in my case as a landlord I would not be looking for an “assured agent”, but that does not stop it being of value of other client types.

But HMRC will be giving the "assured agents" (or rather their clients) the following benefits:

Priority access to HMRC helplines and expertsPrompt tax repayments for their clientsShorter enquiry windows for clients 

How would you feel if your tax repayment wasn't being released simply because HMRC have decided that your tax agent isn't good enough. Of if you, as a client, are far more likely to receive a very expensive and time consuming tax enquiry for the same reasons, or if your agent can't get a prompt answer from HMRC for the same reasons. When you start suffering financially as a result, I suspect that your views will change a little.

The "assured agents" would no doubt be advertising their superior service widely to the general public, why wouldn't they. All of a sudden KPMG and the like get a massive boost to their SME services.

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By leon0001
09th Nov 2015 13:02

Conflict of interests

It seems to me that there is a very simple question.

Am I acting for my client or for HMRC?

If assured agents are expected to do due diligence work on behalf of HMRC, then HMRC becomes a client and we have a conflict of interest. In these circumstances the agent must resign from one of the appointments and act for the other. Presumably under these proposals, an assured agent is acting for HMRC and should therefore agree appointment terms with and bill HMRC dirctly.

Any assured agents not doing so should be reported to and disciplined by their professional body.

Someone needs to explain this to HMRC, if it effectively outsource tasks which is its responsibility.

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By leon0001
09th Nov 2015 13:06

Independent regulator?

Of course, if HMRC wishes to categorise agents and apply different standards of service or credibility to their respective clients then the categorisation must be performed by a regulator independent of HMRC.

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By taxbakbristol
09th Nov 2015 13:13

How long will HMRC survive?

HMRC are in meltdown ! They cannot do the simplest things either at all or badly late or not at all!

This is a trick illusionists use to do magic tricks - hope that we arfe so distracted that we  will not lobby parliament to declare HMRC unfit and out of date .......Keep writing to your MPs and tell them what really happening to our once proud ad efficient tax gatherers!

They make the rules where it matters - not HMRC!

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By hallsi
09th Nov 2015 13:55

My concern is that when insurers get wind of this new categorisation, there will be another tick on the PII renewal form.  Any firm with less than assured status will see a big hike in premiums because the insurer perceives an increased risk based on HMRC's slanted review of the agent.  If your firm falls into Poor Agent or below, what then, no PII cover?

Perhaps, HMRC should turn this on his head and classify tax payers instead.  There are only two types:

- represented

- unrepresented (which includes those represented by an agent who is not a member of a recognised regulatory body, does not hold a practising licence, does not have PII, does not do CPD, etc)

Surely this would be far simpler.  As has been said by the many already, the professional bodies already have the regulatory framework in place to deal with rogue and dishonest agents so why is HMRC re-inventing the wheel?

Rather than expecting agents to do more of their work for them and using a 'trust status' to enable this, why not instead simplify the tax system, taking more people out of SA, to reduce HMRC's workload?

There has to be another way.

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Jennifer Adams
By Jennifer Adams
09th Nov 2015 14:09

HMRC have given detail ...

... at their WT introductory event on 24 September.

I reported on this at the time under my blog here:

https://www.accountingweb.co.uk/blog-post/hmrc-deal-only-good-agents

The subject heading was– “what the Agents Strategy is seeking to achieve, how HMRC are seeking to implement it and where they are up to.”

As I reported: "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”.

I gave my thoughts on the issue at the end of the blog thus:

The content of this “Talking Points” session is very worrying. It is surely not HMRC’s remit to be judge and jury

What was most worrying was that at such an important event which gave HMRC's intentions in graphic detail - there were only 78 attendees of which 40 were not members of any of the main 4 accounting bodies.

If you want to make your feelings known one of the first places to start is by showing your interest at such online sessions.

Jennifer Adams

Associate Editor Accweb

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By johnjenkins
09th Nov 2015 14:23

So the

Tax Payers Charter that says all should be treated the same is now officially defunct.

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By Homeworker
09th Nov 2015 14:36

Hands up

OK then.  Hands up all those of us nearing retirement age who will say "I've had enough of this nonsense - I'll retire now".  I can't be the only tax adviser happy to look after lots of pensioners and very small clients who will then be forced to find larger firms, charging larger fees without necessarily offering a better service.

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