Benneyworth wins prize for agent work

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John Stokdyk
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AccountingWEB tax editor Rebecca Benneyworth has been given an “external engagement” award by HMRC for her work on this year’s agent strategy consultation exercise.

Last week, she was at 11 Downing Street to receive the award from Treasury secretary David Gauke, HMRC permanent secretary Dave Hartnett (both pictured above in the centre, with Rebecca to the left of the dark-haired Gauke). Three other individuals were also honoured:

  • Sarah Gillett (second from right above), UK ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein, for her efforts to to increase tax transparency for UK taxpayers, including the recent tax agreement.
  • Paddy Millard (far right), retired chief executive officer of Tax Help for Older People (TOP), for advising HMRC on issues affecting taxpayers with low incomes, particularly around security and disclosure constraints.
  • Mike Sufrin (left), retired director of tax at Rolls Royce, for his help in improving clarity and customer focus through the Large Business Transformation programme.

As both the deputy chair of the ICAEW Tax Faculty and tax editor of, Benneyworth put in huge amounts of time and effort to communicate the key points of HMRC’s controversial agent strategy discussion paper during the summer.

She convened an Agent Strategy discussion group on AccountingWEB to talk about the separate issues in more detail and put many of them to HMRC chairman Mike Clasper at a meeting in Leeds during June. She also took part in a series of Tax Faculty round-table meetings.

At one point, several AccountingWEB members urged non-coooperation with the consultation exercise and some of them took potshots at Rebecca for adopting a more constructive stance. A subsequent online poll showed that a majority of AccountingWEB members wanted to take part in the consultation. At the end of the exercise, Rebecca submitted a summary of the community’s views to HMRC.

The HMRC External Engagement awards are given out annually and selected by a panel of HMRC officials along with independent advisers John Whiting (CIOT/OTS), Francesca Lagerberg (Grant Thornton) and Mike Truman (Taxation magazine).

At the award ceremony last week, David Gauke, Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury, said: “These awards show there are some excellent working practices between HMRC and taxpayers. Making the tax system simple and transparent is vitally important."

Hartnett added: “HMRC has recognised that we cannot improve the tax system all by ourselves. We need the help of individuals and organisations in the tax profession and voluntary community to help us. These new awards recognise their efforts and the vital part they play in making the tax system better.”


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22nd Nov 2011 11:56

good thing too

having to put up with all our nonsense and make sense of it, GOLD MEDAL

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22nd Nov 2011 12:07

Feather in all our caps

Seconded, carnmores.

Rebecca put in all the hard work on the Agent Strategy and fully merits the recognition from HMRC. But I also take great heart that her role with our community (and the Tax Faculty) put her in such a good position to act as a go between. In the years that she's been involved with AccountingWEB, Rebecca has really raised the site's profile and credibility across the tax world - and at HMRC HQ in particular.

We know that officials there pay very close attention to the discussions and complaints on the site, and it's to Rebecca's credit that she has always tried to harness the often cantankerous views raised to a constructive purpose. She played a key role in setting our our electronic branch of the Working Together process and the Agent Strategy effort was a logical step.

Now that the Agent consultation is over, we'll have to see what elements HMRC plans to implement and whether it will deliver the promised benefits for advisers as well as the department. We're sure AccountingWEB members will have lots to say when that happens, but until then I'd like to thank HMRC for recognising Rebecca's efforts in this way, and to offer her our congratulations too.

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22nd Nov 2011 12:17

John are you making an extra special effort

for Movember ?



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to mwngiol
24th Nov 2011 12:06

Find out more about Movember here...

@carnmores - see our Movember progress report. I can't claim to be doing much more than usual, unlike some of my colleagues who are less used to facial hair.

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23rd Nov 2011 12:23

And yet ...

to accept an honour from  the Revenue for her role in the Agent Strategy consultation could be seen, in some quarters, to be  'ill-advised'

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to mwngiol
23rd Nov 2011 16:37

Well deserved in my opinion !

chicken farmer wrote:

to accept an honour from  the Revenue for her role in the Agent Strategy consultation could be seen, in some quarters, to be  'ill-advised'

And why would that be ? Butting heads is never efficient conflict resolution but constructive argument is !!


Well done Rebecca

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to tom123
24th Nov 2011 23:05

Enagagement with HMRC doesn't work

The Black Knight wrote:

chicken farmer wrote:

to accept an honour from  the Revenue for her role in the Agent Strategy consultation could be seen, in some quarters, to be  'ill-advised'

And why would that be ? Butting heads is never efficient conflict resolution but constructive argument is !!


Well done Rebecca


The idea of constructive argument with HMRC is quite funny. Carry on with such comments and you'll get an HMRC award too.


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By chatman
23rd Nov 2011 14:20

Well deserved Rebecca.

Well deserved Rebecca, especially having recently gone through cancer, and all the treatment.

What exactly did Sarah Gillett do?

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25th Nov 2011 11:52

Day off and a Pension

I hope so....more power and influence....I am ready to be corrupted ! LOL


HMRC are hard work I agree and rarely listen at all. but.....

If you don't try and shape these things, then you do not have the right to complain.....

If you disagree with Rebecca then do something yourself.....

Perhaps you can clarify

Should she not engage ? or not have accepted the award graciously ? or not have accepted the award with a sex[***] pistols type two finger salute ?


If HMRC are undermining her position on purpose are you also adding to that ? You are not revenue are you by chance ?

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25th Nov 2011 14:41


Usually HMRC have already decided as fact what they are to conclude, they just use the engagement process and the professional bodies engagement with them to obtain “credibility” for those preconceived conclusions (also adds to their authority), thereby permitting them to claim the outcome of the “process” has “truth and meaning”. To knowingly continue with a one sided process, for a year or two, is commendable but to continue for all these years (the problem existed before HMRC came into being) with ever worsening levels of service is, to put it politely, illogical; taking the definition of “reasonable” to ever increasing levels of farce. It has been said time and again, and is true, if HMRC were a business it would be bust and the management given the boot.

It would be far better if the professional bodies avoided respecting and giving authority to HMRC’s lop sided management and processes, instead directly lobbying MP’s/government/the Public/Press with hard facts to prove that HMRC isn’t working, that the prospects are for an ever worsening service and increased cost, that its management/the Treasury are to blame, prove that there is a better and more cost effective way and offer help to achieve it.

However, I don’t see the motivation within the leadership of professional bodies and, with Government even ruling out scrapping NI and therefore removing prospects of material change, don’t see any hope of improvement. I think the conclusions of the public accounts committee will be ignored.

I certainly do not work for HMRC and I would not accept any award from HMRC, as the organisation exists today. In principle because I would not like to be labelled along with the agents who’s ethical bias undermine their logic and reasoning, to the extent that they appear to be working for HMRC rather than clients who invariably wish to take all proportionate steps in legally avoiding incurring unnecessary taxes… a legal duty that many agents ignore.


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to Portia Nina Levin
25th Nov 2011 15:20

NI ?

Not to sure what NI has to do with working with Agents ?

and I agree our professional bodies should support us rather than cow tow at every opportunity. I am not really sure what we pay our subscriptions for anymore.

Unfortunately those that represent us have no idea of the issues.....unlike Rebecca

Trevor Scott wrote:

I certainly do not work for HMRC and I would not accept any award from HMRC, as the organisation exists today. In principle because I would not like to be labelled along with the agents who’s ethical bias undermine their logic and reasoning, to the extent that they appear to be working for HMRC rather than clients who invariably wish to take all proportionate steps in legally avoiding incurring unnecessary taxes… a legal duty that many agents ignore.

Some Agents take more than proportionate steps in evading any taxes and clearly there are serious problems which we see on a day to day basis.

There is a civil remedy to bad advice.

Ethical bias.....? you make ethics sound like a dirty word !

Legal duty to avoid taxes....where ? I am aware there is no obligation for a tax payer to arrange his affairs so that HMRC can take the largest amount.



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25th Nov 2011 17:31

There is a duty ...

...... to act in the best interests of the client. This includes advising how to legally avoid incurring unnecessary taxes.

To arrive at good advice ethics/morality not clearly stated within existing law have to be kept separate from the facts/pure logic/reasoning necessary to arrive at a truth that is actually true, even if the result appears mercenary. Only after that truth is reached can it have the truth/worth to be advised along with moral/ethical/practical considerations to form the entire balanced advice.

Those agents who corrupt the truth of any advice (deliberately/accidentally) with ethical/moral considerations not in existing law (or personal considerations), should in my opinion, be hung, drawn and quartered. Many HMRC Officers misinterpret the law ad nauseam and so I’d like to see them (and bosses) go too.  

The standard in civil law, that of a reasonable accountant, is a poor standard because it is open to such wide interpretation and manipulation.


The subject of scrapping NI is an issue that agents have been calling for years, yet the refusal to scrap it is I believe demonstration that they don’t want to simplify the tax system.

Flogging a dead horse is, apart from being illogical, pointless. I would comment further about persons involved in “engagement” with HMRC, and their activities, but I do not wish to make remarks that could be seen as personal.


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28th Nov 2011 10:14

Back on track

We seem to be drifting away from the original subject.


My point was that if any representative of a professional body receives an award from the Revenue for his or her role in a consultation exercise, some may perceive a lack of independence. If the representative's contribution is to be acknowledged in any way, it should be by his or her professional body.

The professional bodies have not handled this issue well at all. Prior to the issue of the consultation document they held 'secret' meetings with the Revenue. Although all vehemently denied that any deals had been done, no one has ever explained what took place or how the bodies managed to influence the final version of the document. There are now further meetings taking place prior to the publication of the reponses to the consultation and the Revenue's revised proposals. The Agent Strategy will fundamentally impact on how members' practices and they have a right to know what is going on behind closed doors.

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28th Nov 2011 10:50

I Beg to differ

Whilst accepting your point about perceived independence .... I feel Rebecca has tried to represent us where our professional bodies have in my opinion failed they have done with most issues (e.g. money laundering).......who cares about the silly award or who it is from at least the revenue have taken notice (might not have changed much but they have acknowledged we are there)...Rebecca deserves recognition for her hard work and the use of her good name in tax and I for one am pleased for her.

If we do not stand up and be counted for ourselves and our clients...then who knows what is next...... we will soon have a not tax but a huge penalties system....we are already seeing penalties larger than our fees and the tax bill on PAYE and shortly on other taxes.

Moving on from the pettiness...should we engage with the revenue in the hope that they too would like a reasonable solution and could be convinced that there are some accountants that advise their clients correctly and play an effective role in society or accept that the battle is lost ?

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28th Nov 2011 11:02

well in precis

there is nothing wrong with constructive dialogue with HMRC, far from it

the professional bodies care more about 'themselves' than their members

if you feel that i am correct, then either resign fom your institute and or do something constructive

without wonderful people like Rebecca we would likely be up a creek without a paddle


tell me why i dont like ...................

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28th Nov 2011 15:19

Dialogue with any reasonably acting tax collecting agency is OK

I don’t think those issues are petty, it is just that for years HMRC USED the professional bodies engagement in dialogue to justify their own actions, the result being an appalling state of affairs. Since it didn’t and doesn’t work, I see it as illogical/counterproductive to continue “working together” with HMRC. The union for HMRC employees figured that one out, recommending they don’t fill in their staff surveys.

Like the masters of the Euro, the masters of HMRC are hell bent on going down tracks that lead to disaster and won’t listen to anyone.  


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28th Nov 2011 21:10

promoting change

Although not publicised, in his speech Dave Hartnett did recognise my contribution to the editorial side of AccountingWEB and other publications that I often write for, in addition to my practical contributions on a voluntary basis. One of my surprises in meeting senior HMRC people after taking a more active role in A/Web is that their first comment was "Oh I have heard about you, and read what you write", at which I might cringe. But many said - and Dave re-iterated - "you support us when we are right and give us a good telling off when we are wrong. Your criticism is welcome because it is always fair". For me as a practitioner, but in reality as an all round busy body in the world of tax, that is what I am proud of. My work on the agent strategy (from which I "retired hurt" at one point) was part of this, but I command the right and will always follow it to criticise where criticism is due, and recognise good practice and success where appropriate. I take no prisoners and don't show fear or favour, as those many of you who have met me will know.

In all I am absolutely passionate about the tax system and its success. It is something which we all (as citizens and taxpayers) need, and it is something which we as professionals can support. It is the basis of a civilised society, and we all have something to offer. I volunteer for various organisations, and am most passionate about educating young people about the social contract that is the tax system. If they understand and engage - if they believe that paying tax is the right thing to do (rather than being clever if they dodge tax) then we are on our way to a better world. If HMRC don't have our understanding and insight, what is the problem with those who have the time and the knowledge sharing it for the greater good?

I am currently researching a thesis on "The design of a tax system for an ageing population" and am engaged on various angles in the tax world. I really believe that I can help, and thanks to all who recognise that. Please do join me!!

For Trevor - do find out what the professional bodies are doing about service standards. You obviously know quite a bit about what goes on behind the scenes, but obviously also do not believe that some things are better done outside the glare of publicity. Please do find out what your body is doing in the engagement on service issues - there is a major programme of very intensive work going on, in which HMRC are involved at the very highest level, and on a scale like never before. If you can't find out look at the Tax Faculty of the ICAEW which posts a weekly update. All of the bodies are involved and pushing very hard on this. Please volunteer so that you can get involved and promote change actively rather than from the sidelines.

Thanks all, very much, and as I said in my acceptance remarks "I'm not done yet!!"

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28th Nov 2011 23:21

You’ll never convince me that engagement would work with…

… the very management who, for years, have been destroying the tax system.


If we were just talking about a short period of time then issues could be worked through, but we're talking about year after year of senior management deliberately planning, organising, controlling and taking a lead on various half-baked ideas that even their own management/employees told them could not work. The response was to remove any dissent and produce management reports without much basis in reality; the methods publically described by their own junior management/employees are as organised bullying and intimidation. This has fed through to the extent that it is offcially the worst department in the Civil Service.


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29th Nov 2011 09:42

Surveys and modern management


It's not just HMRC this seems to be the way of the world, whether it be a survey by a large corporate, HMRC or our professional bodies... they surveys are always designed to give the answer they had planned for.....any dissenting view is trampled on, by using the word terrorist and open debate stifled. (the nodding dogs keep nodding though)

The process resembles some third world election, and it does make you not want to endorse the process because that is what they want....however there are enough nodding dogs to complete the process or some extra survey forms (ballot papers) can be completed with the correct answers.

Every change in the law no matter how ridiculous has been seen as a silver lining and an opportunity to launch a new service or reason for being... and so much so that I am sure government actually believes this creates more jobs and helps the economy...when in reality it is just dragging us down.

Change will happen, even the middle classes are beginning to notice and grumble.

Trevor......Run for council It's the dissenting view that is needed for open debate not more nodding party dogs.

Government... well I just can't believe they think it all comes down to roads....Could no one really see that investment needs to be made in manufacturing and producing a secure climate to ensure we are competitive... lower taxes.. certainly on manufacturing jobs to start with....If Europe don't like it...tell them to get knotted........there is plenty of money out there in domestic tax evasion to pay for this that no one seems that concerned about.

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30th Nov 2011 11:48

Thank you Rebecca

I am pleased that you have been recognised for the work you do - as someone without a professional body you provided me with the impetus to consider matters properly and a way to debate and then submit my thoughts on the implications.

Whilst the topic may have proved emotional along the way at least it showed that there are many of us who are there out of determination to make matters right!! and not just in the technical sense.

We need more volunteers to help the taxpayers who cannot afford help, to put HMRC right irrespective of potential consequences. I have always seen my duty to be to make full use of the system to my client's benefit and have never hesitated to tell HMRC when something has not been satisfactory. Equally I have always been the first to tell them when something was wrong in their favour too. Over the years I have made many friends and strangely enough no enemies.

Trevor - I do not usually debate politics and do not want to spoil Rebecca's moment but I am very sad that you do not see that engagement is the only option. Black Knight is right - you need to compaign from within as with your articulation and confidence you can insist on being heard where others need a voice to follow.  I believed in the sixties that we mattered and we could change our world and I still do.We may nt always achieve our targets but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try.

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