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speakers at FAB 2024
Joanne Birtwistle_FAB24

Five-year lead-in if mandatory membership decided

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If mandatory membership of a professional body – the lead option in the consultation on raising standards in the tax profession – comes to fruition, it will be transitioned over a five-year period, HMRC told the audience at FAB. 

14th Mar 2024
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“We recognise that becoming affiliated isn’t something that can happen overnight,” said Rob Jones, director of intermediaries at HMRC, speaking at another packed panel session at the Festival of Accounting & Bookkeeping at Birmingham’s NEC.

Reassuring the audience that there would be a transition period, he said: “We absolutely don’t want to water down or drive out from the market very competent, very professional, very dedicated tax practitioners. So we are thinking in terms of five years.”

Paul Aplin urged anyone who works in tax to read the consultation paper on enhancing tax practitioner standards and services, saying, “It is going to change your life.” Fellow panellist Rebecca Benneyworth was in agreement.

Three options on the table

The panel discussed the three options presented in the consultation paper, including mandatory membership of a professional body, a hybrid model and a new government regulator.

In the hybrid model, it is suggested that the professional bodies would police their own communities to maintain standards, with HMRC looking after those who are in the tax advice market, but who don’t belong to a professional body.

But Aplin immediately saw that approach as problematic. He said: “Would that put HMRC in a position of being judge and jury? Can HMRC actually police the tax system as a whole and one particular section of the community? That looks like a non-runner.”

The third option is an entirely new tax advice market regulator. 

“I’m not a huge fan of more and more regulation because I don’t think it necessarily produces better and better results. I think it can get in the way of producing better results,” said Aplin. 

Mandatory membership impact

With one-third of the accounting profession not currently a member of a professional body, mandatory membership would have a huge impact.

Aplin’s position is clear: “I think if anyone’s qualified by experience, they should be able to pass an exam to prove it.”

He added: “The one thing we can’t hide behind is the idea that all of the bad work is in one section of the market. It isn’t, and we all know that from experience. So this is an opportunity to face up to it and to try to raise standards for clients, which I think is what we’re all in business to do.”

But one member of the audience said that a compulsory licence scheme hits those advisers who are compliant “for the sake of HMRC’s unwillingness or inability to nail the people who are not doing the job honestly” and that it unfairly places the cost and the burden on the compliant, rather than HMRC targeting the non-compliant.

All up for discussion

Jones told the audience that while mandatory membership was the “lead option” the point of the 12-week consultation was to seek views and advice – as well as to look at other options that were not yet in the scope of the document.

“We have proposed a particular scope,” said Jones. “And we’ve been quite cautious, I think, in our immediate target. But if we are being too cautious, you come back and push us back. 

“Voices from outside that understand how the system works and how it impacts on practitioners and on our customers, that is really important to us. 

“If one of the main targets of what we’re trying to do is reducing harm caused within the tax practitioner market, then tell us what that is and if the scope is wrong. It’s not set in stone in the consultation. Part of the point of the consultation is to test it.”

Benneyworth impressed on the audience the importance of engaging with the consultation, either through their professional body or directly.

“I think this is really grasping the nettle. And I think it’s absolutely essential.”

She added: “It is essential that you not only engage but give it a bit of time. Really think about it, think about how this is all going to affect you and your clients and other taxpayers.”

Replies (56)

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By Ian McTernan CTA
18th Mar 2024 09:29

I'd rather see HMRC launch a massive training program for it's own staff (including time off to study) so that the general quality is brought up, and have staff specialise in various areas so when a taxpayer raises a query they get a good, technical response that is correct.

Also, they need specialists available by phone to agents in all specialisms: this would massively speed up case resolution and clear complex queries.

And re open local offices so taxpayers have a point of contact.

After they get fit for purpose, let's revisist this question of looking at agents in say, 10-15 years when they have their own house in order.

Thanks (3)
Replying to Ian McTernan CTA:
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By johnjenkins
18th Mar 2024 09:38

So what you are saying is "let's get back to normality"? There is obviously a program that someone has set for HMRC and they don't seem to be budging from it no matter how bad things get.

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Replying to Ian McTernan CTA:
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By Rob Swan
18th Mar 2024 11:02

They're going in the other direction:
Civil Service College - closed!
Fast Track (Civil Service entry for high flyers) - applications down about 60%!

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Mark Lee headshot 2023
By Mark Lee
23rd Mar 2024 20:05

NOT the solutions:
Exams for all - as not everyone is able to pass exams however good, experienced and ethical they have been in practice

Grandfathering - it is inconceivable that any professional body would open it's doors to unqualifieds to sit alongside those who have passed exams

HMRC regulating - NON-STARTER for the many reasons which have been given many times.

A super regulator - NON-STARTER for many reasons including that it would take even longer than 5 years to get that up and running and would duplicate much of what the professional bodies already do

Affiliated status with professional bodies - NON-STARTER as members would NEVER allow their body to confuse the public by allowing unqualified advisers to claim any form of affiliation or supervision. Hard to imagine any of the bodies expressing a willing ness to do this either.

In my response to the con doc I will be proposing a 4th option that is already being developed and which would tick allof HMRC's boxes without any of the problems with the 3 solutions set out in this latest Con Doc.

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Replying to bookmarklee:
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By johnjenkins
24th Mar 2024 10:36

"In my response to the con doc I will be proposing a 4th option that is already being developed and which would tick all of HMRC's boxes without any of the problems with the 3 solutions set out in this latest Con Doc."
Mark, you and HMRC don't get the point. THERE DOESN'T NEED TO BE ANY MORE REGULATION THAN THERE IS ALREADY. You cannot stop a dodgy Accountant doing a tax return and submitting it under the tax payers credentials.

Thanks (1)
Replying to bookmarklee:
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By Rob Swan
24th Mar 2024 10:52

As johnjenkins says....
The dodgy ones will always be dodgy and regulation has already proven its ineffectiveness.

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