Rebecca Benneyworth described it as the biggest thing to hit the profession in a generation, and already the HMRC Agent Strategy consultation launched on Tuesday (31 May) is causing waves.
Already AccountingWEB’s introductory article has attracted nearly 100 comments - most of them in a spirit of constructive engagement - and the debate has moved on to consider some of the proposals in more detail in a new HMRC Agent Strategy discussion group.
“The best hope we have of making the reforms work is to respond wholeheartedly to this consultation, by telling HMRC firmly what won't work, and pushing it towards acknowledging where it can improve its own service levels,” commented AccountingWEB.co.uk’s tax editor, who has been liaising closely with professional bodies and HMRC itself around the consultation.
As HMRC explains it, the new strategy will be based on two main strands:
- Self-serve - providing an array of online services, for which professional tax agents will need to enrol to protect against fraud and set them apart from those who provide informal help for friends and family. This online transaction system will allow HMRC to place more control in the hands of enrolled agents, it said.
- Agent engagement - HMRC will build up an online “agent view” that compiles details of the agent and their client portfolio. In HMRC-speak, this will help the tax department “target and tailor” support services and, where necessary, identify poor practice.
All of the main professional bodies were consulted before publication of the Agent Strategy document, and Anthony Thomas of the CIOT got in some of his retailiation first during his inaugural speech on 19 May, when he warned about the deterioration of trust between advisers and HMRC.
The CIOT, ICAS and the ICAEW Tax Faculty gave a qualified welcome to the strategy document, But Thomas reiterated two “red lines” laid out in his 26 May speech beyond which his institute would not budge.
“Any attempt to introduce obligations between tax agents and HMRC which impinge on agents’ relationships with their clients would be completely unacceptable. I welcome HMRC’s statement in the consultation paper that they are not seeking to change this. We will hold them to this," he said.
“Secondly, any system of enrolment, and inevitably disenrolment, of tax agents must be overseen by an independent body. While we are very much with HMRC on wanting to get the highest standards among tax professionals, HMRC cannot be permitted to be prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner when someone’s livelihood is potentially at stake.”
Discussion group- issues raised by AccountingWEB members