OK, I know that HMRC have always denied that they want the right to regulate tax advisers but no one really believes that, do they? Just take a look at the consultation document on “Establishing the future relationship between the tax agent community and HM Revenue & Customs” published last May. In the section “Future regulation of the tax agent profession” starting on page 28, HMRC pose questions such as:
Would it be appropriate for HMRC to seek confirmation that a tax agent firm should hold and maintain a formal qualification (through individual members of staff) before allowing them to act in relation to tax matters?
What would be an appropriate and reasonable period of time for currently unqualified tax agents to obtain a relevant tax qualification and what should the transitional arrangements be?
What action/sanctions could be applied to those who act unprofessionally other than HMRC refusing to deal with them?
The difficulty with this implied approach is that in the UK anyone can set themselves up as an accountant or a tax adviser. Membership of a professional body – or even the holding of any qualifications – is not a requirement in law.
Now, just to be absolutely clear, there are plenty of very good accountants/tax advisers who are not members of professional bodies.
Then we have Treasury minister David Gauke suggesting that professional bodies should consider striking off members who participate in aggressive tax planning. Well, firstly that is a matter for the bodies themselves and the issue will be whether the behaviour breaches any rules. More importantly, however, what will it achieve? As I’ve said already, there is no requirement for a tax adviser to be a member of a professional body.
Whilst for many of us, being seen to have a professional qualification can be a business benefit, I suspect that the purchasers of “aggressive tax planning schemes” are likely to be slightly less picky.
Anyway, do I think that all of this rhetoric means we are closer to some form of central regulation of tax advisers/accountants? No, I just think that Gauke’s comment was another example of a knee-jerk reaction.