As an independent tax specialist, I do a fair bit of work consulting for firms of accountants and lawyers. The reason I have been able to develop this business is that these firms recognise that they don’t have the level of expertise in my fields that I have – and it is not economical for them to develop that level of expertise. Indeed, their client base may dictate that they don’t really need such expertise on a full time basis. And that’s exactly where I come in.

It is probably no wonder, therefore, that I seem to spend quite a bit of time looking at websites of accountants and lawyers, just to see what services they offer and whether they might be interested in my expertise. In the course of this research, I have come to the conclusion that some firms claim to have expertise that they don’t really have. Why do I make that claim? How do I know they don’t really have that expertise? Well, quite simply, if they really did have the claimed level of expertise, their websites would not contain the obvious technical errors that so many seem to have. I viewed one website the other day and in two adjacent paragraphs I counted four fundamental technical errors. Let’s be clear, anyone with a good knowledge of the relevant legislation would not have made those errors.

OK, so the websites will almost certainly contain a suitable disclaimer to make sure that no one can sue the firm if they act on the incorrect information but the fact is that it is not very professional and it does not create a very good impression.

Another thought that occurs to me: what would the firm’s PI insurer say if the firm was subject to a claim in respect of ‘specialist’ services provided in an area where the firm didn’t really have that expertise? Indeed, I wonder what the relevant professional bodies think of their members providing services that they don’t actually have the requisite expertise to provide properly.

We’re always hearing about how complex the UK’s tax system is, so why do some advisers seem to feel that they can adequately advise on all aspects of it? Compare this with the medical profession. GPs will see patients with a wide variety of ailments and will provide whatever advice or treatment they can. However, they will readily refer their patients to a specialist whenever more focused expertise is required.

The reality is that tax in the UK is increasingly specialised. We may be able to develop a good overall knowledge of many (if not all) parts of it but it is difficult to argue that we are ‘expert’ in more than a few areas. So why is it that so many advisers seem reluctant to use specialists in these areas?

I am sometimes asked to propose for work outside my areas of expertise – usually as a result of an existing relationship. I am happy to offer general advice but have always declined to accept the opportunity to pitch for more detailed work and usually try to refer the contact to someone more appropriate. I would rather focus on work that I know I have the professional expertise to deliver.