In its response to an HMRC consultation,1 the Association of Taxation Technicians (ATT) sets out a possible route for raising standards in the tax advice market and extending consumer protection.
Jeremy Coker, President of the ATT said:
“The HMRC consultation seeks evidence on the steps that might be taken to raise standards in the tax advice market and to give taxpayers more assurance that the advice they are receiving is reliable.2 We strongly support that objective. Everyone paying for tax advice needs to know that their adviser operates to high standards, is competent and up to date in their knowledge.
“In our response to the consultation, our approach has been to consider the steps which might be needed in order to establish a more effective system of oversight and which draws upon the existing role played by the various professional bodies.
“If the current consultation finds that there is a case for requiring anyone wanting to provide tax advice on a commercial basis to belong to a recognised professional body, we see it as essential that the route to that objective is properly thought through. It needs to take account of the substantial number of tax advisers who are not currently members of any professional body3 and also the significant differences between the various professional bodies whose members provide tax advice.
“In our response we outline a phased path to common professional standards which would build on the strengths of the existing professional bodies. We see that as a significantly more cost-effective and appropriate solution than the alternative of some form of statutory regulation. We think that would produce less consumer protection and be very disruptive.
“Our suggested approach recognises that it could take between five and ten years to reach the position where all tax advisers were members of a professional body. While this may seem like a long time, given that discussions of this topic have already stretched over a decade without significant results, we think that achievement of the objective within the same timeframe would be commendable.
“HMRC emphasise that the purpose of the call for evidence is to seek views on the policy design and any suitable possible alternatives, before consulting later on a specific proposal for reform.4 The ATT looks forward to taking an active part in those further consultations. I hope that our response to the call for evidence makes a helpful contribution.”
Notes for editors
1. HMRC’s Call for evidence: raising standards in the tax advice market was published on 19 March 2020. The submission deadline for responses was extended to 28 August 2020 because of the pandemic. The ATT response to the call for evidence can be found here.
2. The call for evidence is part of the government’s response to the Independent Loan Charge Review which was published in December 2019.
That review recommended (in section 8.17) that:
The government must improve the market in tax advice and tackle the people who continue to promote the use of loan schemes, including by clarifying how taxpayers can challenge promoters and advisers that may be misselling loan schemes. The government should publish a new strategy within 6 months, addressing how the government will establish a more effective system of oversight, which may include formal regulation, for tax advisers.
In its response (in section 2.49), the government said:
Furthermore, the Government will consider carefully the wider implications of the Review for the market for tax advice. The Government will launch a call for evidence on what steps it can take to raise standards in this market to give taxpayers more assurance that the advice they are receiving is reliable.
3. HMRC believe that about one third of the agents which it deals with are not affiliated to any professional body.
4. See page 38 of HMRC’s Call for evidence.