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HMRC need to win hearts and minds, say tax bodies

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Leading tax bodies have called on HMRC to take deliberate steps to win the trust of tax agents, many of whom ‘cannot understand’ why HMRC are considering investing in a system to monitor agents when the department needs to focus on improving its services.

Most members of the Chartered Institute of Taxation and the Association of Taxation Technicians who responded to a recent survey felt that the department’s tax agent strategy was moving in the right direction, but ‘grave concerns’ were expressed over some of the detailed proposals.

The consultation document Establishing the future relationship between the tax agent community and HMRC showed ‘insufficient understanding of how agents work, of the various types of firms they may work for and of the problems they face in coping with a system which is creaking at the edges,’ the tax bodies said in a joint letter sent to HMRC last week.

Some 1,500 members have provided feedback so far. More than 70% seemed to be generally in favour of change, mainly because ‘they see this as a way of making up for current failings in the system’.

The tax bodies pointed to an ‘asymmetry of risks’ between HMRC and the tax profession. ‘For example, an enquiry taken by HMRC as part of a strategy to protect the tax base may put an individual tax agent’s livelihood at risk. Mistakes may be collateral damage to HMRC and insolvency to individual tax agents.’

Members indicated that they are not interested in ‘the sweetener of self-serve’ if it is part and parcel of ‘an unpalatable package which will only manifest itself at a later stage’.

‘There needs to be an independent board to police agent disenrolment and suspension from access to HMRC systems,' said Andrew Meeson, President of the ATT. ‘It needs to be clear who will have access to self-serve: many feel strongly that the unrepresented need some access. And we need reassurance over security of data within HMRC systems if these are opened up to all.’ 

HMRC's consultation closes on 16 September.