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Regulation of tax agents ‘working well’

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A research report commissioned by HMRC on the role of professional bodies in the regulation of tax agents has concluded that the professional bodies’ self-regulation of members is ‘working well’, although there are concerns over practising agents who are not members of any professional body.

The research involved interviews with senior officials of 15 professional bodies to provide a better understanding of:

  • professional bodies’ membership requirements;
  • their role;
  • how professional bodies assess members’ adherence to agreed standards;
  • opportunities for the profession to enhance its use of regulation or other means to improve standards of tax agents; and
  • the relationship between professional bodies and HMRC and maximising the effectiveness of HMRC’s support.

The report found that, overall, the profession considers the system of self-regulation of members is working well. Even where the bodies are not supervising or reviewing members, their complaints process is thought to provide a proxy for ensuring adherence to professional standards.

Of greater concern were practising agents that are not members of any professional body. While agents working in the private or public sector are assumed to be supervised by their employer, it is currently very difficult for professional bodies to identify the most common tax errors that are being made and the types of agents making them.

The professional bodies are also keen to continue working with HMRC to maintain and enhance professional standards. While the forums work reasonably well, one aspect that limits the opportunities for discussion and decision-making is the sense that some professional bodies are less formally recognised by HMRC than others. There is also a range of practical issues, notably working more closely with HMRC on the development of policies and processes in an earlier and more efficient way that would benefit both HMRC and the profession.

Some areas on which the professional bodies are keen to work further with HMRC are:

  • HMRC’s thinking about the supervision of agents who are not currently members of a professional body;
  • earlier, greater input into the development of HMRC’s new policies, processes and systems as a means of highlighting any potential pitfalls;
  • more detailed information about the type of tax errors being made by agents;
  • greater clarity about when information provided by HMRC in the forums can be released to members;
  • longer lead times where HMRC wishes the professional bodies to send information to their members; and
  • how HMRC plans to use the memorandum of understanding it has with some of the professional bodies allowing HMRC to notify them about individual members that may not be acting professionally.

Of the fifteen bodies who participated in the research:

  • eight subscribed to the professional conduct in relation to taxation (PCRT), including the seven original owners of the guidance;
  • eleven were anti-money laundering supervisors;
  • seven had a memorandum of understanding with HMRC;
  • seven were members of the joint initiative strategy group (JISG); and
  • eight were members of the agent strategy group (ASG).

See Role of professional bodies in the regulation of tax agents,

Issue: 1445
Categories: News