Market leading insight for tax experts
View online issue

Tax advisers should not be agents of the state

printer Mail
Clients engage tax advisers for different reasons. Some, fewer than you might imagine, want to find out how to pay as little tax as possible; others want advice on what to do in specific circumstances, such as a divorce or company sale. The vast majority, though, simply want somebody who can guide them through the complexities of the system and keep them out of trouble with HMRC. 
They all have one thing in common. They pay an adviser to act on their behalf. They don’t expect that their adviser will be acting on behalf of HMRC. Yet advisers are now going to be required by law to inform their clients, by individual letter or email, about the dangers of not declaring offshore income or gains using wording specified by HMRC. I can well imagine that some clients will be indignant that their adviser has spent time and money passing on what will be seen as HMRC propaganda.
Now I am not saying that the role of the adviser is to be antagonistic to HMRC. Far from it. In most cases, it will be in the client’s interest for the adviser to work cooperatively with HMRC to resolve problems. Similarly, I have no issue with warning clients about the importance of ensuring that all income and gains are reported. Indeed, I would be derelict in my duty if I did not do so. 
There is, though, a world of difference between that and me being forced to pass on messages from HMRC. If HMRC wants particular messages to be conveyed to taxpayers, then it should do so directly.
You may think I am making a fuss about this. After all, what is wrong with reinforcing the message about the need to declare offshore income? But where does it stop? Agents are not creatures of the state; nor are they neutral intermediaries between the client and HMRC. The role of the agent is to act in the best interest of his or her client.
He who pays the piper calls the tune.