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Tax avoidance: ICAEW helpsheet reminds members to consider public interest

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The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales has published a helpsheet to remind its members of ‘the terms of its own code of ethics and its guidance on professional conduct in relation to taxation’.

The ICAEW pointed out that the guidance is not new and is updated on a regular basis. But the helpsheet, titled Aggressive tax avoidance schemes – what you need to bear in mind, will be seen as an attempt to correct inaccuracies in some of the recent press coverage and to limit damage to the accountancy profession’s reputation. Michael Izza, ICAEW Chief Executive, said on Monday that discussions in recent weeks had made it clear that ‘the vast majority of ICAEW member firms don’t want to be involved with the [promotion of aggressive tax avoidance schemes]’.
The recent debate had been about ‘tax planning at the more, and most, aggressive end of the tax avoidance spectrum’, the ICAEW’s Tax Faculty noted.
The helpsheet says: ‘Although tax avoidance may be legal, whether something is within the law isn’t the only thing that matters. You are under a duty to take into consideration the public interest and at all times to comply with ICAEW’s code of ethics. This includes the requirements to uphold the reputation of the profession and do nothing to bring it into disrepute.’
The public interest
The ICAEW guidance reminds members they are still obliged to comply with the ICAEW’s regulations and code of ethics when a third party promotes a tax scheme to a client. The code of ethics makes clear, the institute says, ‘that members and firms have a responsibility to take into consideration the public interest and to maintain the reputation of the accountancy profession’.
The code itself says at paragraph 100: ‘Acting in the public interest involves having regard to the legitimate interests of clients, government, financial institutions, employers, employees, investors, the business and financial community and others who rely upon the objectivity and integrity of the accounting profession to support the propriety and orderly functioning of commerce. This reliance imposes a public interest responsibility on the profession. Professional accountants shall take into consideration the public interest and reasonable and informed public perception in deciding whether to accept or continue with an engagement or appointment, bearing in mind that the level of the public interest will be greater in larger entities and entities which are in the public eye.’
This news story was first published on 25 July 2012