HMRC have published a consultation document "Establishing the future relationship between the tax agent community and HM Revenue & Customs", for which the closing date for comments is 16 September 2011.
For those who are agents, and for those who use agents (sadly HMRC use the "C" word in the document), it is an important document; as the outcome will define (as it says on the tin) "the future relationship between the tax agent community and HMRC".
HMRC (page 6) note that tax agents "play a vital role in the delivery of the tax system which could not function effectively without them"; and HMRC, to their credit, identify that there are problems with the current "relationship":
"HMRC should provide a service for agents… which should aim to be less costly and time consuming than the current service allows; this service should be simple, easy to use and place control in the hands of those using it."
"For others, there is dissatisfaction with the quality of service for some of their basic transactional needs which add to client and HMRC costs: this can lead to non-chargeable time, or more seriously can damage the agent/client relationship."
However, there is one rather large element within the document that may cause some concern within the agent community. HMRC propose a system of agent enrolment with HMRC, thus giving "enrolled" agents access to (for want of a better word) "premium" HMRC services.
Fair enough, maybe, although an argument could be made that "premium" services are what HMRC should be providing now anyway.
However, notwithstanding that "minor" criticism, HMRC (page 10) note "as only HMRC holds data on how tax agents and their clients comply with tax obligations, it is for HMRC to monitor performance of this using risk based principles. Where shortcomings are identified, the first step will always be for HMRC to discuss those with the agent direct to determine whether a problem does exist, and what might be done to remedy it."
Could this be HMRC suggesting (albeit in a round about way) that it wants to "police" tax agents, and possibly act as a regulatory authority that can remove an agent's authority to act as an agent?
HMRC (page 28) try to assuage fears that they are seeking to become a regulatory body:
"HMRC believes that structured self governance of the tax agent market is the correct model for a future relationship."
In this context, in order to see the "bigger picture", I suggest that you read an article I wrote in February 2010 about the legal definition of tax adviser/agent.
However, irrespective of what I say, it is for the agents to judge where this may lead and for them to provide feedback on this consultation.
Tax does have to be taxing.
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