Around thirty tax and accounting practices are taking part in an initiative recommended by the House of Commons Treasury Select Committee (TSC) designed to improve HMRC’s service standards.

HMRC staff from all levels will use the visits to not only see things from the perspective of tax agents and get a better idea how the tax system could work by engaging with agents.

The initiative involves the ICAEW, ICAS, ACCA, CIOT, AAT and ATT, together with tax charities who have all met with HMRC's Chairman Mike Clasper on 7 September. They  issued a joint statement with HMRC announcing a joint programme of work. 

Both Paul Aplin (of the ICAEW tax faculty) and Anthony Thomas (president of the CIOT) have already hosted visits to their firms. 

Mike Clasper is no stranger to tax agents’ problems, however, previous attempts by the ICAEW to engage him and his board seem to have done little good. This time it is hoped that things will go very differently. 

As Paul Aplin says: 

"This is in direct response to a recommendation by the TSC, so it has political interest and visibility.

  • The minister is aware of it.
  • It has buy-in not from one or two individuals in HMRC but from the Chairman and the Board (who immediately set up a project team to run with it).
  • Around thirty practices are taking part in the first phase of visits, which will generate a significant volume of (irrefutable) evidence of the problems we all know exist – the feedback from other firms hosting visits has been encouraging (but the proof of the pudding will be in delivery).

For all these reasons I think it is the best chance we have had and I want to give it our best shot. That is the view the other professional bodies take too – it is not just the ICAEW."

So, there we have it. Its a case of wait and see what happens.

Editorial comment

The TSC has started the ball rolling, it seems. This comes out of its investigaton into the Adminstration and Effectiveness of HMRC. Whether MPs manage to join up their findings cross-committee is another matter as consideration of HMRC's lack of accountability to Parliament is moving on two fronts. In recent evidence published by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) HMRC's Permanent Secretary Dave Hartnett has been using "taxpayer confidentiality" as a key reason why HMRC's top brass should not have some form of non-executive scrutineers. Many tax agents would like to see more influence by tax agents on HMRC.

Given the importance of the work of HMRC it is hoped that at last MPs will see the importance of the role of tax agents and keep up the pressure for top-down reform at HMRC.