It took a top-flight lawyer to tell the tax profession what they didn’t want to hear: That we are out of touch with the general public on matters of tax avoidance.
Des Hudson, former Chief Executive of the Law Society and current chairman of the Taxation Disciplinary Board argued that there is a disconnect between the tax profession and what society demands on tax behaviour. To bridge this gap the tax profession must reconnect with society as a whole.
Des Hudson, said that tax professionals should no longer ensure that clients pay all of the taxes that the law requires. Saying that by ‘not paying a penny more’ or assisting them to pay as little tax as possible is no longer socially acceptable.
It is argued in many corners that if organisations and individuals are seen to be avoiding tax, even through legal means, then this is wrong. And some go on to say that society’s expectations of the tax professional now goes beyond telling clients what the law allows, and arguing if you don’t like what the law allows then change the law.
The world of tax advice is completely different to that perceived by the public who seem to believe that every case in the media is a clear case of tax evasion (the illegal abuse of the tax system) as opposed to tax avoidance (using legal loopholes to reduce your tax burden).
What is very clear though is that there is a bigger stumbling block to tackle in our profession. Use of the words ‘accountant’ and “tax profession” is not regulated; anyone is free to call themselves a tax adviser and is accepted by HMRC to provide tax services. This needs to be addressed and those of us providing services to individuals and corporates should be held accountable for our advice.
If the Government wants to alter the way the professional bodies act they should consider whether tax should become a protected profession, with statutory rules on who can provide tax services. Des Hudson accepted that restricting who can provide tax services, such that those practitioners are subject to the professional bodies’ ethical code and rule book, is in the public interest.
Another view from the floor was that the profession should fight back and argue against the positions put forward by some of the so-called representatives of “civil society”, that the UK would be in a horrible position if tax legislation was applied in the way those representatives want. Des Hudson said it was too soon to do this, as informed public opinion is currently against tax avoidance.
What do you think? Should we be concerned with the opinions of the vocal section of society who hate the bankers, as they have nil understand of the difference between tax planning v. tax avoidance v. tax evasion?