Like many members, I was frustrated by Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell’s remarks in the Evening Standard last week. As you can read in this morning’s City A.M, I don’t believe there is any need for a ‘Hippocratic Oath’ for accountants. Chartered accountants already have a professional duty to ensure that taxpayers – individuals, companies and others – pay the right amount of tax due under the law. They also have a public interest duty to ensure that taxpayers are properly advised, and thus help reduce the tax gap though good tax compliance.
Code of Ethics
In addition to being subject to the various legal requirements to ensure that their clients pay the right amount of tax, chartered accountants and members of other professional accountancy bodies have to follow a professional code of ethics. This includes the Professional Conduct in Relation to Tax (PCRT), which sets out the high ethical standards that form the core of the tripartite relationship between tax adviser, client and HMRC. This code is updated regularly to reflect changes in the law and societal expectations.
Spreading the Standards
The UK tax system, which is one of the most complex in the world, works because of our members, their codes of ethics and their responsibilities. However, almost a third of registered tax advisors are not members of any professional body. They are not required to follow the same ethical and professional standards as chartered accountants. If standards are to be raised across the board, then we should start by applying the high bar set by the chartered accountancy profession, to the whole community of tax advisors.
HMRC has made a start with its Standards for Agents, which adopts the key principles and standards in the PCRT. However, there is more to be done to ensure these standards are adhered to by all those working in tax.