In October I wrote on my HMRC site about the ICAEW's and HMRC's appeal for tax agent firms to allow HMRC to come and see how things are done at the coal face:
"Michael Izza, the CEO of the ICAEW, has issued a public call for tax agent firms to allow HMRC staff to come and see what it is like at the "coal face" and visit the firms to observe procedures etc. HMRC have assured the ICAEW that there are no risks to the firms (or the clients of the firms) if they allow HMRC staff to come and visit."
Later, that same month, I quoted Clapser:
"HMRC has committed to a big challenge. However, improvements can only be made with the input of the profession and it is therefore important that firms come forward to volunteer to host HMRC staff. Council members are strongly encouraged to do so, and take their opportunity to share their experiences."
I then stated:
"I would note one thing, not everyone is of the view that there is such a cosy relationship between HMRC and the profession.
Anthony Thomas, President of the Chartered Institute of Taxation (CIOT), recently debunked the nonsense that there is a "special relationship" between HMRC and the professional bodies, calling it a "myth" (akin to that "relationship" between the UK and US governments).
This view may ruffle a few feathers over at the ICAEW, where Michael Izza (the CEO) claims that "we (the ICAEW) now have a partnership with HMRC".
Moving forward to the present, I was more than gemused to read on Nichola Ross Martin's site that the "visit the coalface" idea has been done before (even to the extent of visiting the very same tax agent!).
Ironically, neither HMRC or the ICAEW seem to remember this!
Here is Nichola's article in full, in the hope that it jogs the memories of both HMRC and ICAEW.
"We have a case of déjà vu: as part of the latest Agent Strategy HMRC are visiting firms to see what it is really like in practice. Hold on, hasn't that been tried already? Read on and see if you can spot the difference.
In 2008 HMRC director’s general of business tax – Melanie Dawes visited West Country firm A C Mole and Sons to “see what it is like for us - and experience the practical effects of HMRC's Change Programme as we do…” Paul Aplin, a partner in the firm and chairman of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) Tax Faculty enthused on his blog “I think that it completely changed the way she viewed our issues.”
Roll on three years, we now learn that HMRC’s director general of personal tax – Stephen Banyard, has just returned from a visit to... West Country firm A C Mole and Sons, speaking to staff and receiving feedback. Paul Aplin, a partner in the firm but now ex-chairman of the ICAEW Tax Faculty reports, “I think he went away with a better understanding of the problems we encounter.”
So, assuming that Mr Banyard has not taken a leaf out of his boss’ book (Dave Hartnett, “the most wined and dined mandarin of Whitehall”) and was not really taking the opportunity for a day out of London sampling local cuisine, we must conclude that the visit was really useful. Sad to say that judging by the effect that Ms Dawes previous visit seems to have had it is unlikely to create any noticeable changes for tax agents. We all agree that service levels and standards have spiralled into a lamentable decline in the past three years.
Probably the most embarrassing thing for both HMRC and the ICAEW is that three years ago after the Dawes' visit, Paul had also managed to tete a tete with HMRC's Chairman Mike Clasper. ”When I met Mike Clasper, last week I told him what it was like at the coalface - the wasted time dealing with piles of incorrect PAYE coding notices and the frustration and embarrassment caused by incorrect penalty notices…We spoke one to one - no officials present - for almost an hour and a half and I felt that I received a fair hearing…”
Not that any of what happened three years ago appears to have had any effect on service standards or agent relationships.
The acid test is probably whether members of the Parliamentary Accounts Committee (PAC) who are investigating the rolling saga of the combination of HMRC’s Permanent Secretary’s blunders with large business, together with HMRC's value for money and falling service standards will take heed and give Mr Clasper a prod. Why on earth do a one to one with the ICAEW's top tax man and do nothing?
It is of course too late to ask Melanie Dawes, she has now jumped ship to the Cabinet Office following a previous grilling by the PAC in September. Mike Norgrave has just been appointed to take her place, obviously, he cannot be held accountable."