On Friday 23 September, the new Chancellor of the Exchequer outlined the government’s growth plans and, if businesses are to thrive in the current economic climate, it is vital that their finances are handled by qualified and trusted professionals.

AAT (Association of Accounting Technicians) has long campaigned for legislation to be introduced, requiring anyone offering tax advice to be a member of a recognised professional body.

Research has shown that unregulated accountants account for one-third of the profession, but two-thirds of complaints to HMRC. On top of this, a survey of AAT members last year revealed seven out of ten had dealt with businesses suffering problems from unregulated accountants, with 44% saying the situation had worsened since the beginning of the pandemic.

HMRC will further consult on raising standards in the tax profession and AAT is keen to ensure the voices of the sector are heard to protect consumers.

AAT’s Director of Professional Standards and Policy, Adam Harper, said, “The issue of regulation in the tax profession needs to be a higher priority than ever and the reason for that is simple – the value and importance of good advice intensifies in a time of crisis. Smaller businesses are facing huge challenges and the government simply expecting voluntary adherence to HMRC standards across the board isn’t an effective strategy.  

“AAT is not suggesting that all unregulated accountants are incompetent or unprofessional. But we are saying that there is a problem guaranteeing consumers a consistent service. There are already 200 professions that require membership of a professional body – the same should apply to accountancy.”

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A survey by Kantar last year, commissioned by HMRC, revealed “the different ‘standards’ unaffiliated agents said they followed in their day-to-day work”. Just 4% follow the Professional Conduct in Relation to Taxation (PCRT) – which members of recognised professional bodies abide by – and only 18% follow HMRC’s standards of tax advice, which it says all agents should adhere to. A worrying 45% said they were unaware what the standard actually was and the most common answers were that unaffiliated agents worked to their own code of conduct, or did not follow any professional standards.

AAT research, carried out by YouGov, revealed that an overwhelming majority of MPs (82%) believe that anyone offering paid-for tax or accountancy services should be appropriately qualified – with support equally strong among the two most represented parties in Parliament.