HMRC has launched a set of professional standards for compliance agents dealing with tax investigations to improve transparency about its work
This is the first time the tax authority has published the Compliance Professional Standards, which are aligned with the HMRC Charter, to improve transparency about its activities and treatment of taxpayers.
There are four standards, each underpinned by an expectation and six key requirements. These focus on getting things right, being aware of taxpayers’ situations, being responsive when communicating with taxpayers and treating people fairly.
In terms of getting things right, the standard stresses that investigators have to develop every case to a litigation standard, making sure all calculations of liability are correct; use knowledge of the indicators of evasion, money laundering and other criminality to make timely referrals; work within the limits of their knowledge and get advice if they are unsure; and provide timely, factual referrals to resolve tax disputes working within HMRC’s legal powers.
HMRC compliance staff will also have to show sensitivity to taxpayers’ wider circumstances and take action if they need extra support to meet the demands of compliance activity, and make sure information requests are necessary and reasonable. They have also pledged to avoid delays and make it easy and convenient to deal with HMRC by managing workloads and using information powers promptly.
The standards also stress the importance of keeping taxpayers informed of developments during investigations and compliance activity adhering to legal requirements and HMRC guidance. Staff are also required to respond to taxpayers’ questions and concerns as quickly as possible, advising them if there are going to be delays in responding. They have also committed to responding promptly to complaints.
In order to improve the compliance process, HMRC will also share good practice and lessons learned internally with teams.
Another plank of the standard focuses on ‘treating customers fairly’. This starts with premise that the taxpayer is telling the truth about their tax status.
HMRC states that it will ‘presume that our customers are telling the truth unless we have evidence to suggest they are not’.
It will also ‘analyse and evaluate the available information to identify risks to tax, and make reasoned, impartial judgements.
HMRC also said it will ‘regularly consider the benefit of continuing our compliance activity’.
All investigations will be closely monitored with a full and accurate audit trail, including any calculations within the appropriate HMRC case management system.
It also includes clarification of the responsibility of compliance team managers. The specific accountabilities for managers are set out as follows: ‘As a manager, I am accountable for the professionalism of the work my team deliver and for carrying out risk-based assurance on their work in real-time. I am responsible for providing encouragement and support through advice, direction, coaching and learning opportunities that help them meet the Compliance Professional Standards.’