The regulation of the tax profession has been a thorny topic for a while, but one senses that - once Covid19 is over - the time for it to be progressed has now come.
It is good to see that the government has not jumped straight in to suggest state-regulation of the tax profession, but has come up with a more balanced approach setting out a range of options for reform. These range from no change at one extreme to complete state regulation at the other, with a variety of self-regulating options in between.
What is most encouraging is that the call-for-evidence specifically acknowledges the vital role which tax professionals play in the administration of an efficient tax system. Around 90% of tax is collected with no state intervention, and tax agents play a role in helping administer most of that. The government also recognizes the significant role played by those professional bodies (including the CIOT and STEP) who have come together to produce detailed professional standards - PCRT (Professional Conduct in Relation to Taxation).
In my view, requiring all those giving tax advice to sign up to PCRT would be the best way forward. The SRA and the Bar Council have raised a number of objections to this, but - speaking as someone who is regulated by the SRA, CIOT and STEP - I do not see that the PCRT standards in any way compromise SRA standards. Talk of the cab-rank rule and giving best-advice to clients as objections to signing up to PCRT are, in my view, misplaced.
Lawyers who sign up to PCRT are potentially well placed to give clients advice which is both well regulated and which continues to benefit from legal privilege.
State regulation is to be avoided at all costs. Tax is the main imposition which the state places on its citizens. And if the state can not only set the tax rules, but also regulate anyone who dares to question them, that is the road to totalitarianism.
HMRC has launched a consultation process as the first part of its drive to put this recommendation into action.