Plans to release the long-awaited, revised tax advisers’ professional code - the Professional Conduct in Relation to Taxation (PCRT) - is likely to go ahead following the announcement of the government’s decision to fine accountants and tax advisers who push ‘aggressive’ tax schemes
References to the revised code - which is still arguably at draft stage - in the documents surprised some in the profession as the release has stalled since early spring while the professional bodies await ministerial sign-off.
A Treasury spokesperson told CCH Daily: 'The HMRC needs to sign it off - that is the opinion here.' But HMRC sources indicate that the Code is written by the institutes and is not within their remit or their place to 'sign it off''.
The revised code, Professional Conduct in Relation to Taxation (PCRT), was due to be published by 31 July but was delayed as a result of other Treasury and parliamentary priorities in the run-up to the EU referendum in June. This also forced the delay of this year’s Finance Bill until autumn 2016.
The government threw down the gauntlet to the profession’s regulatory bodies – ICAEW, AAT, ACCA, ATT, CIOT, ICAS and STEP, at Budget 2015, telling them to strengthen their voluntary code, or there would be legislative pressure to introduce regulations to control abuse and excessive tax planning devised or encouraged by their members and deemed unacceptable by government.
The revised code is likely to be tougher than earlier versions and is meant to police professional standards in tax and accountancy, with expanded guidance setting out more stringent professional standards around the facilitation and promotion of tax avoidance .
From the government perspective, the 2014 code was not tough enough and came in for criticism from MPs, particularly the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).
In response the professional accountancy bodies have further developed their code of practice, the Professional Conduct in Relation to Taxation (PCRT), strengthening the standards on acceptable tax planning as a significant first step in meeting the government's challenge.
ICAEW head of tax faculty Frank Haskew told CCH Daily: ‘We do not want to publish the revised PCRT until we have had formal agreement to the revised text from the government, and at the moment we are still waiting for ministerial sign-off.
‘Although we are hopeful this will be forthcoming sometime in the early autumn, we are not quite sure exactly when it will be.’
It is not clear when the finalised code will be published although strong indications are that this autumn will see some movement on the issue. The current code, The May 2015 Professional Conduct in Relation to Taxation, is still in force.
The HMRC Strengthening tax avoidance sanctions and deterrents: discussion document is available here