Helping agents to support their clients through the COVID-19 crisis
A look at guidance for agents on how to support their clients through the COVID-19 crisis.
Chartered accountants will of course be supporting their clients in all sorts of ways to address the issues arising from the current coronavirus crisis. Much of the focus initially will be on assisting clients to understand and, where appropriate, access the various government support schemes – keeping up to date with the latest information can be challenging. However, when helping clients, there are a number of professional practice points that members may wish to keep in mind. Members also need to look out for new HMRC procedures introduced as a result of COVID-19.
PCRT member guidance in relation to COVID-19
Members may come under pressure from some clients to assist in making supporting statements, or perhaps not to ask too many pertinent questions. Anecdotally, and more troubling, there have been some reports of suggested dubious ways in which businesses and individuals might make use of the government’s package of support measures during the COVID-19 emergency.
Tax advisers operate in a complex business and financial environment and a core purpose of the tax system is to fund public services and to ensure the health of our economy and society – all too clearly seen in this crisis. Tax advisers therefore have a responsibility to serve their clients’ interests whilst upholding the profession’s reputation and taking account of the wider public interest. Professional Conduct in Relation to Taxation (PCRT) is intended to guide members in their behaviour, to assist them and to ensure that they undertake work effectively and appropriately.
Members must continue to comply with professional standards, and in particular with the requirements of PCRT. Both the Fundamental Principles (which are also in the Code of Ethics) and the Standards for Tax Planning remain relevant and need to be observed by all members.
The ICAS Ethics helpline remains available should members need assistance with ethical issues.
Scam emails, calls and texts
Unfortunately, we are aware of reports of an increase in scam emails, calls and texts which seek to exploit the coronavirus crisis. If someone gets in touch claiming to be from HMRC, saying that financial help can be claimed or that a tax refund is owed, and asks you to click on a link or to give information such as your name, credit card or bank details, please do not respond. HMRC will never contact individuals or businesses out of the blue to ask for these details. Clients need to be warned about possible scams.
Promotion of tax avoidance schemes to returning NHS workers – Spotlight 54
HMRC has published Spotlight 54, the latest in its series of alerts warning potential users about tax avoidance schemes. This Spotlight highlights the targeting of workers returning to the NHS to help respond to the COVID-19 outbreak – by promoters of disguised remuneration schemes. Workers who become involved in such schemes, without understanding the risks, could face serious consequences further down the line when HMRC challenges them.
We believe that both the Scottish and UK Governments should play their part and ensure that workers are only taken on through an NHS payroll – or, if the NHS needs to use agencies, it should make sure that those agencies are not promoting this kind of scheme. For instance, the NHS could insist on a written confirmation from agencies providing staff that they will not use any disguised remuneration scheme. Tax advisers may be involved in the hiring of more senior NHS workers: it should go without saying that members need to be mindful of PCRT requirements. The changes to the pensions annual allowance announced in the Budget may assist, when considering payment arrangements, by alleviating concerns about triggering an annual allowance charge.
HMRC talking points
HMRC will be delivering a programme of webinars to provide information to taxpayers and agents on the range of COVID-19 support measures announced by the Government. HMRC has temporarily suspended their planned programme of webinars. HMRC will advise when the planned programme will be reinstated. Details of the COVID-19 webinars will be posted on the ICAS website once they are available.
Ways of working with HMRC
Some individual groups within HMRC have already announced changes to their procedures as a result of COVID-19, including the ability to use emails for contacting HMRC rather than post. Groups which have announced new procedures include those dealing with stamp duty (for example, stock transfer forms and paying stamp duty), expatriate tax (for example, STBV Appendix 8 applications and filing dates for Appendix 7A and 7B returns for internationally mobile employees) and pension scheme administration. Other groups may follow and HMRC has been asked about extending the ability to use email to communicate with HMRC more generally.
Some HMRC business areas have also begun to announce other measures to assist taxpayers or to enable them to clarify their position, in the light of COVID-19. For example, the guidance on exceptional circumstances for the Statutory Residence test has been updated and the deadline for businesses to have put in place full digital links for Making Tax Digital for VAT has been extended to 1 April 2021.
GOV.UK is being kept up to date with the latest guidance. Key pages for accessing information on COVID-19 for employees, employers and businesses include:
ICAS tax team
Please send us your feedback, comments and queries – we will do our best to follow up on these by collating feedback and passing it on to HMRC and by trying to get answers to queries. Contact ICAS tax at firstname.lastname@example.org or via the Tax Forum in CA Connect.