Ministers must resource HMRC properly, says new Institute President

30 May 2023

The new President of the Chartered Institute of Taxation (CIOT), Gary Ashford, has urged ministers to provide HMRC with the resources needed to improve service levels to taxpayers and advisers.

He made the call in his inaugural speech as CIOT President, as he thanked and took over from Susan Ball at the Institute’s annual general meeting,

He also:

  • Called for the crypto assets and broader decentralised finance sector to be recognised as unique, and given bespoke tax treatment
  • Promised to keep up the pressure on government to ‘embed simplification’ into tax policy processes
  • Said that any move towards greater regulation of tax agents should be based around professional body membership
  • Congratulated the Institute’s Low Incomes Tax Reform Group ahead of the group’s 25th anniversary in July

You can read the speech in full here and watch it here.

Susan Ball’s valedictory speech as President can be read here and viewed here.

In addition to Gary Ashford becoming President, Charlotte Barbour became Deputy President and Nichola Ross Martin Vice President of CIOT.

On service levels, Gary said:

“Poor service levels at HMRC are not just a pain for taxpayers and advisers, they harm tax compliance, hinder business activity and hammer away at trust in the tax system. A strong economy needs an effective tax system.

“HMRC have 6,000 fewer customer service staff than they did five years ago. Now I’m a true believer in the power and the potential of technology. But cutting staff numbers now in anticipation of efficiencies from digitalisation which have not yet arrived, seems to me to be putting the cart before the horse.

“Ministers must resource HMRC properly for the job it has to do.”

On the tax treatment of crypto assets Gary, who is chair of the joint CIOT/ATT crypto assets working group, said:

“In my view, we need to recognise crypto assets and the broader Decentralised Finance sector as unique, and therefore needing their own, specific and clear, set of legislation for how you tax them. The government’s new consultation looks to be edging down this road, which is welcome. But wherever we end up, there will have to be a huge awareness campaign to make owners of crypto aware of their obligations.”

On the impact of artificial intelligence on the tax profession, Gary said that, while ‘chatbots’ such as Chat GPT are not about to replace tax advisers, they will require the profession to adapt:

“There isn’t a lot of space in the profession these days for people who can’t use a spreadsheet or the internet. In a few years’ time it could be the same with AI.

“I’ve heard it said that AI is best thought of as a graduate researcher: smart and articulate, but you need to check their workings. That’s a good approach.

“This is a powerful tool – for research, writing basic text and coming up with ideas. It could suggest, for example, which reliefs might be available to our clients. It can free up our time to let us provide more tailored support.

“Even more than now, successful future tax professionals, will be those whose offer goes beyond simply crunching numbers and ensuring compliance, to become their clients’ trusted advisers.”

He encouraged tax professionals to take a look at CIOT’s new Diploma in Tax Technology, calling it “a qualification which matches the needs of the profession”.

On abolishing the Office of Tax Simplification Gary said:

“Scrapping the OTS is a mistake. Instead the government should have strengthened it – giving it a louder voice, a wider remit and greater resources. This is what we argued for.

“But if it must go, then the government must be held to their promise to ‘embed… simplification into the institutions of government’. Alongside other bodies, we’ve suggested some ways they could make a start on this. We met with the Financial Secretary earlier this month to discuss these, and we’ll be keeping up the pressure.”

On regulating the tax profession Gary said:

“In November the Financial Secretary told Parliament that regulation of tax agents is something she is ‘considering actively’.

“If the government decide to move forward in this area there are two broad directions they can go – government regulation, or a solution based around professional bodies.

“Government regulation would likely be costly and ineffective. The standards imposed would likely be lower than those already required of our members.

“Better by far would be to build on what we have now, by requiring anyone providing tax advice on a commercial basis to belong to a recognised professional body.

“Our rules already protect taxpayers, by making clear that there is no place in our profession for those who devise, promote or sell avoidance schemes. They make clear that, as professionals, our members have obligations, yes, to their clients, but also to wider society, and to the reputation of the Institute and the tax profession as a whole.”

Gary also used the speech to congratulate the Institute’s Low Incomes Tax Reform Group (LITRG) on a quarter century of work for taxpayers on low incomes:

“LITRG celebrates its 25th anniversary in July.

“And there is a lot to celebrate. More than five million visitors a year to the Group’s websites. Policy wins like the net pay pension top-up – tackling a glaring injustice against many low paid workers. Influential reports like last month’s on improving taxpayer guidance.

“Victoria Todd and her team deserve huge credit. As do their predecessors – in particular John Andrews who set the group up; and Robin Williamson its first Technical Director, who sadly passed away in September.”

Notes for editors 

1. The CIOT’s Annual General Meeting takes place at 4.45pm today online. It is expected to conclude by 5.30pm. 

2. CIOT Officers 

New President – Gary Ashford

Gary Ashford is a partner at law firm Harbottle & Lewis, specialising in international tax, dispute resolution and the digital economy, and a former Tax Inspector at HMRC. He has been a CIOT Council member since 2011 and chairs the joint CIOT/Association of Taxation Technicians (ATT) Crypto Assets Working Group. He sits on the Institute’s Management of Taxes Committee, which he formerly chaired, and is a former chair of the CIOT/ATT Birmingham and West Midlands Branch.

New Deputy President - Charlotte Barbour

Charlotte Barbour, the Deputy President, is Director of Regulatory Authorisations at the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland (ICAS) and a former ICAS Director of Taxation. A CIOT Council member since 2019, Charlotte is Secretary to the Joint Professional Bodies PCRT (Professional Conduct in Relation to Taxation) Group and a member of the Institute’s Scottish Technical Committee.

New Vice President – Nicholas Ross Martin

Nichola Ross Martin is the Institute’s new Vice-President. Nichola is Managing Director of Tiger Dog Media & Publishing Ltd and Ross Martin Tax Consultancy Limited, providing online tax resources and virtual support service to small and medium sized firms of accountants and tax advisers. She has been a CIOT Council member since 2017 and sits on the Membership and Branches Committee and Joint Equality Diversity & Inclusion Committee.