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TAX AVOIDANCE: THE NEXT STEPS BY ALAN NELSON

"It doesn't matter who you are," said Theresa May last week at the Tory conference. "If you're a tax dodger, we're coming after you. If you're an accountant, a financial adviser or a middleman who helps people to avoid what they owe to society, we're coming after you too."

Houses of Parliament

Much has been written about whether it is an accountant's duty simply to act (within the law) in the interests of their client, or whether some greater imaginary ethical code should apply, leaving you as a professional applying your own standards of behaviour.

Although this idea of expecting professionals to uphold higher principles has a better chance of acceptance in Europe than the US – where Donald Trump's comments about it being his duty to minimise his tax seem far more acceptable than they would here – it still seems to be pretty nebulous and hopeful, even an unfair thing to expect.

Likewise, the government and HMRC have said that they want the regulatory bodies to play a role but is difficult for them when there are no rules that they can apply. ICAEW in particular have been quite vocal about this and clearly would like to raise ethical standards but need it to be done fairly and objectively.

What is clear is that public opinion in the UK has swung away from the days when tax avoiders were seen as slightly glamorous bad boys, sailing too close to the wind, to a situation where there is genuine annoyance at large companies that pay very little. Most accountants would happily apply a set of principles that take into considerations the needs of wider stakeholders, but they do need those principles to be articulated before they can apply them.

So overall there is a feeling of watch this space about what will happen next. Lots of rhetoric but will it translate in sensible and practical action? 

Find out more with Ian Hayes' new course, Ethics in Tax.