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How to Choose Your Tax Adviser or Accountant

One of our most frequently asked questions here at Tax Insider is ‘How do I find a good tax adviser / accountant?’ In the following article I will list the ten top questions you should be asking to ensure that you find a highly qualified and professional tax specialist or accountant.


Will I need a Tax Adviser or an Accountant?

More often that not people will actually require both, however, it is important to establish why you need them- do you need someone to manage your accounts and help you with your tax return, or someone to give you sound advice that will legally save you money. Your accountant can manage your accounts, provide compliance work and some may even do tax planning.


However, tax advisers tend to focus solely on tax planning. They spend significant amounts of time keeping up-to-date with the latest tax legislation and tax cases to help make sure they provide their clients with great strategies that will help to reduce or eliminate tax - some of which your accountant may not even be aware of!


If we compare the accountancy profession with medicine, an accountant is the equivalent of a GP, and most of the time a GP is all you need for routine health care, but if you get seriously ill (compare with a dispute with HM Revenue and Customs) or you need surgery (tax planning), then you need a specialist consultant (a Tax Adviser).


How much experience do they have?

When choosing a tax adviser or accountant, it is good to know just how much experience they have and what their reputation is.


Do not be afraid to ask how long have they been giving advice, where they worked before or if they have ever done any public speaking or written work that you can refer back to? Another good question to ask is how many existing clients they have within the area that you are interested in, for example – if you develop property, how many other developers have they provided advice for and will they be able to provide references?


Good advisers will boast about their success, so give them to the opportunity to do so!


How much does a ‘good’ Tax Adviser / Accountant charge?

That really does depend on what type of advice or service you require. The fees generally reflect the adviser’s / accountant’s level of experience and qualifications, along with the amount of time they may have to spend on your case; in this instance you can request an estimate of the total. Also ask when fees need to be paid by.


Some accountants and tax advisers do offer ‘fixed fees’ for certain types of advice or help so that you know exactly what you are paying and exactly what you will receive.


Try to negotiate a fixed fee wherever possible, as good advisers won’t be afraid to operate on this basis. It is far better than the ‘let the clock run’ approach, though in some cases such as a tax investigation, hourly charges are the only practical way to work.


How do Tax Advisers / Accountants keep up to date with tax legislation changes?

Tax legislation is constantly changing. That is why it is important that your adviser or accountant keeps up-to-date with all the changes. For example, there was a pre-budget report on December 6th 2006 which highlighted some tax changes for 2007, and there will also be the Budget itself in March 2007.


Also, to retain their qualifications, tax advisers and accountants must adhere to ongoing training programmes enforced by their regulatory bodies, to ensure that they are keeping abreast of the latest changes in legislation and the latest tax planning opportunities.


For Example, CPD (Continuing Professional Development) is the compulsory training a Chartered Tax Adviser is required to do each year in order to keep his qualifications. He or she must do a minimum of 90 hours training per year; broken down into at least 20 hours “structured" training - that is, attending seminars, lectures, etc, and 70 hours "unstructured” training (such as reading textbooks and technical articles)


Does the adviser sell ‘off the shelf’ packages?

This is a very important question to ask your adviser. There are certain advisers out there who sell tax schemes (also known as ‘off the shelf’ tax solutions) and earn significant amounts of commission by doing so.


“Tax Schemes” come in all sorts of forms – one example (attacked by some legislation announced in the Pre-Budget Report) is the creation of artificial capital losses to set against capital gains.


If you adviser mentions such schemes to you, then be cautious as HM Revenue and Customs are getting tough on such schemes, and legislation has been introduced requiring those using them to disclose the fact to HMRC.


The human touch

One final but important point – what is the “chemistry” like between you and your adviser? If you do not find them pleasant and likeable, you are going to find it harder to do business with them. Mutual trust and respect is an important ingredient in any professional relationship.

Amer Siddiq


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