The tax agent strategy

Sunday, 01 September 2013
Jenny Cowles discusses HMRC’s proposals for a new way of working with tax practitioners.

Tax practitioners play an important role in helping HMRC to run the tax system by advising their clients on completion of their tax returns and helping them to meet filing and payment obligations.

HMRC aims, through the proposals in its tax agent strategy, to recognise the valuable contribution tax practitioners make by enabling them to do more online without HMRC involvement. This fits with plans to make government services digital by default and so convenient that anyone who can use them online will choose to do so. HMRC has been allocated more than GBP200 million over the next three years to help it become a more digital business.

Enabling practitioners to self-serve and do more online means HMRC will need processes to identify firms and their client lists accurately. Firms will also need to provide assurance that they can guard against unauthorised access to their IT systems. There’s a lot of work to do to get ready for these changes, and HMRC is asking practitioners to start to clean up their client lists now. It is expected that new systems will be in place by March 2015 and prototypes will be available for user testing during the next few months.

The proposals in the strategy apply to all tax practitioners or agents who carry out transactions with HMRC, for example filing a tax return, on their clients’ behalf. Practitioners who need to obtain authorisation (and currently use Form 64-8) to act on behalf of a new client will benefit from a new, quicker online process.

Accessing the new digital services

For the first time agents will need only a single identifier – their unique agent reference (UAR) – to enable them to deal with HMRC on a range of taxes. The UAR will be the route to new digital services, and all firms should apply for their UAR when asked to do so. Firms will be asked to supply some information at this point, so HMRC can verify their identity. The period of transition from the old to the new services will present some challenges. HMRC will need to ensure the information that moves to the new system, about agents and the agents’ clients, is up to date and accurate.

HMRC hopes to be able to match an agent’s UAR to some of their existing client relationships under the old agent codes. For some tax regimes, however, that will not be possible, and agents will need to tell HMRC about their current client relationships.

We will work with representative bodies and tax practitioners to ensure that the changeover causes minimal disruption and to identify how HMRC can help and support agents through the changes.


HMRC is in regular contact with tax agent professional bodies through the Joint Tax Agent Strategy Steering Group and has set up a parallel group, the Agent Strategy Group, on which STEP is represented, to advise on the introduction of any changes.

We are keen to capture views about our proposals and we will ensure that any changes are informed by consultation with tax agents.

Our work with the Government Digital Service to design the new systems includes opportunities for user testing, and we hope some STEP practitioners will volunteer to help with this.

The best way to stay up to date with the tax agent strategy is to access the tax agents and advisors pages on HMRC’s website.1

HMRC is planning further consultation this summer to ask for agents’ views on how they should be empowered to do even more online for their clients. We would encourage STEP tax practitioners to respond to the consultation.

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Jenny Cowles

Jenny Cowles is Deputy Director and Head of Agent Strategy at HMRC.

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