An accountant approached me last week to ask whether any of the members of my Tax Advice Network would be willing to work with his practice on a regular basis? The answer was ‘yes’.

The background to this accountant’s question was not uncommon. What I admired however was his desire to address the issue. And I was pleased he had chosen to ask for my input.

It wouldn’t be appropriate to identify the practice but the following broad summary suggests his situation is far from unusual:

  • He is in his forties and has built up the practice over the last few years
  • He has a broad range of mostly business clients
  • His in-house (part-time) tax manager knows her stuff but is not someone to put in front of clients. And her letters and reports always need to be rewritten
  • He fears that some clients may be missing out and paying too much tax due to his reluctance to initiate conversations about anything beyond the most basic of tax planning; but he doubts many would be interested in ‘aggressive’ tax schemes
  • He has realised the practice needs higher level tax expertise but cannot afford to invest in a full-time person with appropriate level and breadth of knowledge. This also means he is unwilling to approach recruitment agencies
  • He has no idea how to go about finding someone appropriate or whether such a role would appeal to anyone good enough
  • He is concerned that he could end up with someone who is simply more expensive but otherwise similar to their existing tax lady.

Firstly I confirmed that I know there are plenty of independent tax advisers who work with accountancy firms like this one. In each case the parties agree an arrangement that suits them. This could include:

  • Weekly or bi-weekly visits
  • Flexible visiting arrangements
  • Ad-hoc telephone/skype and/or email help and support
  • Working as part of the firm or as an external consultant. Some accountants say their clients know the accountant is taking things seriously when he refers to his tax expert. (ie: Clients take the same attitude as patients do when their GP recommends a consultant).

Fee arrangements can also be flexible and may involve:

  • A weekly or monthly retainer – against regular invoices
  • PAYE for regular work as a part-time employee (with consideration of overtime arrangements if required)
  • Hourly invoiced rate for support provided by phone, email or face to face
  • Fees invoiced to the firm or to specific clients (the latter is only common for outsourced tax investigation cases or other situations involving substantial fees)
  • Or any other arrangement that suits both parties and reflects the arrangements between them. These may need to be reviewed after a few months

To proceed I suggested that the accountant use the simple search facility on the Tax Advice Network website to identify those advisers who are comfortable advising on ‘business tax’ issues. And then to add his postcode to sort the advisers and to show those located closest to him. He can then contact them by email or phone and have a chat.

Starting with our website means that the accountant is dealing with someone I have vetted as to their technical experience, is committed to undertake sufficient CPD and has a reasonable level of PI cover. Many general practitioner accountants might be less well prepared and yet it is important to check all such elements when recruiting tax support (whether to be on staff or only on a consultancy basis). Having said that every accountant needs to make their own assessment of the suitability of the tax people they engage directly whether or not they are found through the Tax Advice Network website.