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HMRC internal manual

Compliance Handbook

HM Revenue & Customs
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Dishonest tax agents: who is a tax agent

A tax agent is defined in the legislation as an individual who, in the course of business, assists other persons (‘clients’) with their tax affairs. A firm or other organisation, whether incorporated or not, cannot be a tax agent for the purposes of this regime. A tax agent may, however, work for an organisation.

The assistance that the tax agent provides must be given in the course of business. This means that free advice, lectures and work undertaken voluntarily and without payment (‘pro bono’ work) by tax agents are not caught.

Assistance with a client’s tax affairs includes

  • advising a client in relation to tax
  • acting or purporting to act as agent on behalf of a client in relation to tax
  • assisting with any document that we are likely to rely on to determine a person’s tax position, and
  • assistance that is given for non-tax purposes, if it is given with the knowledge that it will be, or is likely to be, used by a client in connection with the client’s tax affairs.

An individual can be a tax agent even if they, or the organisation for which they work, are appointed

  • indirectly, or
  • at the request of someone other than the client.

For example, a tax agent may engage another firm to provide specialist advice on a particular topic.

Sometimes this guidance refers to ‘tax agent’ and other times it simply refers to ‘person’ or ‘individual’. Different terms are used because the regime applies to tax agents, and former tax agents who, at the time of the misconduct, acted as a tax agent. Information requests and sanctions can also apply to third party document-holders, see CH183320, who may have never been a tax agent and may not be an individual.