HMRC internal manual

Compliance Handbook

CH810300 - Agent operational guidance: the role of agents: what agents do

Agents provide invaluable support to many of our customers to help them comply with their tax and benefit obligations. Without the expertise of agents, individuals and businesses would need to develop their own skills to meet their obligations and to keep abreast of changing legislation and processes.

Where friends or family are appointed solely to provide support and aid communication for customers with mental impairment, and are not involved in helping them comply with their tax obligations, they will not be agents falling within the scope of this guidance.

Many of our customers find dealing with tax and benefits complex or time consuming, something they are simply unable to do themselves, or something they are concerned they will get wrong. These customers are spread across the entire spectrum of taxes, credits, benefits and duties and will use a wide range of agents to assist them in complying with all or part of their obligations.

The role of an agent can encompass many aspects of an individual’s personal affairs or those of a business. The knowledge and insight gained by an agent can often be used across a number of different legislative regimes, for example corporate tax, VAT and payroll.

Our customers are heavily reliant on the advice and support their agent provides. The customer can be reassured they will pay the right amount of tax where this advice and support is accurate, based on complete information relating to a transaction and followed by the customer. A customer who employs an agent can expect the agent to be competent and correct, and can argue such if an error occurs.

Our customers are responsible for the returns they submit. Only in limited and exceptional circumstances, where they are legally authorised to sign a return on behalf of a client, do agents assume responsibility for the correctness of a return they submit for their client. HMRC’s Charter explicitly respects the right of any individual or business to appoint an agent to act on their behalf.

A small number of large accountancy firms represent the largest businesses and deal with international as well as domestic issues. These firms provide their large business clients with a variety of services and fulfil statutory requirements such as audit.

Beyond this there are a significant number of organisations and individuals, such as Citizens Advice, who provide support and advice to individuals and businesses.

There is also a very specialised and competitive market where agents in business deal with large numbers of clients, make repayment claims or submit returns that generate repayments. We call these agents High Volume Agents (HVAs), see CH820000.