What is PCRT?
PCRT was produced and is endorsed by seven of the major accounting and tax professional bodies in the UK. It is regularly updated and sets out the Fundamental Principles and Standards for Tax Planning and behaviour that all members and students must follow in their tax work.
At the start of this century(!), Mark Lee, Chairman of the Tax Advice Network, was Chairman of the ICAEW Tax Faculty and represented that body on the working party. Many updates have been made to PCRT since Mark left the working party – including the addition of new Standards for tax planning.
Key elements of PCRT
What follows is simply a number of extracts from PCRT. We have replicated them here as we expect all members of the Network to operate in accordance with PCRT.
You can obtain a full copy of PCRT here >>> ;
Members have a responsibility to attain and thereafter at all times to adhere to the Fundamental Principles and the Standards for Tax Planning in PCRT. If a member fails to do so they are liable to be subject to the disciplinary process of their professional body.
The Fundamental principles
Ethical behaviour in the tax profession is critical. The work carried out by a member needs to be trusted by society at large as well as by clients and other stakeholders. What a member does reflects not just on themselves but on the profession as a whole.
A member must comply with the following Fundamental Principles.
To be straightforward and honest in all professional and business relationships. Thus, members must act honestly in all their dealings with their clients, all tax authorities and other interested parties, and do nothing knowingly or carelessly that might mislead either by commission or omission.
To not allow bias, conflict of interest or undue influence of others to override professional or business judgements.
Thus members should avoid relationships which bias or unduly influence their professional judgement.
Members must also explain to their client the material risks of the tax planning or tax positions and the basis on which the advice is given.
Members must always disclose to their client if they are receiving commission, incentives or any other advantage and the amounts they receive from a third party relating to the matter upon which they are advising their client. They must also follow their professional body’s rules on disclosure of and accounting for commission.
Professional competence and due care
To maintain professional knowledge and skill at the level required to ensure that a client or employer receives competent professional service based on current developments in practice, legislation and techniques and act diligently and in accordance with applicable technical and professional standards.
Members have a professional duty to carry out their work within the scope of their engagement and with the requisite skill and care. A member should take care not to stray beyond the agreed terms of the engagement; if they do exceed the scope they should agree revised terms with their client and check that their professional indemnity insurance covers the enhanced work.
Members are free to choose whether or not to act for a client both generally and as regards specific activities. However, where a member chooses to limit or amend the scope of services they provide to a client they should make this clear in writing.
When advising a client members have a duty to serve that client’s interests within the relevant legal and regulatory framework.
Members must carry out their work with a proper regard for the technical and professional standards expected. In particular, a member must not undertake professional work which they are not competent to perform unless they obtains appropriate assistance from a suitably qualified specialist. [This is the first of two obligations in PCRT that result in so many accountants and tax advisers seeking such assistance from members of the Tax Advice Network].
A member who is giving what they believe to be a significant opinion to a client should consider obtaining a second opinion to support the advice. [This is the second of the obligations that prompts the use of members of the Network.] Where the second opinion is to be obtained externally, due regard must be had to client confidentiality.
Advice should be given in the context of the commercial and other non-tax objectives and the facts and circumstances of the client.
On occasions there may be more than one tenable interpretation of the law. Each case should be considered on its own individual facts and circumstances.
To respect the confidentiality of information acquired as a result of professional and business relationships and, therefore, not disclose any such information to third parties without proper and specific authority, unless there is a legal or professional right or duty to disclose, nor use the information for the personal advantage of the member or third parties.
Confidentiality is a professional principle and is also a legally enforceable contractual obligation. It may be an express term of the engagement letter between the member and the client. Where it is not an express term, a court would in most circumstances treat confidentiality as an implied contractual term.
Members may only disclose information without their client’s consent when there is an express legal or professional right or duty to disclose.
The duty of confidentiality is rigorously safeguarded by the courts.
Disclosure of confidential material in a member’s own interest must be made only where it is considered adequate, relevant and reasonably necessary for the administration of justice – in other words, when a member considers that it would otherwise impair the pursuit of their legitimate interests and rights if they were prevented from disclosing the information in all the circumstances. Only the minimum amount of information necessary to protect those interests may be disclosed.
To comply with relevant laws and regulations and avoid any action that discredits the profession.
Members must always act in a way that will not bring them or their professional body [or The Tax Advice Network, it’s members or Chairman] into disrepute.
A member must behave with courtesy and consideration towards all with whom they come into contact in a professional capacity.
A member must comply with all relevant legal and regulatory obligations when dealing with a client’s tax affairs and assist their clients to do the same. A member who has reason to believe that proposed arrangements are, or may be, tax evasion must strongly advise clients not to enter into them. If a client chooses to ignore that advice, it is difficult to envisage situations where it would be appropriate for a member to continue to act other than in rectifying the client’s affairs.
Serving the interests of their clients will, on occasion, bring a member into disagreement or conflict with HMRC. A member should manage such disagreements or conflicts in an open, constructive and professional manner. However, a member should serve their clients’ interests as robustly as circumstances warrant whilst applying these principles.
A member should consider whether any tax arrangements with which they might be associated on their own behalf or on behalf of a client might bring the member and the profession into disrepute.
A member’s own tax affairs should be kept up to date. Neglect of a member’s own affairs could raise doubts within HMRC as to the standard of the member’s professional work and could bring them or their professional body into disrepute.
A member should ensure that their internal and external communications including those using social media are consistent with the principles in this guidance and in particular confidentiality.
The Standards for Tax Planning
In order to protect the reputation of members, the wider profession, and ensure that public interest concerns are met, the PCRT bodies have developed further Standards that members must observe when advising on UK tax planning.
These seek to build on the Fundamental Principles set out above, focussing in particular on integrity, professional competence and behaviour.
The Standards are a supplement to, and not a substitute for, the five Fundamental Principles.
These standards have been developed in the specific context of the UK including the role of Parliament of making tax law, of HMRC in administering it, and the courts in enforcing it, and the roles of their devolved equivalents.
Tax planning must be specific to the particular client’s facts and circumstances. Clients must be alerted to the wider risks and the implications of any courses of action.
At all times members must act lawfully and with integrity and expect the same from their clients. Tax planning should be based on a realistic assessment of the facts and on a credible view of the law.
Members should draw their clients’ attention to where the law is materially uncertain, for example because HMRC is known to take a different view of the law.
Members should consider taking further advice appropriate to the risks and circumstances of the particular case, for example where litigation is likely.
Disclosure and transparency
Tax advice must not rely for its effectiveness on HMRC having less than the relevant facts. Any disclosure must fairly represent all relevant facts.
Advising on tax planning arrangements
Members must not create, encourage or promote tax planning arrangements or structures that:
i) set out to achieve results that are contrary to the clear intention of Parliament in enacting relevant legislation; and/or
ii) are highly artificial or highly contrived and seek to exploit shortcomings within the relevant legislation.
Professional judgement and appropriate documentation
Applying these requirements to particular client advisory situations requires members to exercise professional judgement on a number of matters. Members should keep notes on a timely basis of the rationale for the judgments exercised in seeking to adhere to these requirements.
PCRT contains a number of helpsheets which we have not replicated here. Helpsheet B specifically includes more examples and guidance to assist members’ understanding and application of the standards for tax planning.
PCRT has been jointly produced by 7 professional bodies: • Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) • Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) • Association of Taxation Technicians (ATT) • Chartered Institute of Taxation (CIOT) • Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW), • Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland (ICAS) • Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP)