AAT’s Members’ Assembly challenges HMRC performance

The AAT Members’ Assembly works to provide a voice for all areas of membership and an outlet for their opinions and concerns.

As an accountant, if you experience a problem, there are many ways to express your displeasure: a carefully worded thought piece on LinkedIn, maybe, or even an angry tweet. But what happens when the subject of your ire is a behemoth governmental department such as HMRC? How can you make your voice heard when the organisation is already grappling with unprecedented matters as furloughing, Brexit and extending the self-assessment deadline?

This is where the AAT Members’ Assembly can help.

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Over the past year, accountants have noticed changes to the HMRC’s Agent Dedicated Line (a helpline service for accountants and tax advisers), which they feel isn’t offering the same level of expertise as it once did. By sharing their concerns at the last Members’ Assembly, it’s hoped the might of the AAT can have some clout. 

“My staff and I feel as if we don’t have the power to [complain] to HMRC,” says Heather Darnell, founder/finance director at London accountancy firm Ask the Boss. “But when somebody like the AAT acts on our behalf, HMRC is likely to listen a million times more than it would if a few accountants ring up.”

The AAT Members’ Assembly was established in 2019 as part of changes to AAT’s wider governance framework. The members involved in the AAT Members’ Assembly represent the diversity of AAT members across all business sectors, with a wide array of different backgrounds, expertise and experience.

The assembly provides a chance for representatives of the membership to:

  • consider, debate and provide feedback to the AAT Council on public policy issues and wider sector and membership concerns;
  • provide feedback on AAT’s progress against business plan objectives; and
  • provide a voice for the wider membership.

One member, Diana Cornford, was invited to join the AAT Members’ Assembly after receiving the AAT Advocate of the Year award in 2017. Cornford has been a member of AAT for 21 years and became a Fellow Member in 2008. She currently runs her own practice, DSC Accountancy Services, along with two part-time employees.

“Being a member of the assembly gives a sense of belonging and inclusion of the AAT family network,” says Cornford. “The format and size of the assembly gives the ideal opportunity to voice your ideas, concerns and requests to our professional body and is a great way to boost your own self-confidence. We discuss and make contributions to the topics on the agenda of each meeting. This allows the grassroots membership to pass on their points of view to the Council.”

How the assembly works

The Members’ Assembly meets twice a year and hosted by an AAT Council member. AAT’s aim is to expand the Members’ Assembly to ensure that all AAT members continue to have a representative voice.

Any member can apply to join the assembly just by completing the online form.

At a Members’ Assembly meeting in late 2019, members were asked if they considered Net Zero Carbon to be an important issue, and whether AAT should be looking to do more to promote sustainability issues. Responses were fed back to the Council and resulted in the decision to include Climate Action as one of the material UN Sustainable Development Goals that AAT is signed up to delivering on.

Another assembly member, Wil Ames, is a semi-senior accountant at Dashwoods Limited in Buckinghamshire. He also runs his own bookkeeping business, Ledger & Scribe.

He says there are many benefits to joining the Members’ Assembly, including: “Meeting AAT members, meeting AAT staff, learning about AAT changes in advance, learning about forthcoming rules and regulations changes, and being given a voice within AAT.”

Ames wanted to become part of the AAT Members’ Assembly to find out how AAT was being run, plus have the opportunity to throw in his two pennies worth.

“I give my views on how AAT is being run and what may (or may not) happen in the future, and I listen to and discuss matters with AAT staff and other Assembly Members. This has been remote since the onset of Covid-19, but was face-to-face previously.”

Suzanne Andrea, Director at Hertfordshire-based accountancy practice The Book Monitor, explains her reasons for joining the Members’ Assembly.

“I volunteered because I think it’s important to hear what your licensing body is doing, plus you can have some input into how things are done.”

She adds: “My career is an important part of my life, and it’s nice to meet other AAT members who come from different parts of the industry.”

Holding HMRC to account

One example of how the assembly can make a difference is challenging the perceived slippage in HMRC’s support for agents.

Andrea explains the problem:

“Until recently, HMRC had a dedicated agent helpline that accountants could ring to get specialised and experienced advice.

“Over the past year, whenever you ring this line, it appears as if you’re being put through to anybody who’s available, usually somebody clueless who is seemingly Googling the answer. Sadly, it means we can’t rely upon the info we’re being given to use on behalf of our clients. When accountants are supposedly allowed to use HMRC advice as evidence if there’s an investigation, it’s really detrimental…

Darnel reinforces the point:

“Previously, whenever you rang up the HMRC’s Agent Dedicated Line on behalf of your clients, you knew you wouldn’t be getting any Joe Shmoe on the other end of the line: it’d be a knowledgeable person.

“Since Covid hit, you now end up being transferred to the main number whenever you ring. Sometimes, I’ve ended up waiting for an hour only to be transferred to some doofus who can’t help you.” 

Raising the issue within the assembly

Darnell explains how members compared notes and took action.

“At the Members’ Assembly, AAT members talked about how they were affected by the drop in quality of HMRC’s Agent Dedicated Line. Because the wait-times and poor advice are so horribly time-consuming – time that we can’t charge back to our clients – it was having a financial impact for many agents.”

Get involved

AAT will give HMRC feedback on its performance during the Covid-19 crisis, including the question of its support for agents. If you would like to contribute to this, please take this quick survey, which will form part of our representations.

AAT would love to hear from members who want to join the assembly. You can read more about it here, or you can jump straight to the expression of interest form on our website.

Join the Members’ Assembly

Why not get involved in the Members’ Assembly? You could broaden your horizons and enhance your career. Click below to register your interest.

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Christian Koch is an award-winning journalist/editor who has written for the Evening Standard, Sunday Times, Guardian, Telegraph, The Independent, Q, The Face and Metro. He's also written about business for Accounting Technician, 20 and Director, where he is contributing editor.

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