64 | Code of Conduct
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The Code of Conduct lists the ethical and professional standards for tax practitioners. They are the guiding principles for our work. Falling short of these can mean a cancellation of our registration. So knowing a thing or two about the Code of Conduct is vital.

Code of Conduct

Part 3 of the Tax Agent Services Act 2009 lists the Code of Conduct for tax practitioners. 

Standards

The Code of Conduct lists 14 ethical and professional standards organised in 5 separate categories that tax practitioners must follow. They are the same for all tax practitioners, so apply to BAS and tax agents and tax financial advisers the same. Here is a short summary.

Honesty and integrity

(1) act honestly and with integrity, (2) comply with the taxation laws in your personal affairs  and (3) account for money or other property you receive on trust

Independence

(4) act lawfully in the best interests of your client and (5) adequately manage conflicts of interest 

Confidentiality

(6) don’t disclose any information about a client unless you have a legal duty to do so

Competence

(7) provide a competent tax agent service , (8) maintain knowledge and skills, (9) take reasonable care in ascertaining a client’s state of affairs and (10) take reasonable care to ensure that taxation laws are applied correctly 

Other responsibilities

(11) don’t knowingly obstruct the proper administration of the taxation laws. (12) advise clients of their rights and obligations under the taxation laws, (13) maintain the professional indemnity insurance  and (14) respond to requests and directions from the Board in a timely, responsible and reasonable manner

Of these 14 standards, most complaints relate to (3) trust accounts under honesty and integrity, (4) and (5) under independence, (6) confidentiality of client data and (9) taking reasonable care under competence. 

Another issue is when practitioners don’t respond to request and directions from the TPB (14). That usually gives the TPB no other option but to terminate the registration.

Complaints

The Tax Practitioners Board receives about 1,600 complaints a year that relate to a violation of the Code of Conduct. The TPB investigates them all.

Most of these complaints come from members of the public, usually a client. About 10% come from the ATO. And another 10% come from other registered tax practitioners, usually when a newly appointed agent reviews work previously done by another agent and finds fault.

Findings

The three common outcomes after investigating a complaint are that either the TPB finds no breach (about 14% of cases) or finds a breach and either orders additional education (about 1/3 of cases) or the investigation results in the surrender of the licence (about 27% of cases). 

Commercial Disputes

The TPB does not get involved in fee disputes. That is a commercial matter between the client and the practitioner. 

No Award of Loss

The TPB can’t issue an award for financial loss a client might have suffered. The practitioner should have professional insurance that should cover such a loss.

Ban

ASIC can issue a lifetime banning order. The TPB on the other hand can only issue a banning order for up to 5 years. After that the practitioner can re-apply to register.

Last Updated on 20 Jul 2018

Tax Talks spoke to Ian Taylor - Chair at Tax Practitioners Board - for more details.