As highlighted elsewhere my major skills as a tax adviser are technical but in giving advice I always have an eye to: how is this going to work in practice? What practical steps need to be taken? What traps to avoid, whether accountancy or legal issues are involved and what level of input is required?
For example when engaging with HMRC over a technical matter, obviously the correct technical analysis is key, but tactics and presentation are also vital ingredients as well as a thorough appraisal of the facts of the case and any procedural matters. HMRC, it has to be said, do not always get things right and while I can always put up a good technical argument (even if I know it to be flawed) it may be that the assessment is invalid or out of time. So basically this means taking a holistic approach to the situation to (hopefully) achieve the desired outcome.
I often work with accountancy firms, solicitors and even other tax consultancies which may not have a high-level tax specialist in-house or maybe when a second opinion is needed. Obviously they need to be able to recover my fees and so I pitch these at a level which can be passed on to the client (perhaps without the client even knowing that outside advice has been taken). I am also not registered for VAT which makes my fees more attractive to individuals and other non-VAT registered clients.
I am partly retired now so don’t work all hours and also enjoy other activities, which keeps me out of the VAT net and also helps to keep me fresh for the tax work I do. Plus of course as a member a two professional bodies I am required to undertake Continuing Professional Development and also keep abreast of developments in tax which might affect the work I do – all of which requires a few hours a week and does not directly generate fees.
I don’t have an office to run and so my operating costs are low. I have the use of an office at a local accountancy firm, with access to a tax library and online reference service, in exchange for a few hours of tax consultancy services per month on an ad hoc basis. However, I am otherwise completely independent and have not had any conflict of interest in nine years.
I take a flexible approach to what each client needs and I don’t ‘big up’ advice. The bulk of my advice is over the internet by email which is an efficient way of dealing with matters which can be addressed in a few paragraphs. Longer reports and opinions may be attached to a short email, though I am quite happy to respond by post if required. I try to avoid giving anything other than basic advice over the phone but if the matter is simple or urgent, that is quite acceptable though I may wish to confirm by email so that both parties are clear about the advice given. I also advise in person on occasion as I do have regular clients within about a 100 mile radius.