The TPB Code of Professional Conduct sets out 14 principles in five separate categories: Honesty and Integrity; Independence; Confidentiality; Competence; and Other Responsibilities.
(7) You must ensure that a tax agent service that you provide, or that is provided on your behalf, is provided competently.
(8) You must maintain knowledge and skills relevant to the *tax agent services that you provide.
(9) You must take reasonable care in ascertaining a client’s state of affairs, to the extent that ascertaining the state of those affairs is relevant to a statement you are making or a thing you are doing on behalf of the client.
(10) You must take reasonable care to ensure that *taxation laws are applied correctly to the circumstances in relation to which you are providing advice to a client.
What is the Definition of “Competent”?
Competent is defined as being properly qualified, capable, adequate and suitable or sufficient for the purpose.
With respect to the provision of BAS services, the agent must possess the appropriate skills, abilities and knowledge to act diligently in accordance with the relevant tax laws, while also acting in client’s best interest.
The Code of Conduct requires that services are provided not only competently, but diligently.
What is the definition of "Diligent"?
Diligence is being constant and persistent in an effort to accomplish something, and applying appropriate effort and attention to that task.
With respect to the provision of BAS services, diligence relates to the timeliness of document preparation and lodgement, communicating with the client, performing work to the highest level of your ability, and acting within the law.
How do you maintain relevant knowledge and skills?
The agent must maintain an ongoing knowledge and awareness of technical, legal and business developments and changes that are relevant to the services provided by the agent.
As an ICB member you have access to a wealth of information through our website, the monthly newsletters, the technical webinars, network meetings and technical resources.
You have to maintain your knowledge and skills with respect to BAS services, but you also have to make decisions about what else may be relevant to you as a professional in the financial services industry.
For example, if you have a number of clients who are Not-For-Profit entities it makes sense to do research or further training in that area. This may not be strictly related to the provision of BAS services, but it is relevant to you as a professional providing information, advice and certainty to your clients.
You should attend industry and software events regularly to keep abreast of what is happening in the BAS agent world with regard to technological developments, best practice bookkeeping methods and industry trends.
Taking “Reasonable Care”
ICB has previously written about taking reasonable care to ensure tax laws are applied correctly, and to ascertain a client’s state of affairs.
The TPB has also issued information sheets on various aspects of the code.
How do you ensure services are provided competently?
You should only provide services directly that you are qualified to offer. If you need to provide services that are outside your scope of experience and training, you need to gain the necessary knowledge, experience and skills, whether through formal or informal training, mentoring or work experience. You can also engage a specialist or expert to provide those services.
What about services that are provided on your behalf?
Supervision and Control Guidelines
Under the Tax Agent Services Act 2009 (TASA), all registered agents must ensure that tax agent services you provide, or that are provided on your behalf by an employee or sub-contractor, are provided competently.
For this to happen, you must have adequate supervision and control over the work that others may do for you.
What Constitutes Adequate Supervision?
The TPB does not provide a precise definition of what constitutes adequate supervisory and/or control arrangements. What is adequate will be relevant to each entity being supervised.
Supervisory arrangements may be broadly considered to be arrangements aimed at directing, overseeing and checking the services performed on behalf of the agent to ensure that those services are provided competently. In this context, supervision and control may also be understood as requiring the supervising agent to have exercised some level of direction over the work being done.
You (as a registered agent) can sign and lodge a declaration or statement that has been prepared by an entity that is under your supervision and control.
The Supervising Agent Needs to Take Care of the Following Factors
- An appropriate level and depth of personal physical oversight of the bookkeeper’s work
- Substantial supervision must be exercised - merely checking the reports and documents prepared by an unskilled/unregistered bookkeeper is not enough.
- Periodic and random ‘spot’ checks of material being worked on by the bookkeeper
- Physical proximity to the bookkeeper being supervised is expected - not necessarily for all work done but there must be a substantial degree of physical oversight provided by the supervising agent, according to the experience of the bookkeeper and the complexity of the work being performed
- The bookkeeper must have the relevant qualifications needed to perform the work they are engaged to do
- Documented procedures should be in place to allow the bookkeeper to raise issues with the supervising agent, particularly where the issues relate to areas beyond their knowledge, training or experience
- Provision of appropriate initial and ongoing training as required, including questioning the bookkeeper about the work being done to assess knowledge
- Documented formal audit processes before any documents are signed and lodged with the ATO
Supervision of an employee’s work is also required. This may involve “spot-checks” of work, directing of work while it is being performed, and the provision of ongoing training. You will need to adapt the amount of oversight, direction and training according to the level of qualification and experience that employee has.
You must gain specific authority from the client to disclose any data to a third party contractor. Contractors must also have adequate supervision and controls in place, even if they are just as qualified (or more so) than yourself.
You need to know what the contractor is working on, have access to their work, have appropriate communication and reporting channels between yourself and the contractor, and to consider all the above factors. You should also have a contract or letter of agreement in place between yourself and the contractor.
As above, you must gain specific authority from the client to disclose any data to a third party contractor, and this includes overseas workers. Given that one of the requirements for adequate supervision is physical proximity, it may not be practical to engage an offshore worker to do any work beyond data entry. However, the TPB does not specifically prevent the use of overseas contractors.
For a bookkeeper to become a registered agent, they must demonstrate the required number of hours of ‘relevant experience’. The TASA 2009 requires that relevant experience must have been undertaken under the supervision and control of a registered tax agent and/or BAS agent. This relevant experience must be documented by the supervising agent and provided to the bookkeeper when s/he is applying to become a registered BAS agent.