Time to Tax Accountancy Bodies

Professional accountancy bodies are political bodies and one of the most successful trade unions of our times. Unlike any other trade union they have secured state guaranteed niches and monopolies for their members. They are an arm of the state and perform regulatory functions that are normally associated with the state.

They routinely campaign to undermine good social  policies and increase social friction. For example, the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) has opposed the introduction the national minimum wage in the UK, which helped to lift many out of poverty. Without any mandate from members it is also campaigning for the introduction of "flat taxes", which have failed in many Eastern European economies. 'Flat taxes' are considered to be unworkable by the IMF and  shift taxes away from capital on to labour and consumption. Thus they are a tool for creating even more social inequality and exclusion. The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England & Wales (ICAEW) opposes the UK government's clampdown on organized tax avoidance as this affects the income of major accountancy firms.  It also has a history of opposing reforms. These include auditor obligations to report fraud, curtailment of the sale of non-auditing services by auditing firms to audit clients and even the publication of the profit and loss account.

Yet these highly political bodies enjoy charitable status and are funded with tax payer's monies. The subscriptions paid to these bodies qualify for tax relief and results in loss of tax revenues to government and society. The accountancy bodies also enjoy numerous tax exemptions and pay little tax on their income even though they share all the characteristics of political lobbying organizations. In common with multinational corporations, many of these organization also have offices nominal  in other countries. They use these offices to secure new business in the shape of student income and membership income. This results in considerable loss of revenues to developing countries. They get little in return and their ability to develop social infrastructure is stifled by the selfish interests of the accountancy bodies. ACCA has certainly created no jobs or infrastructure in  developing countries even though it has received millions in income.  It could exempt students from developing countries from paying fees or charge them lower fees consistent with the average income in those countries, but it does not. It makes over £4 million a year profit from students. The UK accountancy bodies make little economic contribution to developing countries.

The accountancy bodies' income is secured in other countries but booked in London and this escapes taxes in Africa and Asia. It is akin to someone trading in a locality but booking income somewhere else.  Developing countries lose revenues because they give tax relief on professional subscriptions and then find that the accountancy bodies contribute nothing to the broadening of the tax base. In fact, they shrink it by booking revenues elsewhere.

ACCA's 2005 annual accounts (published in 2006) show operating income of £68 million and a surplus of over £2 million. On that it paid tax of just £18,000. In 2004, it had a surplus of £3.5 million and a tax of just £179,000. In 2005, the ICAEW had  operating income of £60.6 million and a surplus of £3.5 million. On that it paid no tax and actually received a rebate of £8,000. By any measure this is institutionalised tax avoidance at a massive scale.

It is time the income of accountancy bodies is taxed in full, just like that of other organizations.