Tax Practitioners

The three factors of benefits, fairness and moral obligation shape how taxpayers react to the tax
authority’s expectations of compliance. The process of ‘sense making’ around benefits, fairness and
moral obligation is ongoing, and is influenced by other people and alternative authorities that put
forward their own interpretations and seek to influence taxpayer decisions. The inner band represents
these other forces. They may be local or global. They include lobby groups (pro and anti-tax), political
leaders, family and friends. International organizations such as the OECD and various other global non-
state organizations with an interest in tax policy also exert their influence. The actors in the inner band
can exert their influence on both the middle band of taxpayers and the outer band of tax administrators
and policy makers. Tax practitioners enter into a professional relationship with taxpayers. They also
have professional relationships with the outer band (tax administrators and policy makers) and others in
the inner band (financial planners, business consultants, lobby groups and professional associations to
name a few). Tax practitioners are highly networked actors in the tax system, holders of knowledge and
resources, and importantly of contacts through whom tax avoidance contagion is triggered. For this
reason, tax practitioners are at the center of any discussion about tax avoidance and the eliciting of
taxpayer cooperation. The wheel will not be socially aligned to move forward without their support.
When taxpayers approach a tax practitioner to provide a service or they return to the same practitioner
year after year, as is most often the case, they enter a relationship in which each brings a set of
expectations and needs. Each practitioner-client relationship has its unique features. Yet research
findings point to overarching trends and consistent sources of variation. Most taxpayers want their tax
practitioner to keep them out of trouble with the tax authority. They want to believe that they are
honest taxpayers. To this extent there is alignment between taxpayer moral obligation and the expected
service they receive from the tax practitioner. Tax practitioners protect the taxpayer’s view of
themselves as honest and respectable, while playing aggressively backstage on their behalf. The
evidence suggests tax practitioners try to be responsive to client’s needs, but are also mindful of
possible sanctioning by the authority. Tax practitioners are likely to adopt the role of enforcer when tax
law is unambiguous, but are more likely to adopt the role of exploiter when tax law is ambiguous. In
other words, tax practitioners are more likely to stay within the law when it is clear in its intent and
purpose, but are more likely to test the boundaries when loopholes and ambiguities permit.

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