Knowledge, ethics and identity in tax practice: the UK experience of tax professionals

Calderoni, Marie (2022). Knowledge, ethics and identity in tax practice: the UK experience of tax professionals. University of Birmingham. Ph.D.

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This thesis seeks to understand how tax professionals render professional services. To answer this over-arching question, three sub-questions are examined to explore the knowledge, ethics and identity of the UK tax profession: what is the role of knowledge in shaping the tax profession; how do tax professionals manage ethical dilemmas; and what identities are associated with tax professionals?

Using a qualitative methodology, 44 semi-structured interviews were conducted with tax professionals between 2015 and 2016, including tax lawyers, tax accountants, ex-HMRC senior tax professionals and tax consultants. Secondary documentation was also extracted from tax journals, newspapers, government reports and professional guidance literature. This thesis theoretically contributes to extending the theoretical use of Foucault’s work by showing how the notion of knowledge/power can be used in order to ‘artificially’ conceptualise and create the boundaries of an expert community based on their shared knowledge of the tax discipline. In so doing, it examines how expert knowledge and discursive practices shape the boundaries of a community, namely the tax profession. Secondly, using Keith Hoskin’s work (2015) this thesis demonstrates how social stigmatisation through the use of discursive practices are at the origin of why tax professionals have had to integrate ethical considerations in response to the discursive formation made on their professionalism. In so doing, this thesis conceptualised how TPs construct their professional self upon the performance, articulation, and appropriation of institutional norms.

Empirically, this project develops understanding of the impact and role of tax intermediaries in the UK tax system (OECD, 2008). First, the findings reveal the importance of knowledge in the implementation of tax legislation, and show how tax practitioners have created borders around an invisible and distinctive discipline through expertise in tax knowledge. They highlight that tax intermediaries acquire, share, retain, create and implement tax knowledge through tight networks, and this knowledge is competed for and challenged within the professional networks and by HMRC. Second, the findings emphasise the importance and demonstration of ethics in tax practice and indicate that tax practitioners have adapted their professional ethics to the environment in which they find themselves. This suggests that, across the tax profession, ethical standards are not clearly defined, giving rise to conflicts between professional practices, firms’ expectations and personal values. Finally, the findings acknowledge the value of social identity, roles and discourse in the construction of occupational identity within the profession, indicating that social influences have a disciplinary effect on the tax profession.

Overall, this empirical study demonstrates the multi-faceted nature of tax practitioners, both as client advocates and representatives of the state, and the crucial role played by the profession in supporting the UK tax system. In this process, it contributes to a developing body of literature on the tax profession by revealing how tax intermediaries shape the development of tax knowledge, the factors influencing tax professionals’ ethical decision making, and the social interaction impacting on their identity construction.

Type of Work: Thesis (Doctorates > Ph.D.)
Award Type: Doctorates > Ph.D.
Licence: All rights reserved
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Social Sciences
School or Department: Birmingham Business School, Department of Accounting and Finance
Funders: Other
Other Funders: Chartered Institute of Taxation
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HF Commerce > HF5601 Accounting
K Law > K Law (General)


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