You'll need to be a people person with a keen financial mind to excel as a tax adviser
Tax advisers use their knowledge of tax legislation to provide advisory and consultancy services to clients, ensuring that they pay their taxes in the most efficient way and benefit from any tax advantages and exemptions.
They need to keep up to date with changing tax laws and explain complicated legislation and its implications to their clients in simple terms.
There are two main types of tax advice:
- corporate - working for business clients to make sure they aren't paying any more tax than is necessary
- personal - providing advice to individual clients, some of whom are private clients with large assets.
The work is detailed and complex, and tax advisers quickly develop expert knowledge in areas such as:
- corporate tax
- international and inheritance tax
- National Insurance
- personal tax
- trusts and estates
Clients can include large and small companies, partnerships, trusts and individuals.
Tax advisers can work in compliance, ensuring a client meets all tax obligations by preparing and submitting tax returns, tax computations and any other necessary forms. Alternatively, they may work in consultancy, advising clients on how to minimise their tax liabilities.
The work of a tax adviser depends on the nature and size of the employer. Larger accountancy firms tend to adopt a structure that permits greater specialisation, whereas in smaller companies, the work may be more varied.
Initially, a graduate within a tax advisory role might focus on compliance activities, for example, completing tax returns and calculating the amount payable, with movement towards consultancy and specialisation as their career develops.
Typical areas of activity include:
- researching, analysing and interpreting changing tax legislation in both the UK and overseas
- meeting with clients and collating information
- working with tax law and revenue provisions
- preparing and submitting compliance (tax) returns by the deadline
- liaising and negotiating with HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) on behalf of the client
- providing consultancy services to high value private clients
- creating tax strategies for clients and planning their financial futures
- carrying out detailed computations to calculate tax liability and advising on how to minimise a client's liability
- establishing and structuring family trusts
- estate planning and advising on tax residence and domicile matters
- providing guidance on indirect taxation issues such as VAT, customs planning and environmental taxes
- producing reports and presentations for clients.
Some self-employed tax advisers also offer their clients a range of accountancy services, such as bookkeeping, payroll and VAT.
- Annual starting salaries for graduate trainees typically range from £20,000 to £32,000.
- Newly qualified chartered tax advisers (CTAs) can expect an annual salary in the range of £26,000 to £36,000, rising anywhere up to £55,000 with experience.
- Managers can earn between £50,000 and £68,000 annually, rising to £95,000 for senior managers. There is potential for directors to earn up to £140,000 a year.
Working in corporate tax usually attracts a slightly higher salary than working in personal tax. Salaries vary widely depending on the type of employer, area of specialisation and location. Salaries are towards the higher end of the scale in London and the South East.
Additional benefits may include a pension and private medical insurance.
Income data from the Chartered Institute of Taxation (CIOT). Figures are intended as a guide only.
Working hours are mainly 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday, with some extra hours and work at weekends during busy times, such as the end of the tax year. Some firms have introduced flexible working hours. Working with private clients may involve home visits, sometimes out of hours.
Career breaks and part-time work might be available.
What to expect
- Work is often in a team environment.
- Once qualified, and with several years' experience, self-employment is possible. Self-employed tax advisers usually deal with individuals, self-employed traders, partnerships and small companies.
- Many graduate trainee opportunities are in London and other major cities, though opportunities exist throughout the UK.
- The work involves working to deadlines, which are usually absolute as tax return deadlines are non-negotiable.
- Local travel within a working day is normal for client visits.
- Absence from home at night and overseas travel are occasionally needed and more likely for senior managers. There may be opportunities to work overseas for a multinational company or for a UK-based company with offices abroad.
Although graduates from any discipline can become a tax adviser, the following degree subjects may increase your chances of finding work:
- accountancy and finance
This area of work is open to all diplomates, but a HND in accounting and finance or business and management will make you stand out.
Entry without a degree is possible as a tax trainee or apprentice, usually working for an independent firm or one of the smaller practices.
There are two main graduate entry routes into the profession. Direct entry involves becoming a tax trainee with a firm of accountants or solicitors, or with the in-house tax department of an organisation in commerce or industry. You would then study for the Association of Taxation Technicians (ATT) qualification. Successful completion grants you eligibility to sit the CIOT chartered tax advisers (CTA) examination.
Indirect entry is possible for those who have a professional qualification in chartered or certified accountancy from one of the UK professional accountancy bodies - preferably one that covers taxation - or those who are qualified as solicitors, barristers, advocates or who have company secretary status. You would then need to study for the CTA qualification.
Employers with graduate training schemes usually ask for a 2:1 or above as an entry requirement. In some cases, alternative entry to the career as a taxation technician may be possible. For further information contact ATT.
Competition for entry through accountancy firms is keen and entry standards are high. Other employers may be more flexible in their requirements.
You'll need to have:
- excellent numeracy skills
- a logical and analytical mind
- the ability to interpret and explain complex legislation to non-specialists
- excellent communication and interpersonal skills
- negotiation skills
- planning and organisation skills
- problem-solving skills
- time management and the ability to work to tight deadlines
- attention to detail
- a flexible approach to work
- tact and discretion, as most of the work is confidential
- commercial awareness
- a methodical approach to record keeping.
Pre-entry experience is beneficial. Look for vacation placements or workshops in your penultimate year at university and arrange to meet or shadow qualified tax advisers. Try to attend familiarisation courses run by individual firms. Securing a vacation scheme with one of the larger firms of chartered accountants would be a distinct advantage.
Previous experience in related areas such as accountancy, banking or financial services is useful.
Most tax advisers work for professional accountancy firms, tax consultancies and practices, and the in-house tax departments of large companies.
However, there are also opportunities with banks, legal firms, HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) and in the finance departments of large companies.
Increasingly, there are opportunities with firms in commerce and industry too.
Some large companies and financial institutions have their own taxation departments and employ staff with an in-depth knowledge of the market sector. These firms offer the chance for greater specialisation and rapid promotion. Roles in smaller firms are usually more varied but less specialised.
Firms in sectors such as energy, construction, the financial services, IT, media and manufacturing offer opportunities to those who are keen to work in compliance, planning or project and advisory work.
Self-employment is an option for suitably qualified and experienced tax advisers. They usually provide a combination of tax, accountancy and financial services.
Look for job vacancies at:
You could also check vacancy lists from professional bodies. Recruitment agencies, such as Michael Page, also handle vacancies.
Graduates working as tax trainees for an accountancy firm will spend time gaining experience of the business and working with a range of clients. This may be as part of a corporate tax team within the 'Big Four' accountancy firms (Deloitte, EY, KPMG and PwC), a top 20 accountancy practice, or a large independent firm. You're likely to gain experience completing tax returns, assisting with tax compliance regulations, undergoing research and compiling reports.
Trainees need to be able to balance this workload with studying for professional qualifications. Trainees generally study for the ATT examination and need to pass the two compulsory Certificate papers (personal taxation and business taxation), and the three compulsory computer-based examinations (law, professional responsibilities and ethics, and principles of accounting). They also need to pass any one of the other four papers in business compliance, corporate taxation, inheritance tax, trusts and estates and VAT. More details about the qualifications can be found in the ATT Prospectus and Syllabus 2021.
Successful candidates can then go on to sit the CTA, which is highest level tax qualification in the UK. It's offered by CIOT - find out more at CIOT - CTA Qualification.
In order to become a member of the CIOT and to describe yourself as a chartered tax adviser using the designatory letters CTA, you'll need three years of relevant professional experience.
It's vital for tax advisers to keep up to date with changes in tax legislation. Members of the CIOT and ATT must undertake continuing professional development (CPD) on an annual basis.
Career progression depends on gaining professional qualifications, your ability and a willingness to work hard.
A sound basis in UK taxation and a solid foundation from which to build your future career can be gained through ATT qualifications.
Qualification as a chartered tax adviser with CIOT is seen as the gold standard among tax professionals, both technically and in terms of ethical and professional standards.
There are excellent opportunities for generalists in public practice who want to handle personal or corporate tax work. Larger firms will provide opportunities for specialisation, in areas such as:
- corporate finance
- mergers and acquisitions
- private clients and international tax.
Opportunities for tax advisers are diverse and, once CTA qualified, movement between the broad areas of tax consultancy, commerce, industry, the legal profession and HMRC can and does occur.
It's also possible to move into more general financial roles in industry or in the city.
Becoming a tax adviser opens up excellent opportunities to work overseas, especially for those in public practice firms with experience in expatriate or corporate tax.