Accountant (tax): job description

Accountant (tax): job description

Tax accountants specialise in providing advice and guidance about taxation, including ways of managing tax liability and compliance with current legislation.
90% of training opportunities for chartered tax accountants occur with accountancy practices.

What does a tax accountant do? Typical employers | Qualifications and training | Key skills

Taxation accountants/advisors are concerned with interpreting and explaining taxation legislation to a wide variety of clients. Changes in the annual Budget and recent court decisions mean that tax law is constantly evolving. Chartered tax accountants must therefore keep abreast of legislative developments and continually review their technical knowledge in order to advise clients of efficient tax compliance, and in order to understand the implications of financial actions. Typical activities include:

  • calculating, preparing and submitting accounts and tax returns
  • undertaking accounts administration, including auditing financial information
  • calculating and legally minimising tax liabilities
  • advising about business plans, mergers, take overs and investment opportunities
  • liaising with HMRC.

Training contracts normally encourage graduates to specialise in a particular branch of tax, such as corporate, international, personal or inheritance tax. Specialisation in tax issues as they apply to a particular industry is also common. It is equally possible to develop a niche area of expertise, or to operate in a wider range of specialist areas of tax.

The role is predominantly office based, and can involve much contact with clients and colleagues. Hours tend to be regular, although longer hours may be required at peak times and can be particularly demanding in the run up to 31 January, the annual deadline for filing tax returns.

Training contracts are available annually with large organisations such as HMRC and the Big Four, as well as with smaller private firms. Competition for these is strong, but early applications, relevant research and previous experience can help to secure a place. Vacancies are advertised by careers services, recruitment agencies and in national newspapers such as the Financial Times and specialist publications such as TARGETjobs Finance, Accountancy, Accountancy Ageand Taxation.

Typical employers of tax accountants

Tax has an effect on every member and area of society, and consequently it is possible to work within almost any sphere of personal interest. Self-employment is a very feasible option, while many organisations employ in-house tax specialists. Typical employers include:

  • Accountancy firms
  • Firms of solicitors
  • Banks
  • Professional services firms
  • Private consultancies
  • Government organisations, notably HMRC
  • Charities
  • Commercial/industrial organisations.

Qualifications and training required

There are routes into this career for both university graduates and school leavers.

Graduates from any degree discipline can train as taxation accountants, although degrees in subjects such as accountancy, economics or maths may give you an advantage. Previous experience is unnecessary, although formal vacation courses, workshops and placements can give a useful insight into the profession and show motivation to enter the sector.

Tax accountants in the UK tend to train toward qualification as a chartered tax adviser (CTA), as recognised by the Chartered Institute of Taxation (CIOT). This typically involves 12 months or more of study toward professional exams and a relevant work experience requirement. CTA qualification and subsequent CIOT membership indicates the highest level of expertise in UK tax and so is highly regarded by employers. Membership is maintained by achieving a minimum of 90 hours of continuing professional development (CPD) each year.

Graduates attain eligibility to take the CTA qualification through academic and professional study. The most common routes are either through achieving membership of the Association of Taxation Technicians (ATT), or qualification as a chartered accountant with a professional body such as ICAEW or ICAS. The former route requires two years of relevant professional experience, while the latter requires three years and is a particularly useful route for graduates who wish to work in corporate tax. Graduates who have qualified as a solicitor, barrister or advocate may also train for the CTA qualification. Qualification as an Associate of the Institute of Indirect Taxation (AIIT) is an alternative and also highly regarded route. The Advanced Diploma in International Taxation (ADIT) is another alternative prerequisite for CTA study, but can also be a useful further qualification for CTAs wishing to work internationally and in corporate tax.

For more information about the AAT route, see our accounting technician job description.

To find out about how you can get into this career via a school leaver route (eg an apprenticeship or school leaver training programme) see the finance sector of TARGETcareers, our website aimed at school leavers.

Key skills for chartered tax accountants

While numerical and analytical skills are crucial, the role demands a high level of responsibility and reflection. The ability to communicate well is also vital. The following traits are highly valued:

  • Excellent IT and maths skills
  • The ability to interpret and clearly explain complex issues
  • The ability to conduct and accurately interpret research
  • Integrity
  • Negotiation skills
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Self-confidence
  • Interpersonal and teamwork skills
  • Excellent written, verbal and presentation skills
  • Commercial awareness
  • Adaptability