Greater push for expert advice

YOU sleep easier if you have a chartered accountant, according to a new advertising campaign launched by the Institute of Chartered Accountants.

The aim of the campaign is to proclaim the superiority of chartered accountants over unqualified accountants. But ordinary taxpayers will wonder whether an accountant of any sort can help them. Many who spend weeks and months working up the energy to fill in their annual tax return would like to think so, but there is the small problem of the cost.

"Our service starts at £120, but the price will go up according to the complexity," says Michael Hayes, a tax partner at Maclntyre Hudson. "You can find cheaper services, but it may not be such a personal service."

John Whiting, at Price Waterhouse, says what you pay depends on the complexity of the case and what sort of advice is required. If it moves on from simpler tax matters to estate planning or investment advice, a bill could soon approach £1,000. But individuals who use the top firms are either likely to be high earners or owners of substantial assets.

The high street firm is the usual port of call for people with less complicated afffairs. And £50 to £100 an hour would cover the typical rates of smaller firms. But potential customers would need to get an idea of how many hours are involved.

At the smallest end of the scale is the sole-trader accountant, such as Richard Bosley in Oxfordshire, who works from home. He gets his clients by word of mouth and deals with one-man businesses and partnerships.

"At the moment, I'm doing accounts for someone who has not made a lot of money. To prepare the accounts, complete the tax return and deal with VAT, I'll charge £75. But I would normally charge £125 to £150 for that sort of service," he says.

Accountants are likely to be of most benefit to the self-employed, higher- rate taxpayers with a range of perks from their job, people with substantial investments and those who want advice on how to avoid inheritance tax. But general demand for accountancy services is likely to increase with the new system of self-assessment.