What is the Fair Tax Mark?

This is an independent accreditation and recognition of how we share information with the public about our attitudes to tax and how our tax numbers are calculated.

The Fair Tax Mark aims to reassure customers and the community that a business is transparent and a good taxpayer.

What prompted the Co-op to obtain the Fair Tax Mark?

The Co-op is owned by millions of members. Our members have their say in how we do things through our democratically elected National Members Council. In early 2015 our members asked us to obtain the Fair Tax Mark.

Why was this important to our members?

The Co-op Way is to pioneer a better way of doing business for you and your communities. Our members expect us to behave responsibly in respect of tax. As such, this was a clear way of us being able to evidence this.

What did we have to do?

Step one was dusting down our existing tax policy. Questions we had to ask were:

  • Was it fit for purpose; did it meet the required criteria of the Fair Tax Mark?
  • How do we make the document publically accessible?

Step two was ensuring the updated policy was approved by our Board and working with our digital team to publish the policy online.

Step three involved a review of how we explained our tax numbers in our accounts. Questions we had to ask were:

  • Is it clear from our accounts where our taxable profits arise and where in the world our profits are taxed?
  • Are our tax numbers understandable to a non-accountant?

Step four was, again, publishing our improved tax disclosures online and ensuring that the improvements became our standard way of explaining our tax position in the future.

The final step was letting the Fair Tax Mark assess us and waiting for the result. We were delighted to obtain it at the end of 2015. We are proud to have been re-accredited in 2016 and 2017.

What were the challenges?

Ensuring that all stakeholders were engaged at the right point in the process required project management skills, such as:

  • Our auditors needed to understand the impact on their processes.
  • Meeting deadlines to submit the updated policy to the Board.
  • Ensuring the Members Council were kept informed of progress.
  • Working with our digital team for getting content online.
  • Ensuring social goals and PR messaging was aligned.
  • Ensuring HMRC were engaged with the process, although they had access to our tax policy for a number of years already.

What were the skills learned?

Explaining a complex or even a dry subject in a simple and accessible way was the key skill I developed during this work. For the first time, my audience was primarily a non-finance audience. Adapting how I explain things to each different audience was so important and a skill that will serve me well again in the future.

Advice for a career in tax

Tax is pivotal to a functioning society. You are contributing to society in managing it well. Tax processes and rules never stay the same. You will always be learning. No year is the same as the last. Tax allows you to really get to know all aspects of a business you are working with. You have to be able to understand how the business operates to apply the tax rules to the numbers.

About the Author

  • About Lisa O'Hare: Lisa has worked in tax for nearly 20 years, having studied History at the University of Liverpool. She is now Head of Direct Tax at Co-op, one of the world’s largest member-owned businesses.

Lisa O'Hare

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