The professional alternative
We give our clients professional advice concerning complaints, regulatory and disciplinary cases. We also advise and give guidance on how to deal with ethical issues, difficult clients and practice problems. We assist accountants who are applying for readmission to membership.
In a nutshell, what can we do for you?
- You need advice about handling a difficult client. We’ll provide it.
- You lose a client to another accountant who demands your working papers. We’ll advise you.
- Someone reports (or threatens to report) you to your institute or another body. We’ll handle it.
- Your explanation is rejected and you must appear before an institute committee. You’ll be represented by an expert lawyer engaged by us on your behalf.
- You need help interpreting your institute’s disciplinary bye-laws or members’ handbook. Our directors will guide you.
- You are offered a consent order by the Investigation Committee. We’ll advise you whether to accept and the indemnity insurance implications.
- A company in which you were a non-executive director is insolvent. Directors Disqualification Act proceedings have been brought. Your solicitors are advising on a Carecraft Settlement. They know nothing about what action your institute will take. We’ll give you that advice.
- There’s a claim under your indemnity insurance policy and the City lawyers acting for underwriters can’t advise you. We will, as we’re here to provide guidance. But we won’t give legal advice on the claim.
- There’s a threat to your audit/ insolvency/ financial services licence. We’ll protect your interests.
- You have to appear before a tribunal. You need representation. Your PII policy appears to provide cover, even though there may never be a claim for damages. Your broker/insurer insists there’s no cover. Tell us about your problem and we will intervene on your behalf, without charge.
Reasons for choosing Accountants National Complaint Services
Set up to help accountants in practice who get into difficulty and to provide advice. In disciplinary proceedings, many accountants are failing to act in their best interests or take adequate care of their own affairs. Even if the dispute with the client never reaches the professional body, we will provide advice and assistance.
Nearly 60% of accountants subject to a complaint do not appear at the Disciplinary Committee.
Most do not obtain relevant advice.
Only just over 20% of accountants are represented at tribunals.
Appearing before a disciplinary or regulatory tribunal is a stressful experience.
Few accountants have experience of advocacy.
Those that do, find it difficult to be an effective advocate in their own cause.
Preparing your own case is time-consuming and costly.
Where the complaint is admitted, we can present your plea in mitigation.
We can arrange a barrister to represent you in complex cases, defended matters or appeals.
We can represent you before regulatory tribunals.
If found guilty of misconduct, the practitioner is likely to be fined and pay costs.
The average fine and costs imposed by the ICAEW Investigation Committee is over £5000 (excluding insolvency cases which incur low costs and no fine). ACCA no longer maintains an Investigations Committee.
The average fine and costs imposed by the ICAEW Disciplinary Committee is £6500. Equivalent figure at ACCA is similar.
A member of ACCA wishing to appeal a decision of an ACCA Disciplinary Committee must obtain permission to appeal.
Why be represented?
Stress – Representation can alleviate some of the stress. All disciplinary cases are prosecuted by lawyers, usually very experienced barristers.
Experience – An experienced lawyer will have appeared before a tribunal on many occasions.
Objectivity – The lawyer will bring objectivity to the case.
Preparation – In preparing the case, lawyers know what matters and what does not. They will focus on relevant issues and avoid protracted correspondence.
What difference can representation make?
Without effective representation at all stages of a complaint, many have suffered unnecessary damage to their reputation. Some have received substantial fines, which could have been avoided. Some have even lost their qualification and livelihood – possibly avoidable. Some, having failed to contest the disciplinary proceedings, have subsequently been unable to defend an interconnected civil action. Others have been unable to obtain insurance cover as a result of a disciplinary finding or had to pay a massively increased premium. Professional advice would have addressed these issues. You have nothing to lose by obtaining guidance.
The ICAEW Investigation Committee offers consent orders which the member can accept or reject. If he rejects, the case is referred to the ICAEW Disciplinary Committee. Consent orders are no different from disciplinary findings. All attract publicity. As consent orders are admissions of liability, there can be serious professional indemnity insurance implications. Insurers’ approval must be obtained before a consent order is accepted. Advice given before a case is referred to the ICAEW Investigation Committee could influence the outcome. Advice should always be obtained before a consent order is accepted.
The ICAEW Investigation Committee makes over 100 consent orders a year and imposes fines and costs in most cases.
Since 1st January 2016, ACCA has introduced consent orders. Other cases go directly to the ACCA Disciplinary Committee unless the Assessor (there is no longer an Investigations Committee) decides that the case should ‘rest on file’.
Need for advice
Not every case requires legal representation. But advice for accountants can be important at certain stages. Don’t forget that a complaint may be the forerunner to a claim. A mark of disapproval by the professional body could help in securing financial compensation against you. You will have to spend time dealing with a complaint. A complaint is often an attempt to avoid payment of fees. You do not want to lose all or part of your fee as well.
If the practitioner believes that he is innocent, he would be unwise to admit the complaint. Get advice beforehand. Even when pleading guilty, a good plea in mitigation could prevent exclusion or reduce the size of fine. ANCS was established with the aim of providing sound advice and to arrange representation at a reasonable cost to the accountant.
But we do more than assist accountants when complaints are made. If an accountant has a difficult client and believes this could lead to a claim or a complaint, we will advise him/her. And what should an accountant do when they’ve lost a client to another firm and receive a professional enquiry letter demanding all their working papers, plus files going back six years and threatening to report matters if they do not receive their full cooperation within seven days? The guidelines may appear confusing. A call to ANCS will provide you with guidance.
What will the service cost?
We charge for advice on an hourly basis – £220 plus VAT for all qualified accountants. There is no charge for initial telephone advice.
Why should this service be of interest outside England/Wales, ie to members of ICAS?
We acknowledge that the rules and regulations of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland (ICAS), and its disciplinary procedures, differ from, for example, those of the ICAEW, ACCA and CIOT Disciplinary Committees. Nevertheless, we are very familiar with the workings of ICAS. In the past, Chris Cope has represented a number of members of ICAS in both complaint investigations and before the ICAS Discipline Tribunal. However, in all cases before the Discipline Tribunal at ICAS, the directors will now arrange representation by Scottish counsel.
Which professional bodies can we assist with?
ICAEW, ACCA, ICAS, CIOT, CIMA, CIPFA and APA. And any other accountancy body with whom you hold a qualification.
What areas do we cover?
Complaints, regulation, discipline, appeals, practice problems, readmissions, ethics, rules and regulations, procedures and bye-laws.
What areas do we not cover?
We advise in those areas which are outside the expertise of the average chartered accountant or lawyer. But what we cannot do is give you legal advice on matters such as:-
Suing for outstanding fees.
Creation of partnerships.
Setting up limited companies or LLPs.
Judicial review, although we can recommend top barristers. However, we can do much of the preparatory work.
Leases, conveyancing and property issues.
Wills and probate.
What will ANCS provide?
Assisting members respond to an investigation or complaint.
Advice by telephone, in writing or at a meeting.
Corresponding with the professional body.
Take such action as soon as a complaint is made and once we have your instructions.
Give advice about a complaint before the professional body becomes involved.
Arrange representation before regulatory, disciplinary and appeal committees.
Where a disciplinary case is defended, arrange representation by experienced counsel.
If required, engage an expert to give evidence.
Surely these services are provided by your indemnity insurers?
Some PII policies provide cover for complaints or disciplinary cases. Others make it clear that cover is only provided if the complaint is likely to lead to a claim. Whereas underwriters have a discretion whether to instruct panel solicitors, the Insurance Companies (Legal Expenses Insurance) Regulations 1990 (paragraph 6.1) specifically enable the insured to choose his own lawyer, provided that he/she has the necessary experience/expertise to handle the matter. Your insurers can only insist that you instruct one of their panel solicitors if it is certain that the complaint (if upheld) will lead to a claim for negligence under your PII policy. If in doubt, or your brokers/insurers appear unhelpful, let us know and we will advise at no expense to you. Always check the wording of your policy thoroughly.
Doesn’t your professional body provide help?
Generally, it cannot advise you if it is carrying out an investigation into your conduct, but it can provide technical advice. We are here to provide advice on how best to approach and resolve problem areas.
Surely your local High Street solicitor can handle this?
Professional conduct is a speciality. Few advisers have the experience of investigating and prosecuting accountants gained by Chris Cope at the ICAEW from 1976-1983, running an advisory service for accountants (1984-1987) and as a practising solicitor (1988-2013) when he specialised in defending accountants.
It is essential, therefore, to instruct experts for advice. We have considerable experience and expertise. Providing guidance for accountants is our speciality.
Initial free telephone guidance for accountants on practice problems. Thereafter, we will charge the accountant £220 per hour for advice (for instance, practice assurance issues, client money regulations and changes in professional appointments). Practice inspections and the Money Laundering Regulations continue to cause problems for practitioners. Either we can help or we will put you in touch with someone who can.
If a member is subject to a negligence claim, he will advise his professional indemnity insurers who will, undoubtedly, instruct City solicitors. They will have immense experience. However, their role is to protect the interests of insurers. That may conflict with your interests. You may need independent advice about your interests (for instance preparing a written response to the City lawyers). If so, you should consult us. In this way, we hope to provide wise counsel and helpful assistance. We are here to provide guidance for accountants in most circumstances. We will not, though, give legal advice.
Always read the small print
We may decide what service can be provided and if so, on what terms.
The decision will be at the absolute discretion of ANCS.
ANCS will not advise or assist members in connection with civil or criminal proceedings.
We cannot give legal advice.