A sad tale…

A sad tale of failing to communicate

Bereavement and ill health can take its toll on day-to-day life, but even under these tragic personal circumstances, practitioners still have a responsibility to their clients and professional body.

Sole practitioner Sonia was dealing with her husband’s death when she failed to respond to another accountant’s professional clearance and transfer request. Over the next few months, Sonia also failed to engage with an ACCA investigation into her alleged failure to respond.

The disciplinary committee concluded that Sonia’s failure to respond and co-operate fully with the Investigations Officer did demonstrate a lack of professional responsibility.

Sonia received a severe reprimand in November 2018 and was ordered to pay ACCA’s disciplinary hearing costs of £6,000.

Background

Sonia told the ACCA’s conciliation team in June 2017 that her lack of client communication occurred at a time when she was ill and signed off work and dealing with three bereavements including her husband’s death. She had been left to wind down his business, as well as her own.

Sonia said that she believed that she and the client had already parted ways. However, the client later re-emerged at the eleventh hour with a VAT return. She said the client had been “awkward” for 18 months and would get angry with her, refuse to pay for on-going work, and had threatened to engage a new accountant.

Sonia admitted that although she had moved out of her offices in December 2016, that shouldn’t have affected client communication because the client was made aware of these changes. She also said she updated her ACCA records, but not Companies House.

Sonia told the ACCA that she had lost access to her emails which explained her silence. By the time they were restored in May 2017, she was abroad and unable to receive phone calls.

Off the radar

Despite agreeing to send the client’s transfer documents in the following week and to email a response to the officer, Sonia failed to do so, which sparked a three month chase where the ACCA’s emails and voicemails were met with silence.

By August 2017, the matter had been escalated to the ACCA Investigations Department after seven failed attempts to contact Sonia. The Investigations Department tried a further four times and searched the ACCA database for alternative addresses, before Sonia re-emerged on 13 October after having only just seen the Investigations Department’s September email (she said that she did not “regularly monitor” this email account). But in her own mind, Sonia believed that she had already provided all the information to the ACCA.

Committee’s conclusion

ACCA sympathised with Sonia’s personal circumstances, namely working part-time after an extended time off work and the added responsibility of running her late husband’s business.

Whilst the disciplinary committee severely reprimanded Sonia, it recognised that this was not a case of non-cooperation.

Sonia indicated in a conversation with the ACCA in June 2018 that she had sold her practice and wanted her practising certificate withdrawn.

Sonia did not attend the hearing. The ACCA attempted to contact her but an emailed notice of the hearing to her registered address bounced back and it appeared that she left her registered address sometime before.

 

Chris Cope comments:-

A sad case. To my mind, Sonia really needed the ACCA’s help, as opposed to disciplinary sanction. When will the ACCA introduce a Support Members Group, similar to the ICAEW? The only good news from Sonia’s point of view was that the costs ordered were £3200 less than sought.

 

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