It’s long been accepted that anyone with a relevant criminal conviction is barred from professional membership of an accountancy body.
And whilst this legislation has helped regulate the accountancy services sector effectively, it hasn’t necessarily prevented people with criminal convictions from operating outside the licensed sector. Nor has it necessarily meant that people with serious criminal convictions have always been refused employment at senior officer levels within supervised firms.
Now, this loophole is set to be closed by the introduction of a new requirement – that any beneficial owner, officer or manager (the neatly named BOOM) needs to have undergone an approval process from a supervisory body (such as AAT). That approval is dependent upon whether or not the individual has an unspent relevant conviction. In practice, this means – if this applies to you – having a Basic DBS checks.
What do these changes mean – and what do you have to do about it?
“BOOMs is a new definition,” says Adam Williamson, Head of Professional Standards at AAT. “Although the definition is limited, we’re taking it to mean people in an organisation who ultimately hold responsibility for senior decision-making in that organisation. This would include partners, directors, company secretaries, MLROs and the like.”
Why are these changes coming in? “It’s another element of the new Anti Money Laundering Regulations (AML),” Williamson says. “The specific aim is to try and ensure that there is no criminality at the controlling mind end of the supervised sectors; for these purposes that’s lawyers, accountants and estate agents.”
What the regulations state
All BOOMs in the specified areas will need to take a criminality check . “In effect, this will means a Basic DBS check through the relevant websites.” There are different sites for England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, “although they essentially follow the same requirements.” This will include all licensed members who are supervised by AAT. “AAT has partnered with a specialist company, DDC, to apply for Basic DBS checks on behalf of our members who will be contacting all of our relevant licensed members to explain to them the process and supply information as necessary.’
“They are twofold,” Williamson says. “If you are a supervised licensed member then you have to go through this yourself, via DDC.”
The second is to know who those people are in the organisation who count as BOOMs, “and make a realistic assessment of who has specific responsibilities in response to AML activity. It’s important to recognise that at this stage, the checks are only being pursued with licensed members – they in turn will be responsible for any other BOOMs in their organisations to ensure they’ve undergone the checks as well.”
Timescales and penalties
The DBS check needs to completed by the deadline of 26 June. “We will be undertaking spot checks and it will be part of our practice assurance reviews,” Williamson says. “In the future, the likelihood is that AAT will update the application and renewal processes to capture this information at the time – i.e, who the BOOMs are in any organisation and to confirm that they are free of any relevant criminal convictions.”
What happens if BOOMs continue to act without getting the checks done, or if it’s found that someone who should be disqualified from senior managerial positions is still practising? The answer is that penalties on conviction are imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years, or a fine, or both.
The view from OPBAS
The Office for Professional Body Anti-Money Laundering Supervision (OPBAS) is a new regulator set up by the government to strengthen the AML supervisory regime and ensure the professional body supervisors (such as AAT) provide consistently high standards of AML supervision.
It supervises 22 regulatory bodies in the UK including AAT, ICAEW and ACCA. It’s been established as part of a wider package of reforms to strengthen the AML supervisory regime.
BOOMs: The key take-outs
- Who does the legislation apply to? BOOMs or sole practitioners who work in the following areas: auditors, insolvency practitioners, external accountants and tax advisers; independent legal professionals; estate agents; high value dealers.
- What do businesses need to ensure they do? A relevant firm must take reasonable care to ensure that no-one is appointed, or continues to act, as an officer or manager of the firm unless that person has been approved by the supervisory authority, and the supervisory authority’s approval of that person has not ceased to be valid.
- And as an individual? Similarly, an individual must not act, or continue to act, as a sole practitioner in the relevant fields unless they have been approved by the supervisory authority.
- What is a DBS check? The Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) Disclosure Scotland and Access Northern Ireland help employers make safer recruitment decisions as well as ensuring unsuitable people from working with vulnerable groups. This replaces the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) and Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA).
“This is a further attempt to ensure that organisations within relevant sectors which clearly have the potential to be used for money-laundering do not have people at the top with relevant convictions,” Adam Williamson concludes. “This can only be a good step.”
AAT licensed members can find further support and guidance on Anti Money Laundering online.
Mark Blayney Stuart is Business Journalist of the Year, Wales Media Awards 2017 and Former Head of Research at the Chartered Institute of Marketing.