Business bodies react to AAT’s Accountable campaign for consumer protection

Business and professional bodies express their support for AAT’s campaign to require all accountants to be qualified and accountable.

AAT has challenged the Government to go beyond compulsory Private Indemnity Insurance PII as a way to raise standards in accountancy and tax advice.

The root problems of poor performance lie with the one third of unregulated accountants associated with two thirds of problems. AAT advocates that consumers should be protected by requiring all accountants to be subject to an appropriate professional body.

This would stop anyone being able to call themselves an accountant without a qualifications. Compulsory membership would mean accountants are:

  • appropriately qualified,
  • undertake regular CPD,
  • hold PII,
  • are subject to the bodies’ disciplinary procedures and
  • sign up to PCRT (professional conduct in relation to tax).

A number of business and professional bodies have reacting to AAT’s Accountable campaign. Here’s what they told us:

The public is unaware accountants may lack a qualification

Gary Ashford, partner, Harbottle & Lewis, vice president, Chartered Institute of Taxation

“If I go see a doctor, I need to know that the doctor is, in fact, a doctor. If you speak to most people in the general public, they have absolutely no knowledge that the accountant down the street is completely unqualified and has now professional indemnity insurance.

“We’ve had the consultation documents that came out last year about raising standards, and one would argue that there’s no doubt one way to raise standards is to make sure everyone’s qualified and operating at least to a minimum standard.”

Consumers need oversight to protect them

George Bull, partner, RSM UK

“The lack of regulation in the tax profession means there is limited or no consumer protection.

“I strongly support the idea that the practice of tax should be regulated.”

Business founders should seek certified accountants

Emma Jones CBE, Founder, Enterprise Nation

“We have seen from supporting over half a million small businesses each year that businesses who access advice grow better and faster than those that don’t. There needs to be a bond of trust between business and adviser and we encourage founders to check that accountants are members of certified and regulated bodies so trust can flourish.

“Excessive regulation is not a good thing, in our view, but it does have a role when it comes to ensuring professional services are delivered in a proper way to businesses who rely on the advice to build their livelihood and create jobs for others.”

Businesses risk inappropriate advice

Philip King, Interim Small Business Commissioner

“If small business owners aren’t aware that people without appropriate qualifications or recognition can operate as an accountant or tax agent, there is an inherent risk that they might get inappropriate advice which might act to the detriment of their business.”

“I always encourage small business owners to seek appropriate expert advice in running their businesses. It’s vital that they do so with confidence knowing that the advice they receive is backed up by relevant qualifications, knowledge and recognition.”

The status quo is rather shocking

John Cullinane, Director of public policy, Chartered Institute of Taxation

“It isn’t really right how it currently is. It must surprise most members of the public and most policymakers when they hear that anybody can go and set themselves up as an accountant or tax adviser. They’d find that slightly shocking.”

Tax advisors should be equivalent with doctors and solicitors

Stephen Herring, former Head of Taxation, Institute of Directors and former Head of Tax, BDO

“You can’t set yourself up as a doctor or solicitor, so why should you be able to set yourself up as a tax adviser if you haven’t got some sort of qualification suitable for the work that you’re doing?

“To the person in the street, it can be very difficult to tell if someone has the appropriate experience or qualification to offer the advice they do.

“I am supportive of requiring tax agents to be members of professional bodies. I’d like to see some alternative qualifications and routes to get qualifications in very focused areas of tax.”

The public needs professionals

Mark Walley, Chief executive, STEP

“I have a deep-seated belief in the value of professional education because I believe that the public needs to know that it is dealing with professionally qualified individuals who are up to date and have committed to the standards and ethics expected of them. Accountability is the key factor to underpin standards – whether by a professional body or a separate regulator.”

The public desires reassurance

Michelle Mullen, executive director for standards, Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland

“We certainly believe there is a public desire for individuals providing accountancy services, including tax, to be qualified. That might be through examinations or through experience, and for those individuals to be regulated. That means annual CPD, an obligation to hold professional indemnity insurance and to be subject to a code of ethics.”

“In our response to HMRC’s initial consultation on raising standards in tax, we did favour option E, which I believe is the option AAT favours as well. Which is namely that, in the future, individuals who are providing tax services should be regulated by a professional body. Going back to what AAT is articulating, I think a holistic regulatory framework for all has to remain the long-term ambition.”

David Nunn is Content Manager at AAT.

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