When is an accountant not an accountant?

You'd be forgiven for thinking that this was the start of a joke but the irony is that this question leaves us with very little to laugh about, so we're going to get right to the point.

When is an accountant not an accountant?

Latest estimates are that up to 1 in 3 Accountants are not regulated and may not have full or even partial qualifications!

What’s even more shocking is that the majority of the UK’s general public, don’t even know this. No Accounting qualifications, No Degree…not even a Math GCSE needed to be able to set up as an Accountant.

As a nation of Business Owners, Leaders and Entrepreneurs, we are completely oblivious to the fact that absolutely anyone can set up and call themselves an Accountant. The profession is not legally required to be regulated.

So, do you know who you’re getting this invaluable advice from?

An accounting degree is usually necessary for a professional qualification and the AAT qualification route is typically the minimum level expected of an accountant, but this does not stop self-taught Accountants from practicing. The important message is to be aware of the risks.

Most reputable accountants are members of the industry’s own self-regulation bodies like the ICAEW (Institute for Chartered Accountants England and Wales). Look out for their logos on your accountant’s website or documentation. These bodies, much like the FCA (Financial Conduct Authority) set standards and audit their members and in some topics, they go further than the FCA require of financial advisers.

If your accountant is not a member of an industry body should you deal with them?

This information should be freely available on an Accountant’s website or included as part of their correspondence but, if it’s not there, just ask the straight question: Ask for their credentials. If your prospective Accountant has nothing to hide, they will not be offended by this. Failing to have this information could risk leaving yourself wide open to sub-standard advice, lower standards of service, lack of protection and recourse and it could be worse if HMRC choose to investigate your affairs…

So, we call upon all SME’s to review their accounting providers. Are you satisfied you have the best solution in place?

We also know that the government is being lobbied to take action. After all there will be some easy wins for HMRC in this.

Unregulated agents account for most agent-related complaints to HMRC. Mandatory membership of a relevant professional body for anyone offering accountancy services would put accountancy on a par with other professions such as doctors, nurses, architects, solicitors, financial services and many other professions, potentially cutting the number of HMRC investigations.

If you’re searching for a trusted Accountant then it’s a good idea to start with professional memberships. The most well-known of these being the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales, or the ICAEW for short.

Chartered Accountants abide by the law of ethics which generally plays a pivotal role in ensuring public trust and upholding the reputation of all good qualified and regulated Accountants. These principles are:

  • Integrity
  • Objectivity
  • Professional competence and due care
  • Confidentiality
  • Professional behaviour

Add to this other elements you should look for in an Accountancy Practice:

  • Sector Knowledge
  • Approachable and communicative
  • Diversity of services
  • Commitment to your success

Governing boards such as the ICAEW take very seriously failure to follow the code which may result in a member becoming liable to disciplinary action. Anyone providing paid-for tax or accountancy services should be a member of a relevant professional body.

It could be argued that the term ‘Accountant’ itself should be regulated. To our knowledge this has never been discussed at great length by government or accounting bodies until recently. With over 30,000 Accounting Practices in the UK, if government were to insist that only qualified accountants could practice then they would be leaving a substantial number of people needed to gain qualifications and accreditation.

For those that don’t go this route then they should be required to inform clients of their correct status and then it’s up to the client to decide for themselves.

Chartered Territory

All Chartered Accountants are qualified and regulated. Providing specialist advice and services to the highest levels and comply with principles-based guidance. If in doubt, play it safe, d&t Chartered Accountants are ACCA qualified and proud members of the ICAEW, The National Association of Commercial Finance Brokers (NACFB) where we have the highest A1 grading as well as the British Franchise Association (bfa) so you can take comfort in the knowledge that you’re in safe hands.

Phil Archer
Phil Archer