The disciplinary systems of both the ICAEW and the ACCA have general parallels in their approach to complaints. Once a complaint is raised, it is then triaged and filtered. If, following this initial stage of a complaint any further investigation is required, then:
- The ICAEW appoints an assessor (under their Investigation Committee)
- The ACCA appoints a case examiner
The assessor (or case examiner) conduct their own investigations, obtaining input as required. From that, they form their own views about whether there is a case to answer. If so for both regulators, the matter is referred to a committee or a tribunal to be heard.
There are currently three sets of ACCA Guidance:
- admissions, staff admissions, re-admission and bankruptcy
- waivers of applications
- audit monitoring
These criteria are used as guidance for the regulators. The ICAEW has similar guidance including an FAQ page on its disciplinary process.
What are the current themes?
As may perhaps be expected, Covid claims are now featuring which have the potential to have a large impact. For example, a knock-on effect from Covid has been to produce a backlog in matters being heard by the ICAEW and the ACCA. This has seen the development of alternative solutions being found by both regulators to deal with their backlogs. This has included moving the less serious cases away from a tribunal. Those serious cases involving for example misconduct or poor service however, are likely to remain with a tribunal.
A point to flag is that the regulators are under resourced to deal effectively with their backlogs. How this will be dealt with in future is yet to be clarified.
Interestingly, whilst the ACCA is not softening its approach to the complaints it is hearing, the ICAEW is. The sanctions available depend on the complaint being heard, so for example, the ICAEW will invite a member or firm to consent to an order which may be for a reprimand, a fine or costs.
The ACCA can impose conditions on the holder of a certificate (for auditor cases) or can refer the case to a Committee (primarily for those matters which see the withdrawal/suspension of a certificate).
For some issues, there may be either payment of fixed penalties for minor complaints to, in the worst scenario, removal as an accountant however both regulators remain keen to keep people in the profession.
Sanctions will, nonetheless only be applied where it is absolutely necessary.
Takeaways if you receive a complaint
Don’t ignore any problem which arises. The sooner you engage with the regulator and co-operate, the better. If you need advice or assistance with dealing with the matter, seek it (either through your Professional Indemnity Insurers or your broker).
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