Common Disciplinary Complaints
How does ACCA handle complaints against its members? Juliana Campbell details the role of the Professional Conduct Department.
ACCAs Professional Conduct Department (PCD) investigates complaints against ACCAs members, affiliates and students. PCD receives complaints/referrals from members of the public, different departments within ACCA (please note that calls to the Technical Advisory Service are confidential and details are not shared with PCD) and other regulatory bodies, such as the Insolvency Service and Financial Services Authority.
All complaints are reviewed in accordance with ACCAs stated disciplinary procedure. ACCAs Members Guide to Disciplinary Proceedings can be viewed on ACCAs website at www.accaglobal.com.
The guide sets out the procedures followed by ACCA when investigating complaints it receives about the conduct of members, affiliates and students.
ACCA is required to have a comprehensive disciplinary procedure in place as part of its status as a recognised professional body. The procedures are subject to external review by the Public Oversight Board for Accountants (formerly the Review Board) and other external regulators. The procedures comply with the laws of natural justice and the Human Rights Act 1998.
The majority of complaints considered by ACCAs disciplinary process do not relate to the quality of the advice provided by ACCA members. Complaints such as these are relatively few in number, which reflects well on the accountancy profession, ACCA and its members. Complaints usually relate to a lack of knowledge or in some cases a cavalier attitude towards ACCAs regulations.
ACCA receives a variety of complaints about the conduct of members. The most common complaints received regarding practising members are highlighted below.
The most common cause of complaint concerns fee disputes. ACCA does not have the jurisdiction to deal with fee disputes. Fee disputes are contractual in nature and as a result the proper forum is a court. Complainants are advised of this upon receipt of the complaint.
However, members should be aware of the provisions in respect of fees set out in ACCAs Rulebook at section 3.3.9. In particular members should be aware of the need to provide a full breakdown of fees, if this has not already been provided, and the client disputes the amount being charged.
Another issue, which is related to the question of fees disputes, is the provision of professional clearance and transfer information to a new accountant. Members are required to provide professional clearance and transfer information even where there are outstanding fees. This requirement is set out at paragraphs 29 to 32 of section 3.3.5 of ACCAs Rulebook.
Members should also give careful consideration to paragraphs 27 and 28 of section 3.3.5, which requires that books and papers belonging to the client should be returned to the client once a new accountant has been appointed.
The only exception is where the member claims to exercise a lien over them. Section 3.3.6 of ACCAs Rulebook deals with the ownership of documents and papers and the requirements for the exercise of a lien.
Whilst the matter of a fee dispute does not, by itself, raise a disciplinary issue a failure to deal with the provision of a breakdown, professional clearance or transfer information or the transfer of books and papers may lead to an investigation of a members failure to comply with the relevant regulations.
Failure to Respond to Correspondence
A failure to respond to professional correspondence or to ACCA correspondence is the most common cause of complaint referred to ACCAs Disciplinary Committees.
Complaints regarding a failure to respond are usually linked with other complaints against the member. However, in a few cases, the only basis of referral to the Disciplinary Committee is a failure to respond to correspondence despite several reminders from PCD to do so.
This may be the case where the member eventually responds and is able to rebut the complaint, but has failed to co-operate with ACCAs investigation of the complaint. In these cases a reasonably prompt response would have avoided the referral of the matter to the Disciplinary Committee altogether.
Cases referred to ACCAs Disciplinary Committee have dealt with failures to respond which range from four months to 13 months.
Breach of an Order of ACCAs Admissions & Licensing Committee
ACCA members can be subject to an order of ACCAs Admissions and Licensing Committee (formerly Authorisations Committee) relating to the conduct of work by the member or his/her practice. Members are offered the opportunity of appealing against the Admissions and Licensing Committees orders.
Orders of the Admissions and Licensing Committee often require members to have reports prepared by them, such as audit reports, subjected to a review by an independent individual. In some cases, a subsequent review by monitoring staff has shown that the member has not complied with the Admissions and Licensing Committees order. The Disciplinary Committee will consider the extent of the failure to comply with the order and the reason(s) for the failure to comply. It treats such failures very seriously, as ACCAs regulatory power depends upon members complying with its regulations and the orders of its committees. Therefore exclusion can often be the penalty imposed.
Failure to Complete Required CPD
Members holding practising certificates are currently required to undertake up to 35 hours CPD per year, of which not less than 21 hours should be structured. In 2005, CPD requirements are going to be extended to all ACCA members and not just those in practice.
A failure to complete the required number of CPD hours is often linked to one of the following: a failure to maintain CPD records, comply with an undertaking given to ACCA or to the Admissions and Licensing Committee and that the member either misleading or attempting to mislead ACCA.
The allegation that the member has misled ACCA relates to the members indication in their annual renewal form that the required number of CPD hours had been, or would be, obtained for the period in question.
Members must be aware of regulation 10 of the Global Practising Regulations, which provides details of the CPD requirements.
In summary most of the matters highlighted above are issues which can be avoided by taking reasonable steps to ensure knowledge of the regulations, which are set out in ACCAs Rulebook 2004. The Rulebook is available online at www.accaglobal.com or on request in book or CD-ROM format by calling 0141 309 4700.
Clarification of the regulations or the application of the regulations to particular circumstances can be obtained from ACCAs Technical Advisory Service on 020 7396 5920.
Juliana Campbell Head of Professional Conduct, ACCA