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Charging for professional clearance

 I have taken on a new client and sought the usual professional clearance and information from my predecessors. They are refusing to provide anything unless the client first pays them £150 for doing so. I am a member of the ICAEW so I checked with them and they advise against charging. These accountants I believe are ACCA. I have never had this before so was wondering if it is commonplace (my new client is refusing to pay, hence deadlock!)

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03rd Jun 2011 13:02

No we do not charge and have not come across other firms doing so either

-- Iceni

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03rd Jun 2011 13:03

Not commonplace but may also not be unreasonable

There is, so far as I can recall, no bar on charging for the review of files, collation of materials and sending these to new advisers.

It's not generally best practice but where a client has been a pain or sticky over fees I'd understand any accountant's reluctance to do more than the absolute minimum for free when contacted by a new adviser. They should respond to your letter re clearance but cannot be forced to provide anything other than any of the clients' own papers.

A phone call from you to them MAY help - professional to professional - and may help you find out why they are reluctant.  It may simply be that they are VERY commercially minded and do nothing for lost clients without being paid.  The downslide of this is that if, in months or years to come the client REALLY needs old data etc and is willing to pay for it, it can be much more inconvenient to dig it out.  This is another reason why most advisers willingly pass everything over in one go to get shot of the client for good.

Mark

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By mark589
03rd Jun 2011 13:42

Unreasonable

Seems a bit unreasonable. Thought it was common courtesy to provide info.

Especially between ICAEW members.

But then again if they can make a quick extra buck for little work then you can't blame them. Maybe they've had it done to them.

 

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03rd Jun 2011 14:13

Good idea

There's no "rule" to say they can't charge.

My guess is that the client in question has been a royal pain in the rear and has probably argued over every postage stamp they've charged him for.

Actually I would be in favour of the institutes setting a standard flat rate fee for handing over clients papers (£150 sounds reasonable) after all, would the client do work for the accountant for free?  I doubt it.

 

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By cbp99
03rd Jun 2011 15:36

From the ACCA rulebook (210.34 - 210.36)

In order to ensure continuity of treatment of a client’s affairs, the former
accountant shall promptly provide the new accountant with all reasonable transfer
information that the new accountant requests, free of charge.

All reasonable transfer information shall be provided even where there are unpaid
fees.

“Reasonable transfer information” is defined as:
(a) a copy of the last set of accounts formally approved by the client; and
(b) a detailed trial balance that is in agreement with the accounts referred to in (a)
above.

 

The above should of course be read in the context of the Rules as a whole.

 

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The ones who leave me ....

 I would usually pay the new accountant £150 to take them on!!!!

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03rd Jun 2011 16:23

Charging for handover

"Actually I would be in favour of the institutes setting a standard flat rate fee for handing over clients papers (£150 sounds reasonable) after all, would the client do work for the accountant for free?  I doubt it."

I totally disagree with this comment. In a free market economy the client has to be afforded the right to choose his/her advisers at will and the introduction of a fee for moving creates a potential barrier (admitedly at the small client end of the market.)

Without wishing to resurface the over debated qualified/non qualified question the very fact that we are talking here about a professional body potentially setting a fixed fee for change would create the wrong message in the market in my opinion and I would find it hard to defend to my clients to be honest. Now, if your suggestion was a charge to the new accountant rather than the client I may concede that as a worthwhile suggestion and be prepared to pay the costs on entry and write this off as a marketing expense. As most of the traffic has been incoming to my firm I admit I may be biased in that respect.

In this electronic age the good advisers in the market will have all the normal handover information available in their files to pass to a new adviser, I see no reason to charge for this. Just package it up, respond swiftly and professionally, wish the exit client all the best for the future and move on. Life's too short to be awkward with competitors/clients.

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03rd Jun 2011 19:34

ACCA rulebook

@cbp99

Your extract from the ACCA rules is correct, minimum handover must be provided for free, but an ACCA firm can charge for anything over and above that subject to reasonableness.  AFAIR there is some fulidity on whats defined as minimum handover.

This contrasts with the ICAEW rule book which I beleive outlaws charging in any circumstances, but does allow (which the ACCA doesn't) witholding pending settlement of an os account.

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Winds me up
I am of the firm opinion that firms who charge are doing so for commercial reasons (the chance of a last quick buck) or they have a massive chip on their shoulder.

Where else would this happen in the professions? People can change doctors, dentist, solicitor. I understand in our game that continuity of info is needed, but firms should let clients move when they want to. Certainly have an opportuntiy to retain the client, but when they decide to move on, so be it.

As for a standard price being set by a body that most clients haven't heard of, it's a non runner.
Customers must have a say in pricing. That's what a free Market dictates.

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03rd Jun 2011 21:37

Maybe set a fee according to the type of client but it's risky

I'm with Steve Holloway on this one, we very rarely get a client leaving us for another accountant. Mostly they are retiring, packing in self-employment, or we have sacked them.

On the odd occasion they do leave I am happy to cooperate and not charge a fee. If they are rubbish clients we are just glad to be shot of them. If they are/were good clients then being helpful and cooperative often gets us the client back again when they see the grass isn't always greener on the other side.

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03rd Jun 2011 23:25

.

Just to clarrify one point - it has been established that legally professional institutes cannot restrict members lawful right to charge commercial fees for work done, so the "rule books" are unenforceable in this respect and can only, legally, constitute advice.

There also seems to be a vast variation in what is requested. A copy of the last accounts, balance sheet, and return is fine (although why anyone wants a copy return when its available online is beynd me). 

BUT, about a year ago we  had a client move to one of the franchises, and quite frankly the letter we received I almost wrote "They are round and they bounce" on.  The "request" was not a professional request, it was a demand which started off "you are legally obliged to supply the following by return".  It then went on to demand in very poor grammar, detailed analysis of every figure on the balance sheet, the last TEN years accounts and returns, copies of our bills to the client with a detailed analyisis of the hourly rates charged, and every letter written or received regarding the client.  Quite a demand for a client with £20k a year turnover.

After due consideration which took about 10 seconds I filed the "demand" in the little round "filing receptical" at the side of my desk.

I wonder if perhaps that childish "demand" from an unqualified franchisee was prompted by the fact that we had taken 15-20 clients from them every year since they opened. 

Would anyone have actually responded to such a letter ? Personally I'd be charging around £2k for supplying the information he demanded.

 

 

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04th Jun 2011 07:24

Wind up

I think your letter was a wind up CD.

Who on earth would ask for 10 years accounts and copies of all correspondence??????? I doubt very much it is a requirement of the franchise, they would never get past base one trying to assimilate all the data, and all that extra work, for them as well as you, wouldn't earn them a penny!

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By Flash Gordon
04th Jun 2011 08:26

Both sides of the fence

I may get a splinter in a painful spot but I can see both sides of charging & not charging - it may mean I'm indecisive, I'm not sure!

I don't usually charge but if a client had been a pain in the area of the splinter I might be tempted to in future. Like CD said the client wouldn't do anything for us for free. I guess it winds me up more when they're asking for copies of everything that the client has already had (bar possibly the TB or breakdown of accruals etc) but the client can't be a**ed to provide them or the new accountant hasn't thought to check. That's just laziness and I don't see why I should waste my time. Professionalism is all well and good but I seem to end up requesting info from the ones who completely ignore my letters so its hard to feel generous when roles are reversed.

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04th Jun 2011 09:14

Shirley
 

I think your letter was a wind up CD.

 

Posted by ShirleyM on Sat, 04/06/2011 - 07:24

 

I thought the same Shirley, 'till I mentioned it to a friend whose practice is in the middle of town, and he said they had received a similar "demand" when a client had made the mistake of moving to the clowns in question. 

 

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04th Jun 2011 12:22

Not a wind up?

I often wonder how these practices survive, and some seem to go from strength to strength.

We go out of our way to make sure we do things as they should be done, and we have yet to meet another local accountant that does the same. Just one example: we always send a letter to the 'old' accountant, accompanied by a letter signed by our 'potential' client authorising the handover of records. We have yet to receive one ourselves and the 'new' accountant expects us to get the authorisation from the client! Fortunately, we only lose one or two clients a year to other accountants so it isn't a major problem, but I just pass the problem back to them now.

But we all know which accountants 'cut corners' in our localities. One went by the wayside when all their clients were investigated, but some others seem to grown and expand! We keep waiting for the roof to fall in on the rest ... but it hasn't happened yet. Sometimes (when I am feeling really down) I wonder if it is worthwhile doing the job really well when I could probably get the same fees for doing less than half the work, as some accountants seem to do.

Sorry! .... whinging session over and you can all relax now :)

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