The ICAEW has suggested that its members should be allowed to provide tax-based legal services.
In a consultation, the ICAEW said that allowing accounting firms to offer probate services had been so successful that it’s consulting on extending regulated services that they can provide.
If the proposal is approved it would mean chartered accountants would be able to able to compete with solicitors for tax services including conducting litigation, having rights of audience and being able to offer notarial and reserved instrument services. They would also be able to administer oaths.
Research has shown tax-based legal services “will be an adjunct to our members’ taxation services” and also personal wealth and financial planning services, the ICAEW said.
In 2014, the Institute started to regulate and licence probate services. The change was allowed by the Legal Services Act 2007 which was designed to increase competition in legal services.
The ICAEW said that the number of accountants that had applied for a licence to do probate services had “far exceeded” its expectations.
Peter James, the ICAEW's head of regulatory policy, told AccountingWEB that the ICAEW had licensed 180 accounting firms for probate work.
Any extension of legal services accountants can provide will face opposition from solicitors.
Jonathan Smithers, president of the Law Society, a professional body which represents about 150,000 solicitors in England and Wales, told AccountingWEB that although accountants provide valuable tax advisory services it was concerned that extending reserved tax-based legal services could "put consumers at risk" and would not be in the public interest.
"Litigation is a specialist area in itself, and has fundamental differences from advisory work," he said. "Accountants do not have the same duties to their clients, or to the courts, as solicitors. It does not therefore follow that because a body’s members provides advisory services in an area that it also ought to be able to conduct litigation in relation to those matters. Finally, this would result in further regulatory complexity, with the number of regulators of this area of legal services increasing and creating multiple levels of regulation, whilst several government consultations are going on to potentially reduce regulation.”
The Law Society had similar concerns about allowing accountants to do probate work.
James said that since the ICAEW began to licence and regulate probate it had contributed to the regulation of law and that the two professions were "natural allies".