Expectations of an AAT level 4 qualified

What tasks would you expect an in practice AAT level 4 qualified to be able to do?

Didn't find your answer?

I can't find much online other than knowing from experience what AAT Level 4 entails. 

We have an AAT Level 4 qualified with 20+ years of experience who scored very low on an industry standard test (6th Percentile) vs a newly qualified (94th Percentil). We inherited these employee from another firm and they are currently on a PIP. After seeing the test results we don't see that they have the sufficient knowledge to meet the requirements of their PIP. 

CHAT GPT indicates these are the tasks you expect them to be able to undertake? The newly qualified can do most of these including basic tax returns whilst the 20 year cannot do tax returns. We don't think they'd be able to produce management accounts on the software and certainly not in a timely manner. 

the question really is do you think the below is a reasonable expectation or do you have similar staff who have struggled perhaps to move with the times or are at their limits?

  1. Preparation of Financial Statements: AAT Level 4 accountants should be proficient in preparing financial statements such as balance sheets, income statements, and cash flow statements for small to medium-sized businesses.

  2. Bookkeeping: They should be capable of maintaining accurate and up-to-date financial records for clients, including recording transactions, reconciling accounts, and managing ledgers.

  3. Tax Returns: AAT Level 4 accountants should be able to prepare and submit various tax returns, including VAT returns, corporation tax returns, and self-assessment tax returns for individuals.

  4. Management Accounting: They should have the skills to assist in budgeting, forecasting, and financial analysis to help businesses make informed decisions about their finances.

  5. Client Communication: AAT Level 4 accountants may liaise with clients to gather financial information, provide advice on accounting matters, and answer queries related to their accounts and tax affairs.

  6. Software Proficiency: They should be proficient in using accounting software packages such as Sage, Xero, or QuickBooks to process financial data efficiently and accurately.

  7. Audit Support: While they may not lead audit engagements, they could assist in the audit process by preparing audit schedules, gathering evidence, and liaising with auditors.

  8. Compliance: They should have a good understanding of accounting standards and regulations such as GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles) and be able to ensure clients' financial records comply with these standards.

  9. Payroll Processing: AAT Level 4 accountants may be involved in processing payroll for clients, including calculating wages, deducting taxes and other withholdings, and preparing payroll reports.

  10. Continuing Professional Development (CPD): They should engage in ongoing professional development activities to stay updated with changes in accounting standards, tax regulations, and best practices in the industry.

 

Replies (33)

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By AW95
19th Mar 2024 13:11

Your post is quite long but has barely mentioned the individual's actual work performance.

Surely if you are running an accountancy practice you should have an idea yourself as to what this person should be able or not able to do?

Is the quality of their work lacking? What goals have been set for them as part of the PIP and what are you doing to support them in these goals?

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Replying to AW95:
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By Christianwolff
19th Mar 2024 13:59

Generally they are too slow, year end Accts sometimes finished ok others basic errors. They barely used a computer for anything other than data entry a few years ago. Sometimes because they are already over budget in time it is easier just to finish the job rather than give it back to them to correct errors.

The test results suggested they had limited knowledge on double entry and that they are taking a long time to get it right because of this. They were generally slower than the juniors on more menial tasks such as invoice processing.

goals are to improve their speed to profitable margins. They've improved but not to these levels and because of the time of year we're limited on their improvement on the more advanced year end work. They were tested about 1/3rd of the way through the PIP which we believe gives us more indication of why they're slow.

They've had training in using the software more efficiently, setting rules etc. And prior to that they've had the same training as the juniors that are faster than them. They have 20 years of experience on their closest peer in the firm but their peer is vastly quicker and can do a higher level of work.

which is why I'm asking if we're expecting to much of a Level 4 qualified. (although the peer can do most of what I've listed to a good standard in a profitable time)

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paddle steamer
By DJKL
19th Mar 2024 13:23

What training in the tasks has the firm offered to the employee?

Forget qualification held, few on here learned just from books how to write up a cashbook or prepare a tax return, they learned from supervision during their training.

When I say saw my first cashbook I barely understood it, my exam questions always started from an abstract of bank transactions/similar. Similarly I never completed a tax return until I had been trained for over 3 years, I prepared a few tax calcs, had done some CT calcs for accounts/audit purposes (checked by tax department before going anywhere) but never a return. (though had sat tax exams, not the same thing)

So, look at what training and supervision the individual has been offered, not any bit of paper.

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Stepurhan
By stepurhan
19th Mar 2024 13:28

If you're relying on ChatGPT to advise you on expectations for an employee, I think you have bigger issues to worry about. There are numerous cases of engines like this producing misleading or outright erroneous results.

First, as others have said, you need to decide what standard you require from your employee (what you require, not what ChatGPT says they should be able to do). This should be based on the work you need them to do. To a certain extent, their qualification level and alleged experience is irrelevant. You are not interviewing them as a potential employee and, if you inherited them from another firm, you are likely way past the point of being able to get rid if they have exaggerated that.

You should also seek advice from a good HR consultant. You will be able to give them more detail than it would be advisable to share on a public forum, and they will have the expertise to advise you accordingly. There will be a cost, but costs of winging it and getting trounced at an employment tribunal would be much higher.

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Replying to stepurhan:
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By Christianwolff
19th Mar 2024 14:11

I'm Not saying Chat GPT is right I'm just using it as an example.

Happy for feedback on what you think an AAT level 4 with 20 years experience would be expected to do in your firm? Looking for what the industry sees as a standard not chat gpt.

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Replying to Christianwolff:
Stepurhan
By stepurhan
19th Mar 2024 14:57

It is irrelevant what an AAT level 4 with 20 years experience should be able to do. As I already said, that is only relevant if you were hiring or in a probationary period. They are a factor in deciding on candidates for the position in future, not for the position you are in now.

You employ them to do a job. You have expectations of what someone in that job should be able to do. If they are not able to meet those expectations, that is what you need to focus on. If you don't know what those expectations are, then you have a different problem. The opinions of anonymous people online of what a person with that level of experience should or should not be able to do won't even be admitted as evidence in an employment tribunal.

Talk to an HR professional and get advice on what you should do next.

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By Paul Crowley
19th Mar 2024 13:44

What complete bunkum from Chat GP
If your firm and the prior firm were unable to train and supervise a person who managed to qualify AAT then the defect is with the employer, not the employee.
AAT exams are just that. They are not training in real life.

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By rmillaree
19th Mar 2024 13:45

surely you need to old school see what they can and cant do via monitoring their output.

the stuff you have posted makes no sense in the real world.

If after 20 years than can do didly suat you need to ask shy and proceed as appropriate.

I would be gobsmacked if there are not some duties they will be very copmpetent at doing on a day to day basis.

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Replying to rmillaree:
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By Christianwolff
19th Mar 2024 14:02

We are a small firm, they are on paper the second most qualified. The industry standard test demonstrates what they can and cant do. We can't really delegate basic tasks to them when they should be capable of more it would be unfair on other staff.

we have asked why in their PIP but they aren't really giving us an answer other than they've had to learn to use the software (which 3 other employees have also had to do and managed)

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By DKB-Sheffield
19th Mar 2024 14:01

Surely... what happens on the ground is what matters?

I'm not sure what 'industry standard test' you've used but... I'm in no way surprised that a NQ team member (who has recently completed many such 'tests') has significantly outperformed a member who qualified 20 years ago.

On the subject of PIPs... was this a real choice of the employee, or was it politely enforced? Does the employee wish 'improve', or do you need them to improve... or else consider further options? I've seen attempts made in the past where PIP has been used to reverse engineer performance management... one such poorly-handled case resulting in constructive dismissal.

Personally, I've always valued dedicated, long-standing, competent team players (who may not provide the full-stack of knowledge/ capabilities)... over someone who is NQ, good at tests, but is unable to work as part of a team or deal with clients.

FWIW I disagree with Chat GPT to the extent that level 4 AAT team members should be able to do ALL of the items on the list with an equal level of competency - particularly if they've been in a role for many years. Bookkeping, financial statements, audit, budgeting/ forecasting AND tax returns? Yes, it's on the syllabus but... how many established AAT employees (or, members of other PBs for that matter) have ALL of them on their job description?

IMO the key element of Chat GPT's list is CPD. For that you can help, and support the employee.

Only you know the competencies of your team, and the value each individual brings to a workplace. What may appear to be dead wood (because they fail a test) may also be an integral part of the team... and the glue that keeps everything together.

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Replying to DKB-Sheffield:
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By Christianwolff
19th Mar 2024 14:10

I'm aware CHAT GPT isn't gospel i just know from experience that what is listed is what you undergo in the training. We have run extensive analysis on their clients, fees and time and once accounting for costs and overheads etc they are running at a loss.

A PIP was required because of the above.

We would be quite happy if they were competent and producing profitable work and not having to do a PIP. But a profit has to be made at the end of the day otherwise other employees are subsidizing this employee.

I also disagree with CHAT GPT to be fair, it very difficult to maintain a decent knowledge across all of those topics unless you do them regularly on a day to day basis. But the tests suggested they had limited knowledge on basic tasks.

Every staff member sat these tests and nobody scored glaringly low.

The belief is that they're not competent as their previous employer let things slide in terms of keeping up with the times and maintaining compliance etc but the employee also has some responsibility in this dont they?

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John Toon
By John Toon
19th Mar 2024 14:27

Chat GPT has come up with a pretty solid list and if this person has 20 years experience they should be able to do so much more, but that really depends on whether that experience was good quality or not. I was running audit teams before I'd finished my Level 4 exams...

As others have said only you can truly assess their value and competence

I'm interested in what your industry standard test is? I didn't know there was one...

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Replying to johnt27:
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By Christianwolff
19th Mar 2024 14:33

https://www.accountests.co.uk/

Again we're fully aware that they won't give the full picture. But are a decent guide.

They highlight weaknesses and test on what they might not be expected to know also. (which is what our newly qualified AAT level 4 scored highly on)

They scored very low on the basics.

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By tom123
19th Mar 2024 14:54

I had a look at that test. As it happens I got 4/4 on the corporate example questions.

However, they were a bit odd - and bore no resemblance to my working life. They seemed to be fitted into the kind of yes/no questions that computers can ask.

I've been qualified for 25 years, with both CIMA at ATT, but if you asked me to do something with incomplete records I would be no use to you at all.

Sounds like this employment relationship is only going to end one way.

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Replying to tom123:
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By Christianwolff
19th Mar 2024 15:35

I don't think they're meant to be a mirror of your working life more a demonstration that you understand the principles of accounting.

I have seen some of a trainees Kaplan training plans and they indicate that the trainee should demonstrate their knowledge rather than learn by repetition, hence why they should be able to answer a question on double entry fairly quickly.

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Replying to Christianwolff:
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By DKB-Sheffield
19th Mar 2024 16:39

I too have just tried 5 of the sample tests... (I'm certainly not planning to spend a few £100 to try all of the full ones).

Depending on which tests you set...

The first question on the CA one relates to forward exchange contracts under IFRS and FRS102. In the last 20 years I haven't dealt with, this - certainly don't expect an AAT employee will have.

On the unqualified test, there is a question on how to journal the sale of goods. I'd guess in 20 years the employee hasn't journalled the sale of goods (although recently qualified will have recently studied this).

Some of the tests are very American ($). EBITDA through to NPAT is not standard terminology on UK FS (certainly SMEs). And the question on capital allowances assumes AIA is claimed... without actually specifying it IS claimed.

Yes... I got them all right but, I can certainly understand why some may score very low - particularly as some of these are relatively academic cf life in practice. In fact, some were so unrelated to my day-to-day work, or were poorly written, that I wouldn't consider giving it [paying for one] a second thought.

OOI... have you also taken the tests for comparison?

Clearly, you have concerns with this employee, and those concerns may well be justified. However, these are better handled where knowledge and application are dealt with as one. Knowledge is all well and good... but is pretty useless if it can't be applied.

I do understand your concerns, and it is difficult dealing with performance management issues but... it takes time to do it correctly and there are so many potential pitfalls nowadays. Certainly benchmarking against new recruits (who are quick on computers, and know theory) is not always a good starting point.

Historical knowledge can be a good thing... have the newbies even heard of prior year basis (or how it was calculated - which may be needed)?Did they learn about MRR (it died a death for a long while)? They know computers but do they know how to calculate (and check) payroll manually? Can they speak to each client on a level that each client understands?

Good luck. It's not an enviable task. However, if you're fair, patient, and have a transparent process, you'll be on the right track - whatever the outcome.

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Replying to DKB-Sheffield:
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By Christianwolff
19th Mar 2024 17:25

Thank you for your informed reply.

I have sat the test myself and the actual test selected was UK aligned, i have sampled some of those sample questions and depending on which you take they can be American or have some questions that perhaps aren't relative to your specific job right now.

Most of the questions were relevant for what I do on the test (I don't do a lot of payroll and the questions I got wrong I'd have probably known if I did it regularly)

One of the juniors discussed their Book keeper level exam and said that there were a few different terms that they weren't used to but nothing that couldn't be worked out quickly from context.

You have highlighted a point there about juniors being faster on computers and we do think that is part of the issue too but how much allowance can you make for this when they're unprofitable. We're a small firm and have had to do a lot of compliance and modernization because of how the previous firm operated (Same practices I saw in work experiences 20+ years ago) which is why this employees short comings only really came to light when we analyzed their time and fees accurately

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Replying to Christianwolff:
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By AW95
19th Mar 2024 20:45

When you say unprofitable, is it that they can't meet budget with the charge out rate assigned to them, or are they actually unprofitable on a cash basis?

If it's the former, how much of a profit margin is built into their rate?

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Replying to Christianwolff:
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By FactChecker
19th Mar 2024 16:41

At the risk of stating the obvious (and going all softy HR'ish), my starting point would be not dissimilar to what I gather is used at AA and other like services:

* Do both parties acknowledge that there's a problem and agree on the nature of it?

If not, then that is where you have to start (quite possibly with HR mediation);
whereas if yes, then it may be messier than you want but the only solution is to (jointly) work on an improvement plan or, of course, back to HR for termination.

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Replying to tom123:
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By Christianwolff
19th Mar 2024 15:35

double post

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By Adam12345
20th Mar 2024 09:46

What I would expect from someone with AAT level 4 and 20 years experience would depend on how much they are paid.

If you have two individuals with the same qualification and experience and work the same hours, but one is paid £35,000 and the other is paid £25,000 - would you expect them to complete the same tasks to the same standard?

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By Dp2020
20th Mar 2024 12:36

AAT 4 has very little practice relevant content, its really like a gcse in accounting

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Replying to Dp2020:
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By puzzel
20th Mar 2024 13:36

Dp2020 wrote:

AAT 4 has very little practice relevant content, its really like a gcse in accounting


Ouch, get the claws back in
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By tom123
20th Mar 2024 13:09

I'm 52 and have never done manual payroll.. and we pay 500 people per month.

So, checking in a "sense check" way - fine

Calculating to the penny the tax and NI - no hope

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RedFive
By RedFive
20th Mar 2024 15:36

Well Dp2020 can stick that comment back in his or her pipe and smoke it.

I'm <> AAT L4 qualified, never worked for an Accountancy firm and built my business from scratch.

Now 15 years in and our husband and wife business with no employees is making £100k per annum after tax with 100% 5* google reviews and a constant stream of referrals from existing clients that we unfotunately have not got room for.

To the OP - your question has nothing to do with AAT level 4 and is just about the employee and your management and training of them.

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By Chessaccountant
20th Mar 2024 15:47

I see no problem with using the criteria above as a benchmark for AAT Level 4 qualified staff. But it should just be that. This should enable you to set competency levels to identify training needs and development plans as well as for assessing them in an appraisal including, if relevant, poor performance disciplinary issues and (hopefully not) dismissal.

As others here have mentioned, completing AAT L4 is different to being able to do the job even with 20 years experience. They need to have been trained in each of these areas. When I studied, I learned how tax was calculated but I then had to do on-the-job training to learn how to complete a tax return. It also depends on what CPD they were doing, if any, and how relevant it is to the duties they are performing. How much exposure have they had to these different tasks?

I knew an ICAEW auditor (with a PhD) who could barely use a computer and needed assistance in putting an audit file together because when they trained it was done completely differently and the firm they worked for never changed their processes to make this person learn and keep up with developments.

I've also known an excellent AAT qualified person who had never done payroll. They knew how to calculate tax & NI, but they knew nothing about how to run a payroll until they were trained.

You can't do anything about the past training, only about the future. I would develop a competency review, rather than use an arbitrary test you spend hundreds of pounds on, that can be applied universally to all people at a certain technical level and which is based on their roles within the firm. Use the competency review to determine their training plan and review it at least every 12 months. Also consider what else they bring to the firm other than those listed by ChatGPT above. Make sure that any training plan has an incentive for achieving the goals set out (not just "you get to keep your job") and invest time in them to get to know them a little (for all staff).

Also, while I completely understand the "I'll fix it to save time" mentality, this should be done sparingly. All of the things that are wrong are review points which should go back to the worker so that they can learn and improve. If you don't send these back, in my opinion, you are failing in meeting this person's training needs, no matter what you have in place to say otherwise. All of this can be used to highlight and document what was wrong and give them a chance to fix it and learn. Be sure to let them know that they are review points for development and not a critique of their work and word them as such. When you tell somebody they have done something wrong, point out out what they have done well too.

If you still see no improvement, then there are legal mechanisms you can use to process them out of the business.

I've trained a lot of people in my working life (over two different careers) and everybody learns differently. Not everybody knows how they learn best. A good trainer (not saying I am one) can identify the ideal methods for an individual and tailor the training plan to that person's needs. Some needed a written procedure and a quick instruction then learnt by doing. Others needed a lot of hand-holding until they were comfortable. But what they all needed was time, compassion and understanding.

The great and wise Mr Miyagi once said "No such thing as bad student. Only bad teacher." While this is not strictly true, you generally won't have good students if you have a bad teacher.

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Replying to Chessaccountant:
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By Christianwolff
30th Mar 2024 14:23

Thank you for the informed reply.

I know age can't really be applied in this case, but the employee has said they intend to retire in a couple of years. If we spend a year training them in what technically their previous employer should have trained them in, not withstanding their duty to maintain their own personal development then their is little to no financial viability in this.

Bearing in mind that they have had the same formal training (i.e. AAT) as all the other staff members. 2 are only part way through level 4 and then the same in practice training as every other employee (the other level 4 qualified has had some more one on one time with the partners to help their development) - it was less expected to have to do this with the employee in question and mistakes have been returned to them on occasion and explained why.

When we factor the financial viability of the employee they've been making a £6k loss per year for 3 years. Add in the potential profit you would expect them to make per year then we are looking at a significant loss versus a profitable employee over the last 3 years. And not one that can be recovered in the next 2.

It just feels like the other employees are then having to work harder and or longer to subsidize this employee.

we would have no intention of questing the employability of a profitable employee. But applying accounting principles to this employee suggests the viability isn't there regardless of age. (please don't go off on one about age discrimination as really this has nothing to do with their age and more to do with their ability to make a profit in an acceptable time frame to stop the losses and long term recover them)

Also just to add when considering their value in other aspects of the job role, in comparison to their peers they very rarely say they have run out of work to do and is there something else they can do. very rarely gone out of their way to help the practice (i.e. suggesting something to improve efficiency or sharing knowledge to other staff - outside of payroll.) or enacting requests to the team from monthly team meetings, such as assessing the fees on their jobs or prioritizing client tasks without the prompting of one of the partners.

In all honesty I think they are afraid of change, got very comfortable in the way they used to do things, mostly data entry day in day out with very little Accounting knowledge required to be applied. And now they are so far behind it is to far gone to catch up - and perhaps they are just technically limited.

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Replying to Christianwolff:
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By FactChecker
30th Mar 2024 17:53

Let's be clear here ... you started a thread about "What tasks would you expect an in practice AAT level 4 qualified to be able to do?"
However, despite some interesting responses around that question, you have rapidly moved on to moaning about a particular employee (who will be easy to identify within your organisation if anyone works out who you are).

And you have now made it very clear that (to put it in kind terms) should said employee hand in their notice, you would call for the champagne and announce a day of celebration.

Since you appear wholly uninterested in improving this person's performance, you are only left with 3 options (all mentioned previously):
* Tolerate that performance for what you believe to be only another 2 years (with any amount of cajoling you like so long as it doesn't teeter into constructive dismissal);
* Find a different role for that person that better suits their skills and your expectations (but tread very carefully for the same reason as previous point);
* Terminate their employment (but be prepared to pay handsomely if you don't want to end up at Tribunal).

Bluntly, continuing to moan here about her/him serves no purpose and frankly isn't kind to the employee or to yourself. Time to make a decision!

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Replying to Christianwolff:
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By DKB-Sheffield
30th Mar 2024 18:50

My equally blunt comment is... you need an HR adviser! It appears you may be out of your depth in handling the personnel aspect. Identifying when specialist advice and support is needed is the sign of a good accountant/ tax adviser is it not?

As you will be aware, employment law is complex. In fact I'd say it's easier to get it wrong, and likely to have greater implications than most accounting and tax matters (no careless error assessment, no reductions for disclosing/ assisting, and few options for TTP).

That said, your employee has probably forgotten more in the past 20 years (post qualification) than I've managed to learn (not a high bar, I'll admit)! And do remember, 20 years ago, AAT had a very different syllabus and structure. Certainly no consideration of IFRS... or even CA2006. What's RTI? Online filing? One office for Tax and NI? VAT and PAYE and NI cheques all go to the same 'place'? A LOT has changed... In fact, IIRC, AAT was still a dual qualification... either NVQ or Diploma. Your new recruits have taken a different course (do you compare O-levels with GCSEs, or A levels with T levels?).

On the 'self development' aspect... is the employee a 'paid up' member of AAT, or (just) AAT level 4 qualified (or equivalent in 2004 - was 'professional level' above or below 'technician'? I can't remember)? CPD requirements will not apply to lapsed (non) members so, any requirement will be that of the employer, not the body. If they are a member, are you not checking, and advising on CPD - I mean for your benefit (not out of duty to AAT).

Anyway, it's your decision. You act, or you don't. If you leave it too long, you'll be accepting the status quo (and it will be harder to act).

IMO, you work with what you've got... or you fix it. Blaming the old employer, or expecting all employees to be driven to self-develop is a bit petty, and somewhat short-sighted.

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By Kaylee100
21st Mar 2024 15:43

"Tax Returns: AAT Level 4 accountants should be able to prepare and submit various tax returns, including VAT returns, corporation tax returns, and self-assessment tax returns for individuals."

The problem here is that this also describes a lot of the work I did before I retired. Small practice, 30 years as an FCA.

"Submit", without reference to any checking or review, I would never have allowed in my practice.

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By Kaylee100
21st Mar 2024 15:43

"Tax Returns: AAT Level 4 accountants should be able to prepare and submit various tax returns, including VAT returns, corporation tax returns, and self-assessment tax returns for individuals."

The problem here is that this also describes a lot of the work I did before I retired. Small practice, 30 years as an FCA.

"Submit", without reference to any checking or review, I would never have allowed in my practice.

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By Kaylee100
21st Mar 2024 15:43

"Tax Returns: AAT Level 4 accountants should be able to prepare and submit various tax returns, including VAT returns, corporation tax returns, and self-assessment tax returns for individuals."

The problem here is that this also describes a lot of the work I did before I retired. Small practice, 30 years as an FCA!

"Submit", without reference to any checking or review, I would never have allowed in my practice.

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By I'msorryIhaven'taclue
30th Mar 2024 15:18

To boil down your issues:

1. Knowledge is below par
2. Work rate is too slow
3. Output is inaccurate

Does your employee really have 20 years' experience; or a year's experience 20 times over? It sounds as though they've been exposed to a narrow band of work.

The AAT site would be a better starting point for benchmarking your expectations:

https://www.aat.org.uk/qualifications-and-courses/accounting/level-4-dip...

Notice the AAT list fourteen potential Level 4 roles under "The jobs it can lead to", ranging from senior bookkeeper to tax supervisor to VAT accountant. But clearly the AAT do not anticipate a specialism (or even a high proficiency) in all 14 of those roles. That's in evidence from the L4 exam structure, which offers five optional exams (from which it looks as though the candidate selects two - I may be wrong, and would happily stand corrected ).

In short, adjust your expectations to align with what's listed on the AAT site rather than rely on ChatGP. Maybe decide whether you want a Jack of all Trades, or find out whether there's something this employee can do well.

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