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How do I disengage from unwell client

I have a client who seems to have serious mental health issuess and I need to disengage gently

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First of all, I apologise for posting as anonymous. I have only ever asked one question on the forum and received a great deal of useful advice for which I was very grateful. Hopefully, if you read this post the need for anonimity will become apparent.

I have acted for a client for over twenty years. In the first decade or so he was a typical hard working contractor capable of earning a very decent living on short term contracts and our working relationship was good. He has always been a bit challenging (he once phone HMRC to ask if he fell under IR35 who told him he did ; he didn't, and it took me 6 months to persuade them !!). He inherited some money when his father passed away in the mid two thousands and that seems to have been the catalyst for his problems.

Since then he has embarked on a series of get-rich-quick schemes, bad investments and bad choices of business partners. Any potential scam you can think of, I can almost guarantee he has been caught by it - he even had his identity stolen be one of his business partners !! Consequently, he has lost tens of thousands of pounds. In more recent years he has become addicted to the 'educators' forums and events - you know, the "how to buy a property for one dollar" brigade and I have lost count of the number of Ponzies he has 'invested' in.

He always told about these things after he had invested and he was full of enthusiasm about ho rich he was going to become. I always tried (and failed) to persuade him that what he was doing was nonsense but the dollar signs in the eyes made him blind to the obvious.

A couple of years ago during my annual AML work I found that, in addition to his existing (by now, not trading) limited companies he had formed 2 more limited companies and an LLP which he hadn't told me about. At this stage communications between us were few and far between apart from preparing VAT returns and annual accounts for his companies, property accounts and SATRs for him and his wife.

Earlier this year he started sending me elaborate e-mails with links to websites he was involved in (none of which I looked at) which outlined conspiracy theories about the Government and Treasury's involvement in child trafficking and the manipulation of the property market etc etc etc. He refused to sign his 2018 SATR and told me not to file as he was going to 'invoice' HMRC as they owed him a lot more than he owes them. Yes, I know, at this point I should have disengaged but I was also acting for his distraught wife and sought to support her. She signed her SATR and begged and borrowed funds to pay her share of the CGT due on property sales; her husband had spent the sale proceeds paying debts and she did not receive a penny from the profits.

I have not completed his last 2 VAT Returns nor three company and LLP accounts which as due at Co House by 30 September.

Yesterday I received an e-mail from him 'updating' me on his dealing with the Treasury and warning me that the new 5G mobile phone tech also incorporated soft-kill technology into street lights which can be used to eliminate people. This is the last straw - I need to disengage but due to his fragile mental health (he has had at least 2 nervous break-downs in the last 10 years) I need to do this gently.

So, how should I broach this and are there any other issues, due to his involvement with conspiracy theorists and his refusal to file his 2018 SATR, such as filing a SAR. I have no evidence or suspicion of fraud or criminal activity but fear there is a possibility he may be being 'groomed'. Your thoughts and advice would be very much appreciated - I know I will not bne able to respond to replies, and I again apologise for the need for anonimity. 

Edit - I forgot to mention that he has been horading very small amounts of gold for when the Government collapses and the money is worthless. He also advised me that many ex-policemen, ex-servicemen etc are being sworn in as Peace Officers ready for the vents of the next 18 months.

BTW - VAT Returns and accounts have not been prepared because he either didn't respond to emails or responded with a 5 page update on his conspiracies.

Edit - Many, many thanks for all your very helpful and constructive replies. I made contact with his wife who seemed more concerned about who would help her with her own tax affairs. She has had to deal with his nervous breakdowns in the recent past and when I suggested she should seek help for him, she just said she could do nothing until 'something happens'. BTW - they are both 60. She knows he is ill but won't do anything about it as she thinks being pro-active will bring on the downward spiral she fears. It's almost like she is preparing to nurture him once he breaks down but she's putting off the inevitable.

So I emailed him yesterday to let him know we are going to disengage; explaining that we have to work within the current tax framework and that we were unable to act for him moving forward. He replied this morning that he understood and he would arrange to collect whatever books and records we have. I will write the formal disengagement letter next week. It has been a stressful few months trying to handle his ever increasing outlandish claims but I sincerely hope his family do the right thing and seek mental health care for him.

Thanks again to everyone who took the trouble to respond. Your advice is well received and very much appreciated.

Edit - Thank you all for the advice. I am waiting for a call/e-mail from client about the few books and records we have. I will arrange a time when I will not be alone and I will ceretainly not engage in discussions about his conspicacy theories. I will be handing him his records and wishing him well. I will post a final edit once he has left the office.

Replies (31)

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Lone Wolf
By Lone_Wolf
18th Sep 2019 09:35

What if he's right though?

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RLI
By lionofludesch
18th Sep 2019 09:40

I don't know what to say.

But the guy needs more than an accountant.

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By mrme89
18th Sep 2019 09:42

I think no matter how you deal with this, he's going to act irrational over it. You probably need a simple 'it's not you, it's me'. There's a number of excuses you could use such as winding down, or that he no longer fits into the way your practice operates etc.

Given that he has invoiced HMRC, I would be trying to cover my own back so he can't blame you for anything. In the disengagement letter I would inform him at what stage his affairs are up to, and upcoming deadlines.

Also inform him that by touching your letter, he has now being infected with a deadly virus that can be activated remotely at any time by yourself and if he causes you trouble you will have no hesitation activating the kill switch.

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Replying to mrme89:
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By ColA
05th Nov 2019 12:52

Over the last decade I worked with a group of family companies where the fifth generation now holds sway. This side of the family has a history of being bipolar, in fact the current 48- year old ops director’s father, recorded as MD, is strongly so.
History of tax avoidance in that strand well before I was involved, with £150k penalty levied.
Son once advocated sending in heavies on my behalf to resolve a personal family matter - needless to say I declined firmly.
Latter kept banging on about plausible deniability and once asked if a colour printer could be used to replicate a local council parking permit.
Strange how these types stay under the radar but also attract birds of a similar feather - one if his cronies was fined for using false documents around his city brazenly, whilst displaying false number plates.
Whether in practice or commerce great care needs to be exercised - steer clear when possible.

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By Tax Dragon
18th Sep 2019 10:02

So long as he keeps paying the bills, is disengagement necessary?

If he stops paying the bills, then he'll make disengaging easy.

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By paul.benny
18th Sep 2019 10:03

Oh dear - a difficult situation.

Will you continue to act for the wife? It sounds like she needs help to get some degree of financial independence - and to avoid being dragged under by her husband's craziness. This is way above and beyond and you may not want to get too involved.

You would be doing them a service if you can signpost to any charities or the like that may be able to help with advice, particularly for Mrs Client.

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By JDBENJAMIN
18th Sep 2019 10:45

Why disengage? If he does not approve his SATR, that is his problem. There is no need to file an SAR. His lunacy does not affect appear to be affecting accountancy matters other than turning him into a normal PITA client, in which case quote him a fee that reflects the hassle.

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By lesley.barnes
18th Sep 2019 11:26

I wouldn't worry about this clients mental health I would disengage like you would any other client. I wouldn't normally be so hard on clients with mental health issues. From what you have written you are worried he is being groomed by some unsavory characters on websites he is using. I'm possibly reading something into this that isn't there but perhaps you fear he is or may soon start to funding some of these groups given he is happy to hand his money over to all and sundry except his wife.

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By ireallyshouldknowthisbut
18th Sep 2019 11:45

Depending on your relationship with the wife, I would potentially discuss your concerns with her.

on a "I am concerned about your husband" and if possible "is he getting some help?" POV and assess from there.

I have a client who went nuts, and just gently brushed them off (he was going to get millions from the Saudi's, of course he was) , and recently had a call from a relative who is taking over their affairs now they have POA in place. Fortunately there was little to do, so it was not a big deal.

but ultimately, if its stressing YOU out (and it clearly is) you can disengage. Its your business you chose who you work with. You need to look after your mental health too, so if you can't find a good way to do it, just do a "its not you, its me, we are really busy and I cant service your needs, so will resign". If they are then aggressive to you, tell them you will (and do it) block the phone number, send his emails to trash, gone.

NB if you are ICAEW, speak to the ethics helpline. it will be worth 10 years subs.

+ you can EDIT your original post, to add extra info if you need to.

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Replying to ireallyshouldknowthisbut:
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By paul.benny
18th Sep 2019 13:04

Quote:

NB if you are ICAEW, speak to the ethics helpline. it will be worth 10 years subs.

Or CABA. They can be very good at this sort of thing - whether to help you or to help you to advise your client.

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By Bob Loblaw
18th Sep 2019 11:56

While it's very noble to want to don the kid gloves and disengage from him gently, at the end of the day you're a professional trying to do a job. If his behaviour prevents you from doing your job to the point that you feel you have no option but to sack him off, then disengage as you would any other client. Will he accept it quietly? Maybe, maybe not. At the end of the day (and at the risk of sounding callous) while it's natural to be concerned over his mental well being, you're not his family, you're not his friend, you're not his doctor, you're his accountant. You responsibility for him begins and ends at his financial affairs and if he is not cooperating with you in that respect, you have no obligation to continue acting for him.

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By SouthCoastAcc
18th Sep 2019 12:14

Sounds bad, but could your reputation could be badly damaged by this guy, so I would try to go about it nicely via his wife.

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Bramble
By Chris.Mann
18th Sep 2019 13:10

"I have not completed his last 2 VAT Returns nor three company and LLP accounts which as due at Co House by 30 September".

If you don't disengage, don't you run the real risk of creating major breaches with your professional indemnity provider?

Not only should your client be seeking help, I think you should also be seeking professional advice, from your; institute, or professional association.

It seems to me that you're trying to balance a series of fragile plates, on very unsteady canes. There is no easy way to disengage this client but, disengage you must. If only for your own well-being.

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Hallerud at Easter
By DJKL
18th Sep 2019 13:11

The problem rests with his wife and immediate family, they ought to be consulting health professionals regarding whether he requires sectioned or other forms of support he needs.

I have coped with a good friend with mental health issues which I/ my family could just about tolerate as things got worse and worse, I would certainly not deal with these sorts of issues for a client.

As a word of caution, from experience, if his circle of contacts gets smaller as others step back you could find yourself more and more the focus of his attentions; obviously all cases are different, illnesses are different, but that would not be where I would want to be from my past experiences.

A gentle disengagement, possibly after discussions with his spouse, would to me be your most pragmatic way to go.

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mushroom
By Magic Mushroom
18th Sep 2019 16:22

Disengaging could cause further damage to his health, who knows. It appears from your question that there is no actual diagnosis of his problem.
Also you have the wife to consider, you would be pulling the rug from under her too at a time that she probably needs all the support she can get.
I suggest that it might be a good idea to set 1/2 hour aside, and telephone MIND helpline. They will give you advice without asking for names etc. and suggest possible routes you could take. Ultimately this guy needs help, and possibly sectioning, which anyone can request if they have evidence of irrational behaviour such as the emails you mention.
You don't say how old he is but irrational behaviour and paranoia are typical signs of early onset dementia.

https://www.mind.org.uk/

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Replying to Magic Mushroom:
Hallerud at Easter
By DJKL
18th Sep 2019 16:46

Have you ever tried to get a non family member, say just a friend ,sectioned; even if they have been previously sectioned and have a history?

The reality in my experience is the individual really needs to come under the radar of say the police before anything will actually happen, there often needs to be "an incident".

As far as I have observed the health authorities have far more pressing demands on their time than to play "policeman" and follow up these matters- even getting the individual's GP to talk to you is near impossible if you are not family and even if you are family it can be really difficult.

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Replying to DJKL:
mushroom
By Magic Mushroom
18th Sep 2019 19:53

Which is why I suggested speaking to MIND, who are the experts.

Yes I do have experience of mental problems having worked at one time with people with a whole range of mental problems. The question refers to emails showing huge levels of paranoia, the emails relating to "schemes" show he is unable to look after his own affairs. Anyone exhibiting high levels of paranoia is a potential threat to others or themselves as one "trigger" can set them off.

Quite obviously the wife would have to be the one to initiate sectioning, if she doesn't then her husband's condition will only get worse to the point where it is incurable.

I didn't say it would be easy, but it's the only course. If the accountant just disengages that alone could raise further paranoia in the client with potentially serious consequences for him, his wife, and indeed for the accountant because who can say how the client might react. I do know of a case where a doctor told a mentally ill patient to find another GP after numerous scenes in the practices waiting room. A couple of weeks later his surgery was burnt to the ground.

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Replying to Magic Mushroom:
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By johnhemming
18th Sep 2019 20:17

These are really difficult things to offer advice on via the net. The client does not sound to me like someone who is sectionable (in the past I have had people phone me whilst they were being sectioned). Human beings are often quite paranoid and can otherwise be quite functional.

It is also a situation where you may have to be careful about how much time is taken. If he is seriously mentally ill you don't really want to do anything to set him off, but it does not seem like this.

Putting your price up is potentially quite a good way of resolving this as it is a simple contractual type conclusion to what otherwise could be fraught with issues.

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By WhiteRose
18th Sep 2019 23:29

Sadly although your intentions are kind, you cannot help this person get well again. Do you have his permission to talk to his wife? His family are the ones who need to step up and help. You, meanwhile, need to recognise the limitations of your professional relationship and go through the process of disengagement in a non-threatening way. Talk to your professional body, they will be able to advise you.

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Quack
By Constantly Confused
19th Sep 2019 07:53

You need to sort this for YOUR mental health. Do as others suggest, call MIND, call your professional body, then once you have a clear idea of how you will proceed (and unless advised otherwise by either of the above) you may want to speak to the wife first and explain what is going to happen. She may be able to help you with how best to approach the client.

Could we also as a community/profession/species not make light of the mental health issues of others please, paranoid delusions and psychosis are not pleasant to go through, for the person themself or their loved ones.

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Replying to Constantly Confused:
RLI
By lionofludesch
19th Sep 2019 09:41

Quote:

Could we also as a community/profession/species not make light of the mental health issues of others please, paranoid delusions and psychosis are not pleasant to go through, for the person themself or their loved ones.

Or his accountant.

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By Tax Dragon
19th Sep 2019 10:14

Thank you for the update.

One trouble with edits is they are soooo easy to overlook - one reason for this post now, as mental health is a serious issue for us all, and some might have missed the updates.

Another problem is that edits don't get timestamped.

The thought occurred on reading this thread... accountants, solicitors and the like are in the privileged position of being able to disengage from problem clients. Can GPs? And those that deal with the public otherwise than as clients (MPs, police etc) clearly cannot 'cross the road' to avoid difficult cases.

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Replying to Tax Dragon:
RLI
By lionofludesch
19th Sep 2019 10:25

Quote:

The thought occurred on reading this thread... accountants, solicitors and the like are in the privileged position of being able to disengage from problem clients. Can GPs?

Yes. Though, in this instance, I would have thought it would be considered unethical. On the other hand, this seems to be one of those cases where a mere GP is not enough.

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Replying to lionofludesch:
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By Tax Dragon
19th Sep 2019 10:49

"Mere"? I'll put that down to regional linguistic differences, as I am sure no offence was meant. IMHO (and having done both) it's easier to know one subject in depth than it is to have a working knowledge of everything.

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Replying to Tax Dragon:
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By johnhemming
19th Sep 2019 10:45

When I was an MP I did deal with people who had mental health issues, but I also had the right contacts in the NHS to deal with that. However, there at times had to be some people who I banned from my office because of their behaviour. Over 10 years I think there were two or three people that were banned. In the end I had to protect my staff. I spent a year as Deputy Leader of Birmingham City Council and there was a list of people who the council thought of as vexatious complainants that the council would not deal with. I managed to deal with some of the people on that list, by solving their problems. However, some people have such a loose connection with reality that it is impossible to make any progress.

I don't think it is reasonable to expect accountants to deal with all mental health issues in their clients. If someone wants to do that then that is their choice.

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Replying to johnhemming:
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By Tax Dragon
19th Sep 2019 11:06

I can see there are very difficult issues which those far wiser than me have given far more thought to than I have. Modern popularism risks undermining centuries of learning.

I would worry, for example, if the popularist tendency to exclude [I have in mind the increasing numbers of folk whose citizenship gets revoked… to me this is an outrage, a country should deal with its own problem cases, not just hand them over to others to deal with] reached too far into the mental health arena. There's obviously a balance between - they used to be called asylums - and care in the community. I suspect that balance is about right now. I wonder if it's at risk.

(I'm clearly using this thread now to explore my own mind. I have to trust "the system"... and continue to enjoy films like Enemy of the State. It must be utterly desperate to think the way the client in question does about the system, the state. I hope I never do.)

Edit: populist or popularist?... reaching for google!

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Replying to Tax Dragon:
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By johnhemming
19th Sep 2019 12:13

The question as to whether someone who leaves the country and swears allegiance to ISIS (for a practical example) and has more than one other citizenship could have their right to return to the UK removed from them is not I think that much a mental health issue.

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Replying to johnhemming:
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By Tax Dragon
19th Sep 2019 12:23

No, but it seems to me to be a policy driven by populism [thanks, google] rather than principle.

My point in making the comparison was that I hope mental health care never gets a populist overhaul. It might not have been a great comparison.

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By paul.benny
19th Sep 2019 11:43

Thanks for coming back to update the OP. Good luck for the remainder of your dealings with client and Mrs client.

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mushroom
By Magic Mushroom
19th Sep 2019 19:10

Re your update. You say he will collect his books. I seriously suggest that you ensure you are not alone when he does so. If, as you say, he is paranoid then, by disengaging you could well be seen by him as having become "one of them". Some year ago I encountered paranoid and delusional patients through a client and saw myself just how volatile they can be. Indeed on one occasion I was attacked by one with a knife who, a minute earlier, had seemed totally rational.
I would therefore advise that you are cautious.

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By webpoints
24th Sep 2019 18:29

Very sad. It sounds like schizophrenia. His wife would know if he is on medication for that already and perhaps he is not taking it or the GP needs to update the prescription. Diagnosis may still be needed but I agree with previous posts that this will not be improving and that a solicitor may need to get involved with his wife having a Power of Attorney. There will be a Catch 22 problem in that he will not think that he is ill and will therefore not sign a PoA in which case Court of Protection may need to become involved. We have seen this before but with a family member not a client thankfully. Best of luck.

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