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Time to talk about unqualified accountants

They're a perennial thorn in the side for many practitioners, so we organised a webinar about them.

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As we have seen on Any Answers in recent weeks, few topics generate as much anger as the activities of unqualified accountants.

Just over a week ago, AccountingWEB member ireallyshouldknowthisbut voiced concerns about people who appear to be offering services to the general public without a firm underpinning of basic knowledge of accounts and tax.

“Its highly dangerous for the client who remains often blissfully unaware until something blows up. Not quite as bad as your gas boiler exploding due to years of bodging, but financially the results can be not so dissimilar,” the member wrote.

The term “accountant” still has no official legal status in the UK, though people who have qualified through professional bodies are covered by standards of learning and professional conduct.

That results in numerous exchanges on this site about what it means to call yourself an accountant and the degree to which the professional qualification is a meaningful identifier.

Some members who are “qualified by experience” have little time for the institutes, or have even walked away from them as the relevance of their qualifications declined and the cost of their fees went up. HMRC acknowledges the existence of this group of practitioners and has even taken on responsibility for regulating them for anti-money laundering purposes. As the Agent Services regime develops around Making Tax Digital, the tax department is going to play an even more active role in regulating the profession.

What can be done to protect consumers from cowboy accountants and to ensure a fair, but quality-monitored playing field for those offering accountancy services?

Long-time AccountingWEB contributor Richard Sergeant will be trying to resolve this question in his “The Problem With…” webinar at on 1pm on Tuesday.

With so many different points of view and the heat surrounding the subject, it can be hard to get a clear view. Once you delve into the details, the debate is nowhere near as clearcut as it sometimes appears, Richard said. But he’s interested in hearing the points AccountingWEB members on this forum would like to feed into the discussion.

So what would you like Richard and his fellow panellists Jeremy Clark (ICAS assistant director of practice), Eriona Bajrakurtaj (Majors Accounts) and Steve Knowles (Knowles Warwick) to address?

“There’s a lot to cover,” Richard told me earlier today. “We’re going to approach the discussion in an organised, dispassionate way to try and bring some clarity to an issue on which everybody seems to have strong opinions.”

Replies (80)

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By SteveHa
06th Jul 2020 15:42

Well I hope to sweet heaven that he doesn't start with the bias that you have.

Quote:
Time to talk about unqualified accountants

and

Quote:
What can be done to protect consumers from cowboy accountants and to ensure a fair, but quality-monitored playing field for those offering accountancy services?

sets a lousy tone for the discussion, the implication that those who are not members of a PB are cowboys, or that those who are members are not.

Although, the disciplinary reports and the huge increase in tribunals cases for aggressive (and failed) avoidance schemes would suggest that there are a fair few "qualified" who are cowboys, and as someone QBE and a regular contributor to these forums, I would hope that points to not all unqualified are cowboys.

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Replying to SteveHa:
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By AWeb72
06th Jul 2020 15:57

"We’re going to approach the discussion in a.....dispassionate way"

Well that's already an improvement on JS

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By AWeb72
06th Jul 2020 15:56

That is an absolutely DISGRACEFUL title for your thread. And I am being polite.

You are saying all unqualifieds are cowboys.

I have seen posts on here from both qualified and unqualified who shouldn't be in practice.

I suggest you think very carefully about what you have written. You can't wait to come on here and tell people to BeKind and It'sNotOkToBeRude yet start an incendiary post calling all unqualifieds cowboys.

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Replying to AWeb72:
JCACE
By jcace
06th Jul 2020 21:21

Steady! Anyone would think you had an axe to grind.
Is it that outrageous to ask the question, "What can be done to protect consumers from cowboy accountants and to ensure a fair, but quality-monitored playing field for those offering accountancy services?"
Some countries have a register for tax practitioners, with annual requirements similar to those faced by practising members of accountancy bodies (requirement for PII, CPD etc)

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Replying to jcace:
Hallerud at Easter
By DJKL
06th Jul 2020 23:42

That is not what it says, it is a loaded question.

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Replying to jcace:
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By AWeb72
07th Jul 2020 08:44

Why don't you re-read the post. It is not asking that whatsoever. It is calling all unchartered accountants cowboys

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By Crouchy
06th Jul 2020 15:59

there can be only issue and thats client / consumer protection.

protection of the profession and its standards will be a happy by-product of that situation

Whilst i think there are good non-quals and bad quals, having the qualficiation as the bar for entry and being able to practise is only going to ensure that client protection is increased

at present we feel a lot of tax changes and system changes only penalise the honest tax payer who is already trying to do things right.

remove the non-quals who either just get things wrong by mistake or are happy to 'bend' the rules and HMRC will get a bigger tax take and be able to spend more time on chasing the noncompliant taxpayers (taxabusers)

it should level the playing field a bit

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Replying to Crouchy:
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By AWeb72
06th Jul 2020 16:00

I've come across one qualified claiming CIS suffered from a limited company on a Corporation Tax Return. Another on here this weekend doesn't understand Capital Allowances. Still, that bar from the exams is SO high, eh?

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Replying to AWeb72:
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By Crouchy
06th Jul 2020 16:09

well i did say there are bad-quals as well

it would then come down to the professional bodies to police things better and take action. with a greater emphasis on having the qualifications would come a stricter regulation

who is policing the non-quals??

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Replying to Crouchy:
By SteveHa
06th Jul 2020 16:19

Weird thing is, as QBE working in a practice (ICAEW regulated), I am regulated by default whilst not having that professional qualification.

The head honcho is ACA. Guess who does his taxes?

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Replying to SteveHa:
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By Crouchy
06th Jul 2020 16:23

you get that regulation because your employer has it

i think the debate is about those non qualifieds who dont work for others and who hold themselves out to be in public practice

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Replying to Crouchy:
By SteveHa
06th Jul 2020 16:27

I used to do private work. Didn't make the quality of my work any less.

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By Mr_awol
06th Jul 2020 20:34

SteveHa wrote:

Weird thing is, as QBE working in a practice (ICAEW regulated), I am regulated by default whilst not having that professional qualification.

The head honcho is ACA. Guess who does his taxes?

Unless you are a principal of the firm ‘you’ aren’t regulated as such. Your employer (who is putting his/her name to your work) is.

The issue of qualified or not has nothing to do with quality. It has more to do with having something to lose (for the accountant) and someone to complain to (for the client)

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Replying to Crouchy:
Hallerud at Easter
By DJKL
06th Jul 2020 23:43

Remove the qualifieds who are often the ones brokering the myriad tax schemes.

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Red Leader
By Red Leader
06th Jul 2020 16:04

I have a can of petrol here, if anyone would like to pour it into this debate. It's labelled "Chartered Accountants versus non-Chartered".

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Replying to Red Leader:
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By Mr_awol
06th Jul 2020 17:42

Red Leader wrote:

I have a can of petrol here, if anyone would like to pour it into this debate. It's labelled "Chartered Accountants versus non-Chartered".

I'll see your gallon of unleaded and raise you a stick of dynamite:
1) Isn't that kind of the same thing?
2) I assume you mean 'proper' chartered - none of that certified malarkey

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By SXGuy
06th Jul 2020 16:06

I was going to comment on how insulted and disgusted I felt about the title and tone of the subject being bias from the get go but I see others have beaten me to it so I won't bother.

What I will say is however the level of some qualified accountants have left me shocked as well. Why don't you bash some of them while you're at it. Just for balance like.

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By Paul Crowley
06th Jul 2020 16:25

The problem is not unqualified accountants
The problem is inept inexperienced accountants that discredit the profession, which include qualifieds as well. Maintaining proficiency costs time more than money.
My unqualified partner is an exemplar that demonstrates dedication and experience trumps the ability to just pass an exam, which is out of date in short time

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By Wanderer
06th Jul 2020 16:25

Surely we should be talking about competent v incompetent accountants and what can be done to address incompetent ones?

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Replying to Wanderer:
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By AWeb72
06th Jul 2020 16:27

Exactly. And the owners of this forum aren't interested in that.

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Oaklea
By Chris.Mann
06th Jul 2020 16:28

I'm trying not to be too disrespectful here. However, I made a comment recently, in a related thread, along the lines of - John, just doesn't get it. Regretfully, the ill-considered title of his thread, proves that theory.

Talk about stick the knife in? Well done. Really, really well done.

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Replying to Chris.Mann:
By ireallyshouldknowthisbut
06th Jul 2020 16:38

To be fair, John's main role is to create content which generates traffic.

Bickering accountants is good for page impressions!

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Replying to ireallyshouldknowthisbut:
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By AWeb72
06th Jul 2020 16:45

Except for those of us with adblockers.....

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By ireallyshouldknowthisbut
06th Jul 2020 16:42

Given I am quoted in the above, my comment was in the context of competence, not about qualified or not qualified.

Many years of posting on here has drummed home the fact that what certificate someone may or may not have on their wall counts for very little.

Its if you can do the job or not that matters.

If anything being "qualified" can bestow an excess of belief over ability, especially if your training environment is far removed from practice.

For the record I am a FCA. Which was a while ago now and whilst gave me a good jumping off point is probably responsible for about 10% of my current knowledge.

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Replying to ireallyshouldknowthisbut:
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By AWeb72
06th Jul 2020 16:31

"Nice" of JS to use your post out of context and the basis for his diatribe

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Red Leader
By Red Leader
06th Jul 2020 16:37

Time to talk about ... journalists?

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Replying to Red Leader:
bike
By FirstTab
06th Jul 2020 17:30

£££

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My photo
By Matrix
06th Jul 2020 17:25

Certain questions (and some answers) show that some posters should not be offering their services to the public. Some just don’t seem bright enough to be honest and can be unprofessional and ungracious.

I don’t particularly care if they are qualified or unqualified, it is up to the buyer of their services to care or not.

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By Tax Dragon
06th Jul 2020 17:28

John Stokdyk wrote:

As the Agent Services regime develops around Making Tax Digital, the tax department is going to play an even more active role in regulating the profession.

Doesn't that go a long way towards answering the question?

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RLI
By lionofludesch
06th Jul 2020 17:36

After so many years, the OP still hasn't grasped the issue.

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Replying to lionofludesch:
Oaklea
By Chris.Mann
06th Jul 2020 19:29

Wassock, would seem to sum it up?

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By craigleeds
06th Jul 2020 17:59

You get people bad on both sides. I believe as profession we should look similar to legal profession.

Clients of certain sizes like ones require audit should be subject to need of qualified accountant.

However for smaller business and sole traders, they should have a right to choose. However qualified accountants should become better at explaining benefits to clients, and i believe that clients of unqualified accountants, should have to sign paperwork to confirm they accept the lack of recourse.

Also organisations such as AAT could reach out to unqualified accountants, and [***] work they do and environment they work in, and offer cheaper route to qualification.

My final point is that you discuss accountants here, but the issue also impacts a number of bookkeepers who work in industry.

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Replying to craigleeds:
By SteveHa
06th Jul 2020 19:05

craigleeds wrote:

However for smaller business and sole traders, they should have a right to choose. However qualified accountants should become better at explaining benefits to clients, and i believe that clients of unqualified accountants, should have to sign paperwork to confirm they accept the lack of recourse.

Therein lies the crux. "Should". It doesn't follow that they "Are" better able, and in fact I've followed work of chartered that, frankly, I would guess a chimp could better (and I've spent a fair chunk of time fixing problems that some qualified accountants caused when it comes to tax, usually costing the clients more money than if they had gone to "Competent" rather than "Qualified" in the first place)

And surely, in signing the LoE, the client accepts that responsibility, regardless of the status of the advisor. In fact, the law makes it clear that the taxpayer is ultimately responsible for their affairs.

Don't get me wrong. Qualified and unqualified advisors should be mandated to have PII in place. That I will agree to. That alone should give the end client sufficient comfort (let's face it, if any advisor has an inordinate number of claims against their PII, they are rapidly going to be priced out of practice anyway).

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Replying to SteveHa:
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By craigleeds
30th Aug 2020 22:21

I agree with your comment about tax advice being clients responsibility and PII requirement for all.

I also feel if qualified accountant are seen by others to be offering poor advice or making areas with tax advice which is not really where they qualified. Governing bodies should be made aware of this to take relevant action and standards will increase.

As mentioned it is difficult to compare on such broad scale but I will state certain type of work should be restricted to qualified. Also bodies such as AAT should encourage non qualified to undertake course to gain a practising certifications that takes into account years in business.

If this was government funded standards would be set across board at minimum level and increase standards for clients

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By AWeb72
06th Jul 2020 19:31

Ok John, why do insurance companies offer indemnity insurance to both chartered and unchartered if all unchartered are crooks?

And the sarcastic use of quote marks for qualified by experience smacks of complete double standards. You won't allow sarcasm against incompetent people, yet you come on here with your disgusting attitude against people with vast experience.

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By memyself-eye
06th Jul 2020 20:36

It has been my experience that clients don't give a rat's ar*e what 'qualifications' you have.
All they care about is how much tacks they have to nail down.
Not that I care, I'm retiring next year.....

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By GlobalTax
06th Jul 2020 21:09

Cowboy is a bit harsh and unfair. There are lots of unqualified accountants that are very good indeed and some on this forum whom are far more knowledgeable than myself.

However, there are many accountants that maybe unqualified or qualified but not with the main accountancy bodies that let the profession down. The problem lies not with just lack of knowledge but those that do not have access to technical or tax helplines or don't bother to research or joins forums such as these to ask questions. They end up guessing and submitting incorrect accounts and tax return. This is most likely where you haven't gone though a proper training program.

Recently I have come across this accountant who was qualified but with an accountancy body I have not come across. One of his clients showed me this accounts and amazed to find out no tax was payable on a one man band with turnover of 150K no assets or employees. He was gaining clients by promising no tax and low fees.

If the profession was regulated then sure it would boost the government coffers

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By mrme89
06th Jul 2020 21:22

You hear about the accountants that are incompetent because they are regulated and it’s published.

You rarely hear about the incompetent unqualified accountants unless it makes front page news (whether local press, national press or trade publications).

Qualification is no barrier to incompetence.

This has been discussed in-depth on this very website. Each discussion has ended up heated and achieved nothing.

This post only shows that despite being in charge years, John still has very little grasp of the profession.

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Hallerud at Easter
By DJKL
06th Jul 2020 23:54

Well, interesting to see I missed all the fun today, probably just as well as I probably in the heat of the moment would have said something I would later regret.

Really not impressed, actually pretty angry, I think I will now go to Avizandum re the following statement.

"As we have seen on Any Answers in recent weeks, few topics generate as much anger as the activities of unqualified accountants."

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panda ketteringUK
By ketteringUK
07th Jul 2020 00:02

Not sure what John had in mind apart from insulting qbe's and professionals that at some point in that in their life decided to quit the professional bodies.

As a acting, editor in chief, he might want to concentrate his efforts to actually bring in some kind of restrictions from Joe, the builder , asking ridiculous questions. Instead, he creates an another pointless war of pigs. This topic was convered so many times before...

Over the last 12-13 years, I have come across accountants with all kinds of fancy degrees, and sadly some of them were not even able to reconcile the vat on cash accounting!

Tonight, actually it was first time in last few weeks that I came on this website, as it's no longer the viable source of knowledge, cpd or brain teaser. Maybe it was a mistake. There have been so many contributors leaving aweb in last few years.

John and your team - get a bloody grasp, alright sir?

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blue sheep
By NH
07th Jul 2020 06:00

Lets have a heated debate!
So, basically we can all agree
1. There are a good number of people out there calling themselves practice accountants when its obvious that qualified or not they should not be practicing.
2. Therefore not everyone should be allowed to call themselves an accountant in practice
3. Provided we agree on above points, there has to be some sort of initial qualification/exam/proof of competence followed by ongoing monitoring of CPD record.
4. Provided we agree on the above there has to be some sort of PB to regulate

Job done, might as well cancel that webinar

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Oaklea
By Chris.Mann
07th Jul 2020 08:19

Dear John,

If you want an example of what's wrong, with your site, look no further
https://www.accountingweb.co.uk/any-answers-143
Indeed, it's only three or four threads, down the road.
Nothing to do with cowboys and other insults, just common sense, which seems in short supply, on this forum.

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Replying to Chris.Mann:
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By AWeb72
07th Jul 2020 08:44

And that's been edited to hide the question.....

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By Paul D Utherone
07th Jul 2020 09:25

Ah happy days remembering back to the start of AccountingWeb UK when it sometimes felt like every other query was from someone overseas asking: 'how can I get ACA / ACCA designation without doing the exams based on my {little known overseas} qualification'

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Flag of the Soviet Union
By thevaliant
07th Jul 2020 09:39

There are a lot of people out there who are more than capable of offering their services as accountants who aren't members of professional bodies.

And there are a lot of people out there who are members of professional bodies who I don't know how they were able to achieve this. Bribery I assume.

And I say this as an FCA.

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By Michael Davies
07th Jul 2020 10:01

TBF most ex Tax Inspectors would run rings round corner shop qualified accountantS, they just have too much else to do..Dont use such a broad brush and elitist.Why worry anyway the Escalating AML fees will take most out of business .

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By justsotax
07th Jul 2020 10:30

I suspect the anger is raised because commonly the OP....

1) does not appear to have done any prior research
2) does not declare their experience (or lack of)
3) does not provide sufficient details
4) does not accept that seeking professional advice is a good enough answer.

But John if you spent any time actually reading and absorbing stuff on any answers you would already know this......

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RLI
By lionofludesch
07th Jul 2020 10:51

There are two classes of querist who need calling out - for their own good.

1. DIY querists who don't have even the most basic skills and are bumbling along.
2. Professional advisers who don't have the skills they purport to be selling.

It's nothing to do with qualified or unqualified. Plenty of qualified advisers put the cue on the rack once the certificate arrives in the post. The fact is, you never know everything and, even if you did, there'll be more changes to learn soon. The trick is to recognise when you're out of your depth.

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Replying to lionofludesch:
Hallerud at Easter
By DJKL
07th Jul 2020 11:05

I concur, your last sentence is the absolute essence of a good accountant.

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By Paul Morton
07th Jul 2020 10:53

I am an ex Inspector of Taxes, having just retired after more than 40 years, 33 years of which was in accounts investigation. I set up a small part time business on my retirement, undertaking accounts preparation and the filing of tax returns for small businesses. I do not call myself an accountant because I am not. I am however perfectly capable of providing a professional, personal and accurate service to my clients.
In my time in HMRC, I have seen any number of ‘qualified’ accountants who were not fit to practice. I have already taken on clients from ‘qualified’ accountants and found several basic errors.
I joined the forum to be able to contribute where I could and to learn where I needed to. I find the OP incredibly insulting and disappointing.

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