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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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Replying to Paul Morton:
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By Dib
07th Jul 2020 13:19

This is the crux to my mind. Un, or under, qualified tax advisers giving advice on tax. The majority of questions on this forum are to do with tax yet the debate is around the status of accountants. Even if you are a qualified accountant such as ACA, ACCA (other accounting qualifications are available) does not make you qualified to give tax advice on any complicated scenario unless you happen to do a lot of more than basic tax work so you are fully up to date and up to speed with the legislation etc. I am not an accountant so in John's eyes I am not fit to contribute to Any Answers notwithstanding that I am a chartered tax adviser!

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Replying to Dib:
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By Tax Dragon
07th Jul 2020 17:16

Quite a few of the, perfectly respectable (whether the E in QBE stands for experience or exam), accountants that use this forum don't seem to have current tax legislation. And I think you are correct that this (tax and tax rules) is ultimately one of the cruces. (Obviously business advice in the wider sense is also a critical aspect.)

Yet this type of discussion barely touches on the tax issue. I note, for example, that no-one - until now - has responded to your comment. Though everyone (including you, actually) has been quick enough to have a pop at John. Is the answer different for accountants and tax advisors? A formal tax training unquestionably helps.

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Replying to Tax Dragon:
By SteveHa
07th Jul 2020 19:32

So does that formal tax training include uncertified training within HMRC? Here's where the issue lies for tax advisors. Myself and Paul are both time served in HMRC with enough years under our belts to know what we are talking about. We don't need a piece of paper to prove that.

And (speaking for myself), if I'm unsure, then I turn to Tolleys for the legislation (never to HMRC for their "guidance" - and for clarity - those are sarcastic quotes, unlike John's apparently).

My current employer is ACA. He's been my employer for five years. For five years I've not only had to say "No, you can't do that", but also explain why on all too frequent occasions.

So my ACA boss has relied on my ethics and my integrity to avoid getting himself into trouble with the ICAEW.

And yet, according to the webinar, unqualified carry less integrity than qualified. I beg to differ.

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Replying to SteveHa:
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By Tax Dragon
07th Jul 2020 19:55

SteveHa wrote:

So does that formal tax training include uncertified training within HMRC?

You tell me. I've never worked for HMRC and have no idea what the training they provide entails or covers. (I should imagine it covers things my training omitted but leaves out stuff - e.g. IHT - that my training did cover. So long as the training teaches you a) to be comfortable finding your way around the legislation - and it sounds like yours did - and b) to know your limitations then it's all good.

I've worked with people that came out of HMRC. Some of them were superb. Some of them were dreadful. Same goes for people that have spent all their lives working for firms of accountants.

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Replying to Tax Dragon:
By SteveHa
07th Jul 2020 22:16

I couldn't agree with you more. There are good and bad on all sides of the coin.

It still doesn't explain why sift decide to single out just one side for their vitriol.

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Replying to SteveHa:
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By Tax Dragon
07th Jul 2020 23:21

Vitriol? You think there's vitriol?

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Replying to Tax Dragon:
By SteveHa
08th Jul 2020 09:32

You don't?

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Replying to SteveHa:
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By Dib
08th Jul 2020 15:40

I'm ex-Inland Revenue from a long time ago. The old Inspector training turned out some really good technical Inspectors!

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John Stokdyk, AccountingWEB head of insight
By John Stokdyk
07th Jul 2020 11:54

First, I am coming back to apologise if my headline or some of the verbiage (or punctuation) antagonised the people who responded.

I'll get into the textual analysis in a second, and the role of a headline - which some members seem to recognise - but am concerned that we're getting into some kind of culture war where every fact and nuance is amplified to demonise the other side.

That is not what I hoped to achieve with my post. Rather, I was hoping to bring out points that the panel could address later on in Richard's webinar.

About the text:
1. Yes, the headline is a nod in the direction of the novel about Kevin, because I thought it would catch people's attention - but it was also intended to convey the idea that we had allocated time to Richard Sergeant in our AccountingWEB Live schedule to address the issue. My intention was to alert people to a discussion they might be interested in watching.

2. I think the statement that unqualified vs qualified generates a lot of anger is entirely factual and proven by the nature of the exchanges that followed.

3. The watchword for any media operator is balance, so I may have used emotive language such as "cowboy", but in a way that applied to all parties, whether qualified or unqualified. That was a means to illustrate the different sides of the debate.

4. There is no grammatical basis for "ironic quote marks". Putting the phrase in quotes is a way of identifying it as something that someone said (or a regularly used formulation). It is stretching things a bit far to claim that as an insult to QBE people.

To reiterate, I really am sorry if I turned up the dial too far for some members, but there is an awful lot of common ground wrapped up in the invective aimed at me.

Yet I also find myself in the rare position of standing alongside Tax Dragon in pointing out that before long the status of non-qualified tax practitioners and their regulation will be determined by HMRC.

Like it or not, that will be the ultimate forum where these arguments will really matter and it's no bad thing if practitioners who may be affected by regulatory changes sort out the principles that should be applied, and organise themselves to put them as forcefully as possible to politicians and civil servants.

I hope AccountingWEB offers you a platform to do that.

Hoping to see you all at 1pm to see how the discussion develops there.

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Replying to John Stokdyk:
Stepurhan
By stepurhan
07th Jul 2020 12:45

John Stokdyk wrote:

First, I am coming back to apologise if my headline or some of the verbiage (or punctuation) antagonised the people who responded.

This is precisely the sort of phrasing that attracted such ire to Priti Patel not that long ago. This "apology" is blaming others for how they interpreted your words, not taking responsibility for them being ill-chosen. You do a little better further down, but your post still makes it seem like you don't really grasp why your choice of words was so poor. Especially since you go on to say
Quote:
2. I think the statement that unqualified vs qualified generates a lot of anger is entirely factual and proven by the nature of the exchanges that followed.
Because, on my reading, the responses clearly do not show that qualified vs unqualified generates a lot of anger. What generates anger is saying that qualified vs unqualified is the problem. The problem is incompetent vs capable, which is proven time and again not to be determined by whether someone has a certificate.
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Replying to stepurhan:
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By AWeb72
07th Jul 2020 13:09

It's appopriate you mention Priti Patel, as his response is just like any politician. I would recommend a role in politics on this interim role is over.
He knows full well who he was calling cowboys, it was NOT both qualified and unqualified.

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Replying to AWeb72:
RLI
By lionofludesch
07th Jul 2020 13:18

AWeb72 wrote:

It's appopriate you mention Priti Patel, as his response is just like any politician.

Also Boris this morning. It's all the care homes' fault, apparently. Nothing to do with the Government.

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Replying to lionofludesch:
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By AWeb72
07th Jul 2020 13:28

Must be a week for those in charge deliberately winding people up

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By SteveHa
07th Jul 2020 14:00

Well, that went well. A panel with no unqualified representation failing to address any of the comments here and at times sounding like a marketing broadcast, whilst maintaining the bias that John showed straight off.

I'm tempted to collect my (cowboy) hat if that's how AWeb views me.

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Replying to SteveHa:
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By Paul Crowley
07th Jul 2020 14:08

Similarly disappointed.
The contributors should have been required to read some of the questions on here from people who have clients

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Replying to SteveHa:
Hallerud at Easter
By DJKL
07th Jul 2020 14:11

Yee-haw pardner.

Think I could well be joining you and mosey on to some other watering hole, recent weeks on here have really conveyed the impression that Sift has,

" abandoned me,
love don't live here anymore,
Just a vacancy
Love don't live here anymore."

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Replying to SteveHa:
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By AWeb72
07th Jul 2020 14:33

Marketing broadcast would be right. Sums up this site in a nutshell, traffic generator on the inside with a false shop front of being an Accountancy website.
Going to saddle up my horse and head on up to a serious website AccountancyAge

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Replying to SteveHa:
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By Paul Crowley
07th Jul 2020 23:36

Does anybody think that the contibutors read any post on this thread?

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By Tax Dragon
07th Jul 2020 14:59

Dammit, missed the webinar.

It might take some of the heat out of the discussion to have it about some other profession, such as teaching. Then you can discuss relevant issues without people feeling you are attacking them or their livelihoods. (And, frankly, if a teacher - qualified or not - displayed the level of ignorance[*] of their chosen subject as is displayed in this forum regarding tax and accounts, I am not sure they would be a teacher for very long... does that indicate why there may be a need for regulation in the accountancy sector?)

[*] By which I mean, inability to find the answer to the most basic of questions, from reliable resources available to them. What that also indicates to me is that they are not even asking other basic questions and are therefore storing up potential issues for their clients that will arise when someone else (DD, HMRC, a new accountant, a divorce lawyer, etc) asks those questions. [Not sure about the divorce lawyer, tbh... fortunately never happened to me.]

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Replying to Tax Dragon:
Hallerud at Easter
By DJKL
07th Jul 2020 15:09

I thought divorce lawyers were too busy measuring their clients re the likely fees to be earned to ask questions about what happened in the past, unless , of course, it can be pinned on the other one of the couple and used as leverage.

Not that I have ever had need of their services ,but nobody I have met who has gone through the divorce process has spoken highly of that process.

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Replying to DJKL:
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By Tax Dragon
07th Jul 2020 15:17

I don't know. Not been there, not done that, not got the T-shirt.

It's time I took Justin's advice and stopped talking about the many things I don't know about. (This and my previous comment exposing my hypocrisy... I wonder how long John wants to stand by me for?!)

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Replying to Tax Dragon:
Hallerud at Easter
By DJKL
08th Jul 2020 00:49

"When the night has come
And the land is dark
And the moon is the only light we'll see
No I won't be afraid
Oh, I won't be afraid
Just as long as you stand, stand by me"

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Lone Wolf
By Lone_Wolf
07th Jul 2020 17:20

I'm not particularly well versed as to the different responsibilities roles in the online media world have. Is it the Editor in Chief's job to cause widespread anger amongst the sites regular users and potentially drive them away?

If so then John seems to be doing a stand up job in recent weeks. Well done that man.

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Replying to Lone_Wolf:
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By AWeb72
07th Jul 2020 18:21

The same role as Twatter and Farcebook it seems

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