Professional behaviour as an accountant is not just confined to what happens inside the office. An ACCA member discovered that it also includes what you post on Facebook.
The director of Maple Accountancy Stephen Baker has had to reflect on his behaviour after he was accused of making derogatory and highly offensive Facebook posts.
The ACCA disciplinary tribunal heard how between 15 March 2010 and 12 September 2016, Baker (an FCCA) used his Facebook account to post homophobic, racist and sexist comments.
Although strenuously denying having sexist, racist or homophobic views, Baker appeared “greatly embarrassed” by his use of gratuitously offensive language to describe these groups of people.
He attended an equality, diversity and discrimination course and LGBT awareness training in September and October 2018. Baker told the tribunal how both courses demonstrated how his remarks were inappropriate and had the potential to cause serious harm.
In a separate complaint, the ACCA tribunal also raised concerns over Baker disclosing confidential information on Facebook relating to the health of a client. In the post, Baker described a “newly retired gentleman” who “wasn't sleeping or eating” out of worry due to “HMRC inefficiency”.
Baker’s counsel argued the post was “wholly non-specific and did not identify the client”. The ACCA committee agreed that the post created no risk of identifying the client but found the post to have broken the principle of confidentiality.
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The committee then turned its attention to Baker carrying on public practice, despite never holding an ACCA practising certificate.
Baker explained that he only became the director of Maple Accountancy for 10 months between 6 February 2017 and 1 December 2017 so he could utilise the tax efficiency of purchasing a company car.
The ACCA noted Baker’s rule breach was for a short period but that didn’t escape the fact that he was a director of a firm where public practice activities were carried out and that throughout that 11-month period, Baker held no practising certificate.
The ACCA committee ordered Mr Baker pay ACCA’s costs in the sum of £9,000.
Chris Cope, a solicitor specialising in accountancy complaint and disciplinary cases from the Accountants Complaint Services Limited) said:
The posts covering a period of six-and-a-half years were said to be set out on a schedule to the allegations. However, for reasons not explained, the schedule has been redacted. Consequently, we do not know what Mr Baker said.
The “postings” resulted in a severe reprimand. In respect of the practising certificate complaint, Mr Baker was given an admonition. However, the complaint regarding the disclosure of confidential information did not result in any sanction being imposed.
However, it is difficult to understand the basis on which that complaint was upheld. Indeed, Mr Baker’s barrister submitted that this was not misconduct. I agree. Everyone agreed that the posting did not, nor could it have, identified the client. By disclosing his success as the client’s accountant, how could that bring the profession into disrepute?
Mr Baker was simply being boastful. Isn’t that what accountants indulge in when writing up their websites?
The ACCA sought costs in the sum of £12,107. The tribunal decided that these be reduced by 25%. However, the reason given, namely the withdrawal of certain allegations, should only have had a minor impact on overall costs. Mr Baker was fortunate, therefore, to save himself some £3,000.
You can find out more about Chris Cope and the Accountants National Complaint Service by visiting their website here.
About Richard Hattersley
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