Accountant reprimanded after posting insulting Facebook comments

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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.

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

Richard Hattersley

Richard is AccountingWEB's practice correspondent. If you have any comments or suggestions for us get in touch.

Replies

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03rd Dec 2018 18:35

shame on him but £12k costs sought thats almost equally outrageous , they should have had it wrapped up in 10 mins, will we never be rid of jobsworths ;-)

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03rd Dec 2018 19:48

This is why, when you post smack on the internet, you don't use your real name ;)

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to AnnAccountant
03rd Dec 2018 21:46

alternatively dont post at all

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to carnmores
03rd Dec 2018 22:49

Yes, but where's the fun in that?

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to AnnAccountant
03rd Dec 2018 23:00

Oh dear...

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04th Dec 2018 10:18

So are we now in the position that there is a breach whenever ACCA members post any questions or anecdotes that concern unidentified clients? Does this spell the end of AWEB Any Answers, or Readers Forum in Taxation magazine etc?

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to jon_griffey
04th Dec 2018 10:34

LOL Jon, i think the reported case was in a different class to this and was thoroughly objectionable so hopefully you loyal remaining members will be able to rest easy over Christmas

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By DJKL
04th Dec 2018 10:19

Well, if the professional bodies ever visit Accounting Web they will have a field day, there are enough latent fines on these pages for all the employees of ICAS, ICAEW and ACCA to go on an all expenses paid fact finding seminar in say Las Vegas.

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By Slim
to DJKL
04th Dec 2018 10:28

would never happen, they'd lose too many juicy subs

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By mkowl
04th Dec 2018 10:27

Not sure if I should report the last post !!!

Whilst deleting all my football forum log ins

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By Tornado
04th Dec 2018 10:55

I saw the Facebook page of an HMRC officer which included content that was shocking, completely unacceptable, and clearly breached the Civil Service guidelines. Although reported to a senior officer, which resulted in a hasty dismantling of the site, as far as I can see that officer, continues to be employed by the Civil Service as before.

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04th Dec 2018 10:57

Extract above
'The ACCA committee ordered Mr Baker pay ACCA’s costs in the sum of £9,000.'

Ludicrous, Ludicrous, just for one email, so what happens if I hear anyone saying a racist or homophobic joke (and there are a lot out there) do i have to contact the Police, ACCA or any other regulatory body just in case their members beached a rule. Also i hope any members of the disciplinary committee have never told or laughed at a racist, sexist or homophobic joke.

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to AndrewV12
04th Dec 2018 11:13

Isn't it abundantly clear by now the committee have no sense of humor?

And the sheer amount of costs they clock up on these cases is scary!

Shouldn't the costs be independently determined as to whether they should be paid? The committee deciding how much and whether they should be paid doesn't seem right.

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to AndrewV12
04th Dec 2018 15:12

There's also the matter of the practising certificate.

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04th Dec 2018 11:15

Now I have this client and......

Thats all you get

But it was funny.....

I wish I could share....

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04th Dec 2018 11:44

Thought police took over the public sector years ago. Now it seems that the accountancy profession has fallen to them. Would be laughable if it wasn't so frightening.

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04th Dec 2018 11:56

People posting voluntary advice here need to be more concerned about para 13 et seq in the link below I think:

https://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/TCC/2018/3166.html

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By DJKL
to Justin Bryant
04th Dec 2018 12:08

Yes, but I am now going to start appending the following to all my posts;

"This poster has been known to talk complete and utter boll** , especially when pi**ed. As you have no idea whether I am currently pi**ed or not (and time of day is no indicator) you ought not to rely upon any comments I have made in this post (except this one of course) and instead ought to seek paid for professional advice from an accountant who you at least have a slim chance of estimating is not currently pi**ed"

That ought to cover me.

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to Justin Bryant
04th Dec 2018 12:15

I think its fair to say though that whilst skilled/non-skilled & qualified/non-qualified individuals can quote or pas on their knowledge, advice or experiences, the more savvy will temper that information or their comments with something along the lines of '..you're on your own..' if the party reading or using it chooses to act on it..??

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04th Dec 2018 12:20

Oh dear. I wonder what would happen if they decided to take that line with Accounting Web updates. I have to say most people on here are certainly not backward when it comes to airing their views. I always go with, if you wouldn't say it to their face, don't say it at all.

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to Amanda C Watts
08th Dec 2018 03:56

I salute you with profound respect for your upstandingness. You are a fiscal agent of true decency

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04th Dec 2018 12:20

Oh dear. I wonder what would happen if they decided to take that line with Accounting Web updates. I have to say most people on here are certainly not backward when it comes to airing their views. I always go with, if you wouldn't say it to their face, don't say it at all.

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By Dandan
04th Dec 2018 13:29

Aside from the fact that it was an ACCA member and the fine was massive, this is the usual political correctness, with a bite.

Minority rule rather than majority rule.

Sometimes there are things that shock us and go against our belief but we are suppose to accept everything with a smile. For example, key figures in the church have suggested that boys should be allowed to wear skirts at school but we are not allowed to make a negative comment about that suggestion and must all say "yes, good idea".

All this reminds me of the "Emperor's new clothes" tale. We just go along with everything in order not to look stupid or different or politically incorrect.

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By Tornado
to Dandan
04th Dec 2018 14:00

Having seen every Dr Who series since inception, I think I can safely say that the current series is the worst, despite the fact that 'everyone' seems to say that it is fantastic.

Fantastic it is not.

Devoid of any real imagination, with dull characters and tired storylines. The whole thing is oozing political correctness to the extent that the format has been destroyed and we have ended up with a just distant memory of the brilliant adventures we used to enjoy.

The two points of correlation with this thread are the seeming universal praise showered on this series (The Emperor's New Clothes) and the life draining effect that Political Correctness has as it seeps its way relentlessly into our culture.

In Sunday's episode, it is disappointing to see that there was a genuinely blind actress in the plot who had a part that portrayed her as a blind almost helpless character. It matters not to me that she is blind and with some flair and imagination she could have been cast as a Starship Captain, the Ruler of some distant Galaxy or any number of exciting roles. Instead, political Correctness meant that she was denied this opportunity and used only to exploit her disability as a lesson to us all.

Truly depressing.

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to Tornado
04th Dec 2018 14:36

If you view it as a hilarious parody of Doctor Who (as opposed to the proper Doctor Who that would go out on a Saturday) you'll enjoy it more.

I've got a bet on that they visit Harvey Milk at some point. Then I've got a full house on PC bingo.

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to Peter Bromiley
04th Dec 2018 15:32

Presumably before he got shot, I wonder does your comment qualify as homophobic? Of course it isn't but you never can tell these days as snowflakes abound. We all need to be a little more robust especially Vegans, I blame MrSpock

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to carnmores
05th Dec 2018 14:10

I'm trying to recall how Jennifer Saunders described it on last week's News Quiz: something aong the lines of "... our weekly lecture on the dangers of colonialism, racism and misogyny..." (only much, much funnier, because she is, after all, Jennifer Saunders).

It's a real shame - I love Dr Who (always have, since I used to watch with my Dad on Saturday evenings when I was little) but the constant lecturing and moralising are heavy-handed, largely poorly done (and unnecessary).

I like the new ensemble of companions (and the doctor) and they have potential, if only the scripts (and I suspect the budget the beeb is prepared to allocate to a 'female doctor') weren't so dire - it's just that it is supposed to be a sci-fi show - I want alien galaxies and exploding stars, not jaunting around earth's trouble spots to bang home (what should be) infant school concepts...

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04th Dec 2018 13:50

Damn! I better start posting under a pseudonym so I don't fall foul of the CIOT's rules.

What I do wonder is, if your professional body was to investigate you, and in response you simply resign your membership, what power do they actually have after that?

Is there any precedence for them pursuing the matter through the civil courts in such a case?

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By DJKL
to Lone_Wolf
04th Dec 2018 14:09

Contract lawyer enter stage right.

I suspect it depends what terms you accepted when you joined the Brownies, if you signed up that all liabilities arising as a result of your membership were your liability then possibly yes- start reading the small print (something I can no longer do even with reading glasses)

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04th Dec 2018 15:21

It makes you wonder if there is a back story as to why the complaint was instigated in the first place.

Maybe a ex client refusing to pay his bill sees pursuing a complaint like that as leverage to avoid paying their bill.

As the accountant will be too tied up with dealing with this that he is unlikely to pursue the matter through the courts.

As I must say if I saw someone making an offensive comment on social media my first thought would not be " I wonder if he is a member of ACCA"

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By DJKL
to Glennzy
04th Dec 2018 16:50

No it would not be, your first thought would be are they a member of ICAEW.

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05th Dec 2018 08:19

There's a focus on the comment about the potentially identifiable gentleman, but we're missing the point that over 6 years (!) he was posting homophobic, racist and sexist comments. This isn't one slightly misjudged comment/joke. That's unprofessional behaviour over a long period.

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07th Dec 2018 19:08

This fiscal actor was acting as a whole person and not merely as a fiscal identity. The public forum tends to make people more courageous and less guarded when articulating . Maybe in this instance the fiscal agent was unjudicious and wrong. However, I do feel the accountancy body should not have been involved. This fiscal actor was a mere human being notwithstanding his fiscal neurons and fiscal genes
WE can all make mistakes and have flaws in our personality.
My flaw is I am over fiscally charged

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07th Dec 2018 19:05

This fiscal actor was acting as a whole person and not merely as a fiscal identity. The public forum tends to make people more courageous and less guarded when articulating . Maybe in this instance the fiscal agent was unjudicious and wrong. However, I do feel the accountancy body should not have been involved. This fiscal was a mere human being notwithstanding his fiscal neurons and fiscal genes
WE can all make mistakes and have flaws in our personality.
My flaw is I am over fiscally charged

Thanks (1)