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Disciplinary: ICAEW severely reprimands ‘aggressive and unhelpful’ sole practitioner

An “argumentative” sole practitioner who was far too busy to respond to the ICAEW’s requests was severely reprimanded and branded “aggressive and unhelpful”.

12th Feb 2020
Practice Editor AccountingWEB
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The investigation involving Howard Morris could never be described as amiable. He treated the ICAEW’s requests with secondary importance, prioritising instead his clients.  

Morris continually butted heads with the ICAEW throughout the year-long investigation. Towards the end, Morris even told the ICAEW his intention was to retire in two-to-three years’ time so he would be grateful to be left in peace.

But the tribunal found Morris’ delays unsatisfactory and ordered him to pay a £5,000 fine as well as footing the Investigation Committee’s costs of £8,960.

The investigation dates back to a practice assurance meeting in November 2015. At the time of the review, Morris jointly owned the firm with his wife and because he did not have the majority voting control, the ICAEW advised him that it could not automatically be his AML supervisor.

Once Morris took majority ownership, a practice assurance case manager then carried out a further meeting in April 2016, raising issues regarding, among other things, the firm’s AML supervision.

Morris responded at first asking for an extension and then in June 2016 when he asked for assistance, attributed the delay on his part to having two elderly family members needing care.

But despite the ICAEW providing him with links to information and support, Morris continued to find excuses for further delays. He asked the PCD to relieve him of this “pressuring burden” so he could instead use the time for the proper supervision of his clients’ accountancy and tax affairs.

In January 2017, Morris was told if he did not respond by March, matters would be referred to the Practice Assurance Committee (PAC). He responded the same day blaming the looming tax return deadline for the delay and expressed concern about being ‘threatened’ with referral to the PAC.

Later in 2017, the case was escalated to the PAC who decided Morris should pay for a follow-up QAD meeting. Morris replied saying a “one-man practice simply could not afford such a cost”.

He also claimed his AML issues remained unresolved as he blamed the ICAEW’s website for being like “minefield” and said the support network “could not really be called a support network”.

The PAC continued to pursue matters until June 2017 when Morris refused to pay anything for the proposed follow-up meeting. Morris said it was “outrageous that a one-man firm, under constant pressure to service clients, should be subjected to the degree of scrutiny and bureaucracy that the ICAEW impose”.

Morris claimed he could not spare the time to attend a course on AML because he was a sole practitioner. But the ICAEW disciplinary committee found this excuse “profoundly unsatisfactory”. 

The tribunal also heard another complaint where Morris failed to provide details of an alternate in the event of his death. Morris considered his executor would have the power to manage the client bank account, but the Investigation Committee was not satisfied with this. 

The Disciplinary Committee also pulled Morris up on the “argumentative” way he engaged in correspondence. “The tone was aggressive and unhelpful. He stated that his priority was his clients (a point repeated to us during the hearing), and the requests from ICAEW were of secondary importance.” 

Chris Cope, director of Accountants National Complaint Services Ltd, comments:

I have some sympathy with Mr Morris. Regulatory enquiries can be frustrating and time-consuming. This must be irritating for the sole practitioner. Nevertheless, in this highly regulated age in which all professionals must exist, satisfying the regulator that you are compliant is the penalty for enjoying the qualification which ought to give the practitioner a good standard of living. Reverting to hostile correspondence helps no one and can be costly. Mr Morris ended up with a severe reprimand and fine of £5,000, both wholly avoidable if the matter had been handled courteously and promptly.

If you are presently subject to a complaint, you can call the Accountants National Complaint Services Limited for advice (01769 581581) or visit their website

Replies (20)

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Nefertiti
By Nefertiti
12th Feb 2020 10:02

Quote: "enjoying the qualification which ought to give the practitioner a good standard of living". In reality most sole practitioners do NOT enjoy a good standard of living. The professional accountant market is saturated and highly competitive, clients are very reluctant to pay reasonable fees to what they regard as a "pen pusher". The mountain of professional standards and government legislation keeps on increasing annually, keeping up with CPD courses is both time consuming and expensive and on top of that the regulatory bodies behave like they are gods over their professional members. In this particular case, I would seriously advise Howard Morris to retire early if he is able to afford to and wash his hands off this "daily headache".

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Replying to Nefertiti:
Barry
By barry131
12th Feb 2020 10:31

Here 'ere!!

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Replying to Nefertiti:
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By Andy Reeves
12th Feb 2020 12:03

CPD can be done via webinars, so it doesn't even involve leaving your office chair.

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By geoffmw1
12th Feb 2020 10:31

I have a lot of sympathy with Mr Morris. If he is getting close to 50 year membership I would not recommend retiring before that milestone is reached.

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By Philipbwood
12th Feb 2020 10:32

Presumably one of his options may be to resign his membership of the Institute and carry on as an unqualified accountant, assuming he does not need to carry out any regulated work, although it is sad that such a course of action should even be contemplated having spent, presumably, the majority of his working life as a Chartered Accountant. He would still need to comply with AML regulations though!

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Replying to Philipbwood:
Nefertiti
By Nefertiti
13th Feb 2020 09:54

Very interesting comment, an accountant becomes qualified when he/she passes the final exams (in some cases 30 or 40 years ago). The penalty for getting qualified is to be forced to pay annual fees to the governing body and complying with their numerous rules and regulations over a working lifetime. Ceasing membership of the regulatory body does not suddenly make him unqualified overnight - or does it?

Any comments on this one from the others reading this thread?

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By waltere
12th Feb 2020 11:17

"He treated the ICAEW’s requests with secondary importance, prioritising instead his clients."

Unforgivable.

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By k743snx
12th Feb 2020 11:27

Like many others here, I understand how Mr Morris felt. However, doing his "Burning Martyr" routine did his supposed retirement plans no favours.

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By martinhayward
12th Feb 2020 11:51

Just about sums up the gulf between us and them.

Accountants exist to be heavily regulated not to help their clients.

And as for the comment about regulation being the price we pay for the standard of living we enjoy by having the qualification. What world is Chris Cope living in?

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By Ruth75
12th Feb 2020 12:36

I'm beginning to think I should have gone into IT as a career given my IT clients can earn at least double my fee per hour, and they don't have the compliance and regulatory burdens accountants do.

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By Tufty
12th Feb 2020 13:22

I wholeheartedly sympathise with Mr Morris, I am sick to death of all the bureaucracy thrown at small businesses, making it increasingly difficult to actually function as a business.

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7om
By Tom 7000
12th Feb 2020 14:55

If the nice man at the ICAEW asks you to do something, its just easier to do it. Ride the system to the top don't fight it and sink.

You cant win arguing....comply and win and to be honest its for your own good.

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By Husbandofstinky
12th Feb 2020 15:35

If only I had 2 -3 more years left to retire........

Can whole heartedly empathise with Mr Morris, but in this day and age now 'resistance is futile'

And as for a 'good standard of living', I would say 'reasonable' at best.

A hell of a long way short of solicitors charge out rates.

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By Smiffy813
12th Feb 2020 15:37

There should be no sympathy for any poor 'standard of living'. Its a choice that sole practitioners make and they enjoy the benefits of being the masters of their own destiny.

Also, for anyone complaining about the aggressive 'regulation' - I think you would be quite happy to be protected by the same regulator should it be necessary. AML is a pillar of operating within any financial industry - if individuals dont want to adhere to the rules, they are in the wrong industry.

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Replying to Smiffy813:
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By Roland195
12th Feb 2020 16:47

Give me on example of a sole practitioner who ever felt supported by a CCAB Institute.

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Replying to Smiffy813:
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By AWeb72
12th Feb 2020 22:32

AML is a one-size-fits-all regulation that is massive overkill for the small practice with simplistic types of clients.

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Replying to AWeb72:
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By Smiffy813
14th Feb 2020 18:35

Absolute codswallop.

By the same reckoning the speed limit should only apply to fast cars.

If an accountant doesn't complete their duties because they don't think it applies to their 'simplistic clients' then they are pretty much asking for trouble.

No wonder that we have the problems that we do when there are clearly accountants that are above the rules.

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By ireallyshouldknowthisbut
13th Feb 2020 10:07

I am afraid if the ICAEW asks you to jump, you have to ask to what height they would like you to go, and with what frequency they require you to repeat the manoeuvre.

It sounds like a failing practice to me if there is no time left for basic regulatory matters which presumably the ICAEW suspect was not properly in place. Its part of the job and you have to build it in, regardless of your private views on the overall pointlessness of it. I have met a few "old boys" who are clearly well past it and have more work than capacity to deal with it, and as a consequence are slipping into multiple "fire fighting" issues which doubles down on their capacity so they hit a practice death spiral of declining ability, increased error rates, increased corrections, higher stress, longer hours to compensate, and then the depression hits and they do even less and the stress mounts.

If its all too much, do yourself and your clients a favour, sell up and retire, and perhaps keep a little pot of £20-30k of easy fee income you can fiddle about with when its raining and you cant get out in the garden.

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By AndrewV12
13th Feb 2020 11:13

Extract above
'Towards the end, Morris even told the ICAEW his intention was to retire in two-to-three years’ time so he would be grateful to be left in peace.'

Oldest trick in the book to take the heat off, no one believes it.

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By memyself-eye
14th Feb 2020 13:17

ICAEW?
What's that then?

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