Disciplinary: Sole practitioner failed to cooperate after bereavement
Bereavement and ill health can take its toll on day-to-day life, but even under these tragic personal circumstances, practice owners still have a responsibility to their clients and professional body.
Sole practitioner Kate Davies received a severe reprimand last month and ordered to pay ACCA’s disciplinary hearing costs of £6,000 after the ACCA committee heard how she failed to respond to a client’s professional clearance and transfer request and did not engage with the subsequent ACCA investigation.
Davies also failed to update her registered address details at some stage between December 2016 and May 2017 when her company dissolved, despite ACCA requesting her to do so.
But as Davies told the ACCA’s conciliation team in June 2017, this occurred at a time when she was signed off work ill and dealing with three bereavements including her husband’s death, and she was left to wind down his business.
However, Davies said that she believed her and the client had already parted ways, but the client later re-emerged at the eleventh hour with a VAT return. She said the client had been “awkward” for 18 months and would get angry with her and refuse to pay for on-going work and had threatened to engage a new accountant.
She admitted to the officer that she had moved out of her offices in December 2016 but that she said shouldn’t have affected client communication because the client was made aware of these changes, and she updated the ACCA records but not Companies House.
Her silence could also be explained by her losing access to her emails, but she explained that by the time they were restored in May 2017, she was abroad and unable to receive phone calls.
Gone AWOL again
Despite agreeing to send the client’s transfer documents in the following week and to email a response to the officer, Davies fell off the radar, which sparked a three month chase where the ACCA officer’s emails and voicemails were met with silence.
By August 2017, the matter was escalated to the ACCA investigations department after seven failed attempts to contact Davies. The investigation department tried a further four times and searched the ACCA database for alternative addresses, before Davies re-emerged on 13 October after having only just seen the investigations department’s September email (she did not “regularly monitor” this email account) – but in her mind, she had already explained and provided all the information to the conciliation officer.
ACCA sympathised with Davies’ personal circumstances which resulted in her working part-time after an extended period off work, and the added responsibility of running her late husband’s business.
The ACCA committee recognised that this was not a case of no cooperation at all, but failing to respond and co-operate with the investigations officer and the professional body demonstrated a lack of professional responsibility.
Davies indicated in a conversation with the ACCA’s connect department in June 2018 that she has sold her practice and wanted her practising certificate withdrawn.
Davies did not attend the hearing. The ACCA attempted to contact her but an emailed notice of the hearing to her registered address bounced back and it appeared that she left her registered address in 2016.