We continue to be concerned about the level of “sanctions” (heaven forbid they should be thought of as fines) and costs awarded against ICAEW members particularly in “no loss cases”. The current regime (Executive Director Duncan Wiggetts addressed our AGM in 2016) has implemented some positive reforms –
- better training for those sitting on quasi-judicial tribunals,
- a regime for dealing with cases where the member is suffering from health issues,
- a sensible time limit to prevent unreasonably old complaints having to be dealt with (coming soon)
but it is still all too easy to find yourself enmeshed in the disciplinary system, either because of matters raised by QAD or complaints by a disgruntled client. We have recently seen cases where both we, and our legal adviser Chris Cope, have reacted with “they can’t live in the real world” or issues arising from simple, straightforward errors in completion of returns or negotiating the regulations which result in no harm to clients or the public. If SPA members find themselves in a position where disciplinary action against them by ICAEW seems possible, please contact Howard or Nigel at SPA as soon as you are aware of the situation. This will be, of course, at no cost to you. Whilst we are not able to offer legal advice, we have seen a number of these cases and we can offer a sympathetic ear and give some tips. The usual strategy is:
- Notify your PI insurers immediately and follow their advice.
- Respond promptly to communications from ICAEW (even when they seem to take a long time to respond to communications from you).
- Try to establish a personal relationship with your case officer – speak to them on the phone if you need clarification on exactly what it is they want or you need a deadline extended.
- If you have agreed to abide by conditions imposed by QAD or a regulatory committee, do what you have said you will do.
- It may often make sense in terms of time, trouble and, yes, cost, to accept a consent order at an early stage, even though this may seem hard to bear.
If you do find yourself in a tribunal, ICAEW will have legal representation – usually in-house legal staff who are not expensive QCs but they do have legal training and you therefore need to consider being represented too. There is nothing of the cosy chat about these tribunals The further along the appeals/review process you go, the higher the level of ICAEW costs being racked up – if you lose, and sometimes even if you win, you will have to pay these and they can be substantial. At the absolute discretion of the steering committee, SPA may offer help to members with their costs in defending disciplinary and regulatory charges in certain circumstances.