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What to do if you receive a complaint against you

Firstly, don’t panic! Just because we notify you of a complaint about you, it doesn't automatically mean you’ll be excluded from membership or have to pay a fine with the details published in the pages of economia.

First we assess whether the complaint raises disciplinary issues and needs investigation. If so, a case manager will investigate it. How you deal with that investigation may affect the outcome.

Don’t ignore us, we won’t just go away!

Being an ostrich and burying your head in the sand doesn’t work; it can make matters worse. And we won’t go away. We’ll keep asking the questions we need answers to. Not replying can escalate matters as a failure to respond can itself lead to a disciplinary finding.

If you want to respond but don’t know how much information you should give, or just can’t respond within the timescale, talk to the case manager. We may give you an extension of time to allow, for example, for holidays or the need to retrieve files from storage. But we can't provide an open-ended extension.

Respond promptly and provide the information we’ve asked for

During the course of the investigation, we'll ask you for evidence to support explanations you’ve made. This should help make your case clearer. It’s in your interest to give us all the information we’ve asked for within the timescale. This helps the investigation progress more quickly. Which leads to the next point …

Costs

From 1 July 2019, the current charge for disciplinary complaints is £180 per hour. There is also a standing charge of £220 added to each case to contribute to the costs of the Investigation Committee. These charges may be subject to inflationary increases.

Some cases can be dealt with quickly, while other more complex cases may take over a year to investigate. Throughout the investigation, we will keep a record of the time spent on the case. To help keep costs as low as possible, please respond promptly and comprehensively to requests for information.

If the complaint against you is referred to the Investigation Committee and a case is found against you, you may be liable for the some or all of costs of the investigation. This will be determined by the Investigation Committee.

Your conduct

You may be upset or angry when you are told ICAEW is investigating a complaint against you. Please make sure you behave professionally throughout the investigation. Unfortunately we have had some cases when our case managers are treated with aggression. This is not acceptable and it won’t be tolerated. It may count against you, particularly if the Investigation Committee thinks you’ve behaved unprofessionally during the course of the investigation and it could affect any sanction given.

Concerns about sharing information?

As an ICAEW member, you’re entitled to see all relevant papers that the Investigation Committee considers. If the complainant asks us not to share information with you, it can’t be shared with the committee either.

If you don’t want us to share information with the person who has initiated the complaint, you should make this clear in writing. However, if you do this and we consider we need the complainant’s comments on these points, we may still need to put these points to the complainant even if we don’t share with them copies of documents you’ve provided.

Feel you need some support in dealing with the investigation?

Being the subject of an investigation can be stressful. When we write to you in the early stages of an investigation, we give details of ICAEW’s Support Members Scheme and CABA. Their support is available throughout the process. A support member is an experienced ICAEW member who has volunteered to help members who are subject to disciplinary investigations. They can help you draft responses to the case manager, explain parts of the process or just give moral support.

You can also call and discuss the case with the case manager. They can provide more detail on the process, timescales and other issues you’re concerned about. However, you should be aware that the case manager still needs to continue the investigation, and information you provide to them may be shared with the Investigation Committee.

Can I have a meeting with the case manager?

Yes. If you think it will be beneficial, you can ask to meet the case manager. This might be helpful if there’s a complex history to the complaint or significant papers to hand over. However, you may be liable for the costs of the investigation if a case is found against you, so make the most of the meeting by coming prepared with all the documentation you want to discuss.

Do I need a lawyer?

It’s up to you whether you engage a lawyer but our process doesn't require you to be represented. If you engage a lawyer, you should let the case manager know and give them authority to speak or write to your lawyer.

Can I ask the case manager to close the case?

The case manager does not make the final decision on the case. They may share their opinion with you but all cases are subject to a review process and ultimately may be considered by the Investigation Committee which will make the final decision on whether there’s a case to answer and what sanction is appropriate.

Can I stop the complaint by resigning?

No, not usually. ICAEW has the power to take action against former members so resigning may not stop the case being reported to the Investigation Committee.

Do I still need to respond if I think the complaint is vexatious?

Yes – You/your firm has a duty to respond to ICAEW regarding the complaint, irrespective of your view of the complaint. However, if we (ICAEW) consider the complaint to be vexatious we may refuse to investigate it. We will never label a complainant as vexatious; rather we will focus on the issues that are raised to determine whether they have been brought solely with the intent of causing annoyance, worry or trouble for the member/firm. The ICAEW Code of Conduct for Complainants explains the rights and obligations of people who make complaints against ICAEW firms, members, students and affiliates.

Will the complaint be closed if ICAEW is happy with my responses?

It depends. If the complaint has been raised by ICAEW (for example, because we think you may be practising without a practising certificate), ICAEW staff may be able to close the case.

But if the complaint has been made by a third party such as an unhappy client or a new accountant, they can insist that their complaint is reported to the Investigation Committee, regardless of the case manager’s view.

Why do you ask for information about a member’s financial circumstances?

If the complaint about you is to be reported to the Investigation Committee, we’ll send you a financial circumstances form. You’re not required to fill in this form. It’s there in case the Investigation Committee finds a case to answer and you want the Investigation Committee to take into consideration your circumstances and ability to pay any possible fines or costs.

If you don’t complete the form and, subsequently, the committee makes a decision with a sanction that you consider you can’t afford, you’ll have another opportunity to make representations. This may cause delay so, if you want to provide financial information, it may be better to do so before the case is reported to the Investigation Committee.

Frequently asked questions

Access FAQs from ICAEW members and ICAEW member firms when they’re the subject of a complaint.