My client is leaving: what do I do?
4 February 2020: the new year is often a time when clients decide to change their accountants, but what should you do if a client decides to leave your practice?
Section 320 of the ICAEW Code of Ethics sets out the procedures for professional appointment – it addresses what the prospective accountant must do as well as what you, as the existing accountant, must do as part of the process.
You may wish to refer to our helpsheet Change of professional appointment – Outgoing accountant which includes more information.
If a client wishes to move to another accountant, it’s best practice to understand why they are changing accountant and to issue a disengagement letter (an example is included in our Disengagement letters helpsheet).
Professional clearance or professional enquiry?
As part of the change of professional appointment process, you can expect to receive communication from the prospective accountant. Despite some people referring to this communication as a request for "professional clearance", you do not have the authority to give or withhold permission to act. The decision whether or not to accept appointment is the responsibility of the prospective accountant. It is more accurate to refer to this communication as a professional enquiry therefore.
Do I have to respond to the prospective accountant?
In short, yes (although in most circumstances, you would require the consent of the client to respond). Your response needs to be prompt, honest and unambiguous. It should bring to the attention of the prospective accountant any matters of which they should be made aware.
In your response, you must not disclose whether you have made any suspicious activity reports relating to money laundering or terrorism, although you may need to include a factual reference to any irregularities, perhaps identifying a specific unresolved matter or an item yet to be included on a tax return, for example.
What if my client hasn’t paid my fees?
You still need to respond to the professional enquiry (usually with consent of the client), but you may have the right to exercise a particular lien over (ie, withhold) the records (this will not normally be possible with a company client). You may find the helpsheet Exercising liens useful in these circumstances.
If you’re an ICAEW member, affiliate or member of staff in an eligible firm with member firm access, you may discuss your specific situation with the Ethics Advisory Service on +44 (0)1908 248 250.