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This page answers some of the questions complainants ask when they have made a complaint about an ICAEW member or member firm.
  • 1. What are my rights and obligations as a complainant?

    Please refer to the ICAEW Policy on Conduct of Complainants for information on your rights and obligations in bringing a complaint about an ICAEW member, student, or regulated firm or individual. The Policy explains when the Conduct Department may refuse to investigate a complaint, or the steps they may take if you are abusive or act unreasonably during the complaints process. It also highlights how a complaint may be dealt with in accordance with Investigation and Discipline Regulation 10 if it is deemed vexatious or repetitive.

  • 2. My accountant has charged too much for preparing my tax returns. Can ICAEW help me?

    The arrangement you have with your accountant is a contractual one. You should normally have a letter which sets out the terms on which the work you want done will be carried out. That letter should also explain how your accountant will charge you for the work.

    If you do not have this information, you are entitled to ask for it. You can also ask for a written estimate.

    ICAEW is not able to get involved in fee dispute which are contractual.

  • 3. I made a complaint against a chartered accountant and wanted to be involved in the investigation of my complaint. However, I was told that ICAEW would take over the case and that staff would deal with it. Is that a proper way to deal with my complaint?

    ICAEW receives complaints from a variety of sources including members of the public, former clients and public authorities such as HMRC, the Serious Fraud Office or the Department for Business and Trade.

    ICAEW may itself initiate a complaint when it becomes aware, through press reports, that a member has been convicted of a criminal offence or breached regulations, for example, as an auditor or insolvency practitioner.

    Complaints are always dealt with by staff in the Conduct Department. Complainants are expected to provide the information they hold in support of a complaint and are entitled to be kept informed of the progress of a complaint and the outcome. They may be needed as witnesses to help prove a complaint and, in those circumstances, it is appropriate that complainants should not be involved in the investigation.

  • 4. Why don't you collect all the information you need at the outset?

    We do try to ask for everything at the outset. However, once we receive this information, or it has been seen by the other party to the complaint, we may need to ask for additional information. We appreciate this can be inconvenient, but we do need to do this to ensure that our investigation is fair and thorough.

  • 5. Why do you need so much detail?

    When we investigate a complaint, we always aim to be thorough. As a result, we may need quite detailed information. An investigation may result in disciplinary action against a member. We therefore must make sure that we have sufficient information to allow the Conduct Committee to decide.

  • 6. Are you biased towards one party?

    We are impartial. We are not there to represent ICAEW members or complainants but to look independently and objectively at the complaint.

  • 7. The complaints process treats large firms more favourably than small firms.

    All complaints are treated in the same way, whether against a small practitioner or a large firm.

  • 8. Why can't the case manager tell me the likely outcome?

    Staff do not decide the outcome of a case. Therefore they are unable to tell you what the outcome will be. The case is considered by the Conduct Committee which is independent of the staff. The Guidance on Sanctions provides guidance for the committee when it considers what penalty, if any, is appropriate.

  • 9. Can I meet the case manager?

    Please contact the case manager if you would like to meet to discuss the case.

  • 10. How long will the full process take?

    For an investigation to be fair, it needs to be thorough. We need to research all the facts and give the individual or member enough time to answer the allegation. Although we always aim to conclude cases as quickly as possible, it can take from six months for a straightforward case to more than a year, depending on how complicated and strongly contested a case is.

  • 11. Do you publicise adverse findings against members?

    Yes, we do. If the Conduct Committee makes a Consent Order or a panel of the Tribunals Committee finds a formal allegation or formal allegations proved, a copy of the adverse finding will be listed on the ICAEW website and made available on our searchable Disciplinary Database for a period in accordance with our Disciplinary Database policy.

  • 12. Can the member or complainant attend the committee meeting?

    Members and complainants do not have the right to attend the Conduct Committee meeting. If, however, the committee would find it helpful to meet the member, it may ask them to come to a meeting. Members have the right to appear in person at Tribunal Committee hearings.

    Tribunal Committee hearings are normally open to the public so complainants can attend in that way. A Tribunal Committee hearing will only be held in private in exceptional circumstances.

  • 13. Why can't you take my word for it that the accountant is wrong?

    A complaints process cannot be founded on the basis of accepting one person's word over another. You will need to provide all available, relevant information in your possession to support your allegation.

  • 14. Why doesn't the formal allegation wording reflect my original allegation?

    To bring disciplinary action against a member, we must see if the member has breached the disciplinary bye-laws or any ICAEW regulations. The complaint wording is therefore written to reflect this. We do our best to make sure the substance of the complaint reflects the original complaint. However, in some cases, the wording must be changed.

  • 15. How will you keep me informed?

    To complete our work efficiently, we will write to you and ask you to reply within 14 days. If you want to find out how the case is progressing or want to discuss your complaint, please contact the case manager. The accountant who is the subject of your complaint can do the same.

    You can discuss the case with a case manager over the phone. Case managers may express their views to you, either by phone or in writing, but only the Conduct Committee or a tribunal can decide what should happen. A committee may not always take the same view as the case manager.

  • 16. You have said that the accountant made a mistake but have closed the case. Why?

    Single errors of judgement, innocent mistakes and acts of minor negligence are not likely to be considered serious enough to amount to misconduct. If a member has made a mistake over a sustained period, then this may mean that he has performed his work inefficiently or incompetently to such an extent or on such a number of occasions that it may be more serious.

  • 17. How does the Conduct Committee (CC) work?

    The CC considers complaints against members and firms on a wide range of matters. It consists of at least 14 people of whom at least 50% are not chartered accountants. It decides whether there is a realistic prospect that, if the allegation were to be referred to a Tribunal Committee for hearing, such allegation would be found proved. Members do not have the right to appear before the CC.

    If the CC considers there is a realistic prospect of a matter being found proved, it can invite the member or firm to consent to an order such as a reprimand, fine and costs. Alternatively, it may refer the case to Tribunal Committee (TC). If the CC decides there is no realistic prospect, the matter is closed, unless the person who has made the complaint asks for a case file review by an independent reviewer.

    We will write to both parties to tell you what the CC has decided, and the principal reasons for that decision, shortly after the meeting.

  • 18. What happens if the CC finds there is a realistic prospect of the matter being found proved?

    The CC can:

    • take no further action;
    • invite the member or firm to accept a caution;
    • invite the member or firm to consent to an order; or
    • refer the complaint to a Tribunal.

    If the CC decides to take no action, we will still record the decision and the CC may take it into account when considering an appropriate sanction in a subsequent allegation.

    If the CC invites the firm to consent to an order eg, a reprimand, fine and costs and the member or firm is prepared to accept it, the CC will make the order without referring the case to the Tribunal Committee. Once a consent order has been made, we will publish the details.

    If the member or firm does not consent to the order, or if the CC considers the matter too serious for it to deal with, the complaint will be referred to the Tribunals Committee; or the member or firm can ask the CC to reconsider its decision based on fresh information.

    The CC has no powers to make a member or firm pay compensation.

    All committees refer to the Guidance on Sanctions when they determine any sanction and/or penalties.

  • 19. What happens if the CC finds there is no real prospect of a matter being found proved?

    The matter will be closed unless the person who made the complaint is not satisfied with the CC's decision and they ask for a case file review by an independent reviewer, provided they do so within 28 days of the decision.

    The independent reviewer is an independent non-accountant appointed in accordance with ICAEW's bye-laws to see whether the CC should reconsider the matter.

    Our leaflet, the Case File Reviews, explains what happens if a case is referred to a reviewer.

  • 20. How does the Tribunals Committee (TC) work?

    The TC considers the allegations referred by the CC. These are called formal allegations. Hearings are held in public unless the TC panel has agreed to hear the case in private.

    A panel of the TC (three people – one chartered accountant and two lay members) hears the case. An ICAEW member of staff or barrister presents the case on behalf of the Conduct Department.

    A legal assessor advises the TC panel on law and procedure but is not involved in making decisions. This legal assessor is an independent solicitor or barrister.

    If it finds the case proved, the TC panel can impose penalties (often referred to as a sanction order) and these are set out in the bye-laws. They can include (but are not limited to) reprimands, fines, the removal of a member's practising certificate and exclusion from membership of ICAEW. The TC panel can also order the member or firm to pay costs. Members and firms and ICAEW can appeal against a decision or order of the TC. tribunal. In exceptional circumstances, a TC panel can order ICAEW to contribute to a member or firm's costs.

    We will send you a formal record of the tribunal's decision, whether you attend the hearing or not.

    For more information, see our leaflet, Appearing before the Disciplinary Committees.

  • 21. How does the Appeal Committee (AC) work?

    Members and firms or the Conduct Department can appeal against a decision made by a TC panel provided they do so within 28 days of the meeting when the tribunal makes a decision and order. The AC considers these appeals.

    The AC works in panels of five people: two chartered accountants, two non-accountants and a legally qualified chair.

    The AC can overturn the decision of the TC panel. It can also reconsider any order the TC has made. If an appeal is successful, the AC can still ask the member to pay the costs of the appeal and, in certain circumstances, ask ICAEW to pay. If an appeal is unsuccessful, it may order the member to pay ICAEW's costs.

  • 22. Can ICAEW make the member or firm pay compensation?

    No. ICAEW has no powers to make a member or firm pay compensation.

  • 23. Should I wait for ICAEW to reach a decision before taking legal action?

    If you think you have reason to make a civil claim against the member or firm, you should not wait until our investigation process has reached a conclusion. You should seek your own legal advice straight away.