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FAQs on the ICAEW disciplinary process (for ICAEW members, firms and ACA students who have received a complaint against them)

This page answers some of the questions you may have if there is a complaint against you or your firm.

As well as this resource, please refer to the What to do if you receive a complaint against you/your firm section  for more detailed information about the complaint process if you or your firm is the subject of a complaint.

1. A complaint has been raised against me/the firm. Do I need to respond if I think the complaint is vexatious?

Yes – The most important point is that you/your firm must respond to any requests for information from us promptly and in full, irrespective of your view of the complaint. Not replying can escalate matters, as a failure to respond or cooperate can itself lead to a disciplinary finding. 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.

2. Why are you looking at something which is not related to my professional work?

All members, students and firms regulated by ICAEW are expected to uphold and observe the highest professional standards. For this reason, if there is evidence of a significant and serious departure from the standards of behaviour expected, ICAEW, as an independent regulator, will get involved.

3. 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 make sure that our investigation is fair and thorough.

4. Why do you need so much detail?

Because an investigation may result in disciplinary action, we need to be thorough to ensure the Investigation Committee has all the information to determine whether there is a case to answer.

5. Are you biased towards one party?

No, we are impartial. We will never represent you or your firm or the complainant.

6. 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.

7. If the complaint against me is dismissed will I be reimbursed for the time and money I have spent dealing with the case?

The Investigation Committee can’t make ICAEW pay any money to you/the firm. A Disciplinary Committee tribunal can’t make ICAEW pay for the time you/the firm have spent. If you/the firm have spent money on representation after the complaint has been sent to the Disciplinary Committee, it is possible for the tribunal to order that some or all of those costs be paid. However, only in particular circumstances will such an order be made. The tribunal will consider how both you/the firm and ICAEW have behaved in the proceedings and, generally, will only make ICAEW pay if it is satisfied there has been a lack of good faith.

8. Why do you act on anonymous information?

Any complaint received by ICAEW (whether made anonymously or not) about an ICAEW member, student or firm that is regulated by ICAEW may indicate potential misconduct and must be considered.

9. How long will the whole process take?

For an investigation to be fair, it needs to be thorough. This means that we need to research all the facts and give you or the firm enough time to answer the allegation. This can take some time. Although we always aim to finalise cases as quickly as possible, it can take anything between three months for straightforward cases and a year or more depending on how complicated and strongly contested a case is.

10. How does the Investigation Committee work?
11. How does the Fitness Committee work?

The Fitness Committee meets as a panel; each panel is made up of two lay members (one of which will chair the panel) and one accountant. Its primary role is to decide if you are fit to participate in disciplinary proceedings and/or whether professional competence is seriously impaired through physical or mental health. Referrals to the committee can be made by ICAEW, chairs of the disciplinary committees, or by you yourself. In addition to this, the panel will also consider:

  • applications from individuals who wish to register as ACA students (provisional members) where applications disclose potential fitness issues, such as previous criminal convictions; and
  •  applications for readmission to membership in certain cases.

More information is available in the If you are suffering from a medical condition section.

12. How does the Disciplinary Committee (DC) work?
13. How does the Appeal Committee (AC) work?

You can appeal against a decision made by a Disciplinary Committee provided you do so within 28 days of the date of service of the committee’s written record of decision. The Appeal Committee (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 affirm, vary or rescind the decision of the DC. If an appeal is successful, the AC can still ask the ICAEW member, student or firm to pay the costs of the appeal and, in certain circumstances, ask ICAEW to pay. If an appeal is unsuccessful, it may order the ICAEW member, student or firm to pay ICAEW’s costs.

14. How do I prove that I am innocent?

We always aim to be thorough in our investigation of complaints. Both parties will be asked to provide evidence to support their claim or position. It is important you/your firm responds to any requests for information from us promptly and in full.

15. Is it true that ICAEW members can be disciplined for failing to answer just one letter from ICAEW?

Disciplinary Bye-law (DBL) 13 puts an obligation on ICAEW members, students and firms to provide specified information if asked to do so by the Professional Conduct Department. Members can be (and are) disciplined for failing to provide a satisfactory response to a DBL 13 letter. However, the sequence of events will, almost without exception, be that we will have written to the member but will have received no response. We will then send two further reminders at approximately fortnightly intervals. If these produce no reply, only then will we consider issuing a requirement for information under DBL 13. If you do not respond within the specified period, you will make yourself liable to disciplinary action.

16. I have heard that dissatisfied clients make complaints to ICAEW just to get information which can be used later in litigation against members. Is this true?

We have no experience of members complaining that they have been the subject of litigation using information obtained during the handling of a complaint against him or her. Often claims are based on allegations of poor work. If we receive such a complaint that is a disciplinary issue, the ICAEW case manager will try to help both parties find a solution to the problem through conciliation. If conciliation works (which it does 90% of the time), the parties agree a mutually acceptable solution and sign a document that prevents subsequent legal action on the same subject matter as the complaint.

17. Is there another way to deal with complaints apart from disciplining the ICAEW member, student or firm?

Yes there is. Conciliation is used to try to resolve the problem whenever it is appropriate do so. This process is non-judgemental and non-adversarial. The ICAEW case manager will try to help both parties find a permanent solution to the problem rather than allocate blame. Solutions are never imposed but are mutually agreed between the parties. If an agreement is reached, ICAEW cannot take disciplinary action against the ICAEW member, student or firm in respect of that particular complaint. 90% of the cases we try to conciliate are resolved.