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Qualifications in assurance reporting

The practitioner may become aware that the evidence is insufficient to issue the agreed type of conclusion. This may happen due to circumstances beyond the control of the responsible party (eg, necessary documentation is destroyed), the nature of work (eg, observation of procedures before the engagement), or the responsible party may impose limitation on access necessary evidence.

Insufficient evidence does not constitute a valid reason for making a change in the agreed type of engagement, for instance, from a reasonable assurance engagement to a limited assurance engagement or from an assurance engagement to non-assurance engagement.

If the practitioner is unable to obtain sufficient appropriate evidence from other or alternative procedures to reach an assurance conclusion, the practitioner considers whether to issue a qualified or adverse conclusion, issue a disclaimer of a conclusion, or where appropriate, withdraw from the engagement.

The practitioner also considers other reporting responsibilities, including the appropriateness of communicating relevant matters of governance interest arising from the assurance engagement with those charged with governance.

The highly varied nature of subject matters which assurance reporting may cover means that practitioners are likely to encounter a broad range of less usual matters that also impact the wording of the assurance report. They need to be alert to these matters in order to ensure that the assurance report provides clarity to the users as to the conclusions being reached and draw the users’ attention to matters important to their understanding of the report.

For example:

Emphasis of matter: The practitioner may need to draw the reader’s attention to a fact or matters such as any inherent uncertainties already identified in the management report. If management do not make the required disclosures themselves, this will lead to a qualification;

Prior year qualifications: Active consideration may need to be given to how to draft the current year’s assurance report when it appears in tables with prior year’s data, some of which was qualified in the relevant assurance report. This might be achieved through an emphasis of matter but the needs may vary depending on a range of factors and each case needs to be considered in its own right.

In certain assertion based engagements management may include instances of non-compliance relevant to the subject matter in their own report. For example in a regulatory compliance engagement, management may voluntarily report a number of breaches of the regulations that they regard as minor, relative to the over-riding compliance requirements. Equally the assertions in the management report may or may not be qualified in respect of these matters.

The practitioner still needs to decide:

  • how significant these matters may be;
  • whether they need to be referred to in the assurance report; and
  • if so, whether they warrant a qualified report or simply reference through an emphasis of matter, or some other mechanism.

In evaluating the matters, the practitioner needs to consider:

  • the underlying purpose of the engagement;
  • the related needs of the users, including the results from any dialogue held with them at the outset or during the engagement; and
  • materiality levels determined at the planning stage of the engagement (see limited assurance vs reasonable assurance).

Note that certain users may expect to see details of individual transactions or controls, for example, those of the latter have not operated as intended; however, they may equally not expect these same items to represent qualifications to the practitioner’s report. It may be that they expect the practitioner to exercise professional judgement as to the impact of such items on the overall subject matter. For this reason a dialogue with the user may be appropriate in some engagements. As a part of this process, consideration should be given to what might constitute a matter requiring qualification.

Professional judgement will be required in using these factors to determine the most appropriate response.

ICAEW's assurance resource

This page is part of ICAEW’s online assurance resource, which replaces the Assurance Sourcebook.

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