Accountancy Age has learned that the ICAEW is in preliminary talks with the Revenue, which the institute hopes will lead to a campaign that highlights the advantages of professionally qualified advisers.
The qualified elite of the profession has long had an uneasy relationship with those who – quite legally – describe themselves as accountants, but lack professional qualifications.
The institute will remind the Revenue that qualified accountants are distinguished by merit of having continuing professional development, professional indemnity insurance and ethical codes.
Stressing that talks were at an early stage, chief executive Eric Anstee said: ‘I very much hope we can work with government agencies and others in the future to raise public awareness of the benefits of using professional firms.’
The Revenue is understood to see the addition of a quality assurance scheme to that list as an important step in setting the qualified profession apart.
The ICAEW is currently the only major institute without a scheme, though voting on the adoption of Moorgate Place’s practice assurance proposals ends on 6 June.
The Revenue said that it had taken an ‘active interest’ in practice assurance, which it welcomed as enabling people to distinguish between the quality of assistance available.
But the possibility that firms could enlist the government’s help to convince the public to choose them over their cheaper – but unqualified – counterparts is proving controversial.
The Association of Certified Public Accountants, which draws its membership from non-qualified accountants, but offers a degree of regulation, said a Revenue campaign would not be acceptable.
It claimed any campaign would be unfair as the government had repeatedly ignored its lobbying for the extension of regulation to all accountants.
Kevin Henry, chief executive of the ACPA, said: ‘We’re not just talking about a few charlatans – but a third of the market. If a government department gets behind a campaign to differentiate, it needs to be very careful and we would mount a campaign.’
He added that the vast majority of the unqualified market was ‘honest, reliable individuals just earning a living with the skills they have’.
‘If the CCAB wants to campaign that would be fine, but it’s not for a government department of paid civil servants to take it upon themselves to say who is and who is not a proper accountant,’ he added.
ICAS, which briefly considered lobbying government to protect the term ‘accountant’ in law in 2002, said: ‘At present anyone can call themselves an accountant and set up in business to do accounts, tax returns and other associated advisory work.’
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