PracticeAccounting FirmsBehind the numbers: legal loser

Behind the numbers: legal loser

Should the term accountant be protected?

Damian Wild, Accountancy Age

‘Of course’ is the instinctive reaction. ‘The public deserve it,’ say the
altruistic. ‘I deserve it,’ say others, more honest, or more self-serving,
depending on your perspective.

After a few years in the shadows, the debate around whether there should be
legal protection for the term ‘accountant’ is very much back in the limelight.
For the past few weeks there has been a petition on the Downing Street website
demanding the prime minister no less ‘prevent unqualified accountants, tax and
financial advisers providing services unless they have professionally recognised
qualifications’.

Ok, it was never going to be as popular a call to arms as the one demanding
the government allow the Red Arrows to fly at the 2012 Olympics, which had
garnered 432,00 0 signatures at the time of writing. But, the fact that
petitioner Alan Shooter, an ICAEW and ACCA member, garnered 4,056 signatures,
shows it is a call that chimes with many.

The campaign gained further momentum last week when Liberal Democrat Treasury
spokesman Vincent Cable, nudged by ACCA, put down an Early Day Motion warning,
the lack of protection puts ‘thousands of small businesses and individuals… at
risk from harmful and costly business advice from unqualified, unregulated,
possibly uninsured advisers’. Legal protection is afforded to other professions,
argue Cable and his colleagues, while unqualified accountants are not answerable
to any regulatory body.

It’s all noble stuff, but for me it’s doomed to fail, not least because most
EDMs fail to deliver change. It also won’t work because it would deliver more
difficulties than benefits.

Would you restrict the definition of accountant to members of the six CCAB
bodies? Or would you extend it to those allowed to audit under the Companies
Act? What about the AAT? And what of the myriad international institutes whose
members ply their trade in the UK?

What do you do with the thousands of unqualified accountants who have
offered sound advice for years? Do the institutes offer an olive branch and a
grandfathering scheme? Or simply cast them adrift? Who would oversee a new
regime? The Financial Reporting Council sees it as impossible to police and
expensive to coordinate. So who would do it?

Back to the drawing board.

Damian Wild is editor in chief of Accountancy Age and
blogs at accountancymatters.accountancyage.com

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