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Horror stories involving nightmare accountants

23rd July 2013

Fish and chips, bride and groom, knife and fork… some things just work better together. Whoever heard of Laurel without Hardy? Where would Torvill be without Dean? You get the picture.

It is crucial you and your accountant work as a team too. We’ve heard countless stories about accountants who act like they are working against their clients – not with them.

Here are our top tips to make sure you aren’t the next victim of an unscrupulous accountant:-

Check your accountant’s credentials

As regular readers of this blog will be aware, anybody can call themselves an accountant. It is a bit like being a nutritionist.

If you want to call yourself a dietician you need to be regulated by a specific body and gain a particular qualification. However any Tom, Dick or Harry can call themselves a nutritionist – you don’t need a qualification.

Some of our clients have found out to their cost that the same thing can happen with accountants.

In one memorable example, we heard a story that an accountant had requested a rebate for overpaid tax – but instead of entering the client’s details, gave their own instead! Whichever way you slice it, the ‘accountant’ was stealing from their client.

In this situation, if the accountant were a member of a registered body like the ACCA, ICAEW, AAT or CIMA, the normal plan of action would be to consult them, issue a formal complaint and take it from there.

When pressed by the client to find out if he was qualified, the accountant claimed he was a member of the ICAEW but had forgotten to pay his dues. In other words he wasn’t – and there was no accountancy body on hand to help resolve the matter.

This particular client was one of the lucky ones – managing to get their money back via threats of the law. Others aren’t so fortunate.

So how do you avoid getting in with the wrong crowd? Check your accountant’s qualifications. If they are qualified they will have spent considerable amounts of time and money earning that qualification and will almost certainly display it loud and proud.

If you can’t see evidence of it or you have any other doubts about them, the major bodies hold registers of their members which you can look up – you can find us here for example.

Build up a relationship with them

The relationship between an accountant and their client is fundamentally built on trust. You want to be sure your accountant is doing their job correctly and efficiently – your livelihood could depend on it.

However, you can help. If you can provide the information they require accurately and on time you’ll make their job easier – which means you’ll have a better chance of getting exactly what you need, exactly when you need it.

But ultimately a quality accountant should make sure the whole process is as smooth as possible.

Your accountant should be in touch regularly and be available on the phone to answer any questions you may have. We are required by law to have met our clients before any work is agreed upon and that can be a massive help too.

A number of our clients have come to us from internet-based accountants – faceless bodies and voices over the phone – or have complained their previous accountants just didn’t give them enough time, only getting in touch when deadlines were looming.

In one case, the accountant failed to submit a payroll return on time and simply disappeared with the client’s cash.

The client came to us with a penalty, which was fortunately resolved and a valuable lesson was learned. Be careful – there are some real sharks out there.

Make sure they’re doing their job

Here’s one thing that isn’t often mentioned: YOU are ultimately responsible for making sure everything is submitted on time to the relevant people – not your accountant.

Communication should be clear and all parties should know what they are accountable for.

Whenever something is submitted by the accountant on your behalf, they should be able to confirm exactly what they have done.

All businesses operate differently so it is important that your accountant knows how best to advise you and whether there are any special rules you can take advantage of.

A question we commonly hear when receiving calls from potential clients is ‘How many clients do you have that work in X / Y / Z sector?’

Obviously, the more exposure and clients a practice has in a particular sector the more they know about how it operates – contractors, for example.

Your accountant should be able to answer your questions in layman’s terms – ensuring you understand everything and feel comfortable asking any question you like without feeling like you are being judged.

And last but not least…

Before you start any business, we recommend that you consult a professional who knows what they are doing and can give you the advice you need.

We suggest you discuss your needs with a senior member of the firm and, where possible, arrange a face-to-face meeting with them.

Meet with several accountants before making a decision – but remember it’s never too late to change if your requirements aren’t being met or if you aren’t seeing eye-to-eye with them. You are the boss. Don’t forget it.

We’ve heard of accountants charging hundreds of pounds for an opening meeting. This is an opportunity for both you and the accountant to get to know each other before any contract has been signed. We think charging for it is ridiculous so our initial consultation is always free.

Like our earlier HMRC Customer Service blog, we will be revisiting this in the future and would like to hear your horror stories about your accountants. Email info@howladerandco.com or call 0207 488 3614 if you’d like to get in touch.