AccountancyAge reports that research demonstrating the overwhelming support of MPs for introducing compulsory accounting membership has divided the opinion of industry bodies, including the Institute for Chartered Accountants (ICAEW) and the Association for Accounting Technicians (AAT).
In May, the AAT published the results of a survey it commissioned to YouGov, revealing that 78% of MPs would support increased regulation of high street accountants and tax advisers. The body is campaigning for compulsory membership to become a legal requirement.
“Mandating professional body membership provides a ready-made solution. There’ll be greater reliance on the support and guidance we can provide to our members, but also that commitment to the maintenance of high standards,” says Adam Harper, director of professional standards and policy at the AAT.
Unregulated advisors make up a third of the sector, and two thirds of its complaints regarding compliance and reporting errors stem directly from this demographic, according to HMRC data.
“When things go wrong, this will give us a mechanism to investigate and impose relevant sanctions against those that fall short of the standards we expect.”
The MP survey follows a separate AAT study published in April. It found that, out of more than 1,000 respondents, 59 percent said they were unaware that no professional or formal qualifications were required, and 57 percent thought that membership should be mandated.
But ICAEW practice director Amanda Digne-Malcom argues that the industry may be too far gone to make such a seismic change.
“Once you’ve got that legacy, sometimes it’s hard to turn that. If you sought to make a change, you run the risk of putting some people at a disadvantage.
“You’ve got a whole cadre of people who are accountants and earning a living from it, who are not from a professionally qualified background. I think the perception would be that it’s unduly harsh.”
Digne-Malcolm also acknowledges industry trust as a key element of these proposals, but notes that professional membership can’t be viewed as the only criteria for attaining this.
“If you’ve had rigorous training and you’re subject to monitoring, that contributes to the trust agenda. But that doesn’t mean to say that anyone who doesn’t fall under that can’t be trusted – I absolutely don’t believe it can be that black and white.”
Were compulsory membership of a professional body to become mandatory, the key issues would be:
1 Which body was the best?
2 How much should each body charge?
3 What extra costs would be levied (and passed on to the hapless membership) by the government for regulation and control?
4 What happens to those people already practising but not members of any professional body?
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