There are not many professions where it is possible to set up in business without any need for qualifications. But you can set up as an Accountant and Tax Adviser without any qualifications or experience. There are some major franchises which take anyone willing to pay their fees, and set them up as Accountants after a very short training course. The only mitigating factor is that they will be supported by the network of other franchisees who may be regulated.
So how does a business looking for an Accountant understand the market for the services provided?
The larger the businesses the greater the need to use a fully regulated Accountant. But for small businesses, especially sole traders the need is for ‘someone’ to prepare their annual tax return. This will normally require the firm to prepare a set of trading accounts to calculate the profit from the business. In order to prepare and submit a tax return for a sole trader the Accountant will need to be registered as an agent with HMRC. This requires no qualifications or experience, although some professionally qualified Accountants (or trainees of those bodies) are unable to do this under the rules of their professional bodies, unless they have a practising certificate or licence.
The following site can be used to see if an Accountant with the ACCA / FCCA qualification has a practising licence. http://www.accaglobal.com/uk/en/member/find-an-accountant/directory-of-member.html
So anyone can become an agent with HMRC, except a qualified Accountant or trainee without a practicing certificate!
The only problem for the client using an unregulated HMRC agent, is that if the client is looking to raise finance or get a personal mortgage, most banks and other lenders require trading accounts and tax returns that have been prepared by a regulated Accountant. But the writer has come across situation recently where a determined Mortgage Broker has been able to get accounts approved without being prepared by a regulated Accountant.
So why bother to use a regulated Accountant?
Our firm is just my wife and I. My wife is licenced by the AAT (Association of Accounting Technicians). She has worked in public practice for over 35 years, working for firms such as Francis Clarke and Stoy Hayward, as well as a number of smaller firms of Chartered and Certified Accountants (ACCA). My background is as a commercial Accountant. I am a fellow of the Chartered Association of Certified Accountants and have a certificate to practice under their regulations. We current pay over £1000 per year to be regulated under our respective bodies and more importantly we are subject to their rules, have to undertake continuous professional training (CPD), comply with anti-money laundering regulations, and periodically can be audited by their compliance teams.
We have a broad range of experience, from dealing with small company compliance matters, to working with smaller businesses looking to grow. If we come across issues where we have little experience, then we can use the ACCA for assistance, plus an extensive network of tax advisers for help. If you have concerns over our service, then you can contact the ACCA who will help to resolve your concerns or to find another regulated Accountant. Not a full warranty, but much safer than using a non regulated Accountant.
Are regulated Accountants more expensive?
From our research of the fees charged by local Accountants, the answer is NO! Our fees are very competitive and we work on a fixed fee basis. So no additional charges if you want any additional advice. Our fees are cheaper than franchises, like AIMS and Tax Assist, and remember many of their franchisees are unregulated.
To conclude, you need to find an Accountant who can support your business needs. There are Accountants who specialise in specific business sectors. If your business is looking to raise finance and you are looking for a future IPO, then you need to use a firm that will add credibility to your financial records. But if you are looking for an Accountant with high integrity, fully regulated, then look no further than the Helpful Bean Counter (www.helpfulbeancounter.co.uk)
Martin Samuel MBA FCCA