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How to make a complaint

How to make a complaint about an ICAEW member, affiliate, firm or student.

We can only help or get involved in your complaint if the individual is an ICAEW accountant or student or if the firm is regulated by us.

In many cases, issues can be resolved by talking to your accountant. If talking doesn't resolve things, you should write to your accountant and ask them to respond within 28 days. Occasionally, you may find you're unable to resolve the problem, or that the nature of the issue(s) means that you need to contact us for help.

Before you make a complaint

  • Please check the accountant or accountancy firm is registered with ICAEW. The accountant must be an ICAEW Chartered Accountant, an affiliate of ICAEW, an ACA student or an ICAEW CFAB student. To check if the firm is an ICAEW firm, visit membersearch.icaew.com, or contact us on +44 (0)1908 248 250.
  • If your complaint relates to an audit, insolvency, investment business or legal services matter, you will need to follow a different process. Please see the relevant ‘my complaint relates to…’ section below.
  • Please ensure you have copies of any relevant supporting letters and other documents. You will need to send these to us when you contact us about your complaint. We may not be able to help you if you don’t have documentary evidence to support your allegation.
  • If your issue relates to a criminal matter, you should ask the police (or other relevant authority) to investigate it first. Please let us know you’ve reported the matter. 
  • Please seek legal advice straight away if you think you have a reason to make a civil claim. Do not wait until our investigation process has concluded.

How to make a complaint

So that we can review your complaint as quickly as possible, please provide as much information as possible in the complaint form. You will also need to send us all your documentary evidence with the complaint form. Please email your completed form and evidence to us at complaints@icaew.com. Please be aware the ICAEW member, firm or student who is the subject of the complaint will need to be shown any material relevant to the complaint if we are to use it. If you are not able to email the documents, please send your completed form and documentary evidence to:

Professional Conduct Department
Metropolitan House
321 Avebury Boulevard
Milton Keynes MK9 2FZ

For further guidance about how we investigate complaints, please read our booklet.

How will ICAEW investigate the complaint?

The first thing we do is assess whether there may be grounds for a complaint under ICAEW’s bye-laws, whether it can be supported by evidence and whether the individual or firm may have to be disciplined.

Depending on the nature and seriousness of the problem, we may:

  • tell you we can't get involved and explain why; 
  • offer conciliation if we think it could help resolve your complaint; or 
  • investigate your complaint to see whether ICAEW should discipline the ICAEW member or firm.
Are there situations when ICAEW can't help?

If your complaint concerns something that ICAEW can't become involved in, we will explain why. If your problem relates to a commercial dispute (including the fees you’ve been charged), ICAEW may not be able to help and you may only be able to find a solution through the courts. Although we may be able to deal with certain issues of professional conduct related to the dispute (such as obtaining a breakdown of the bill), only the courts can pass judgment on contract terms. 

If your problem relates to a criminal matter, you should ask the police (or other relevant authority) to investigate it first. Please let us know you've reported the matter. If an ICAEW Chartered Accountant is convicted, we may need to take further action. However, we can’t say whether an individual has committed a criminal offence.

Fee disputes

In some cases, for example a fee dispute, ICAEW is not able to get involved with resolving the dispute. This is because the ICAEW member or firm has not neglected to comply with ICAEW standards, guidance or regulations. In this instance, we recommend you seek your own legal advice. Further guidance about fee disputes is available.

What is conciliation?

Conciliation is:

  • Voluntary - The parties enter the process because they genuinely want to find a solution. You can’t be forced into conciliation; the alternative is investigation.
  • Flexible - You’re more likely to reach a mutually acceptable outcome through conciliation than through litigation. Investigation may not result in any practical solution for the complainant.
  • Your decision - You decide whether to offer or accept any proposals to settle the complaint.
  • Quicker - You’re more likely to reach a solution quickly through conciliation than by going to court. Investigation may take several months.

How does conciliation work?

The case manager helps both parties consider various options with a view to finding a settlement. Both parties agree to try and resolve the situation through conciliation and, later on, decide to make or accept any proposals to settle the complaint. The case managers are neutral and are not there to represent either party or make orders. Instead, they help to clarify the issues, give guidance and test the strength of both parties’ positions to help them reach a settlement. It helps if we can send to the other party a copy of any letters or information you send us. However, you can always mark documents ‘For ICAEW use only’ if you don’t want information to be disclosed.

We normally ask the accountant to respond within a specified period either directly to ICAEW or to the complainant. This gives the accountant the opportunity to outline their position and provide any supporting information that might be relevant. We then discuss and summarise the issues and explain the other party’s position. We may need to correspond further with both parties – by letter, email or phone – but we can arrange meetings if necessary.

A complaint often arises because of a lack of communication or a simple misunderstanding. Whatever has happened, our role is to help you both, and the more we all communicate, the more efficient the process will be.

How are cases usually concluded?

Conciliation can be efficient and successful but it does involve compromise. We resolve the case by exchanging letters or by signing a legally binding agreement called a conciliated settlement. This sets out the terms with which both parties are legally required to comply. Once the parties have implemented the solution, that’s the end of ICAEW’s involvement.

  • For complainants, this means finding a satisfactory solution to the problem.
  • For members and firms, this means there’ll be no investigation and therefore no risk of a disciplinary record.
  • For both parties, this usually avoids the need to go to court.

What if conciliation doesn’t work?

Although most complaints referred for conciliation are resolved, it doesn’t work in every case. If this happens, we can review the evidence to decide whether the matter should be further investigated. If we decide not to investigate, we’ll write to both parties and explain why.

How long does it take?

We try to agree an initial time-frame for resolution. Factors that can affect progress include the involvement of third parties such as insurers, the degree to which the parties cooperate and the complexity of the complaint. Members or firms may be under an obligation to tell their insurers about the complaint.

Can information be used against me?

If the discussions fail, neither party can subsequently refer to the negotiations in court, in arbitration or rely upon them. You can’t use documents or information obtained in conciliation as evidence in a court case or in arbitration except:

  • by agreement with the other party;
  • if you’re required to do so by a court order; or
  • because the documents or information would have been admissible (ie, allowed by the law) as evidence in court.

If we investigate the complaint, all the information and evidence gathered during conciliation will be made available to the investigating case manager. This is what you agree to when you enter into conciliation.

My complaint relates to audit work

ICAEW can only deal with audit-related complaints involving the firms it registers.

If a firm signs an audit report as a registered auditor, it must comply with the regulations of the body with which it is registered under the Companies Act 2006. The firm’s notepaper should show the name of the firm’s registering body. If you’re not sure, consult the register of statutory auditors UK at www.auditregister.org.uk, statutory auditors Ireland (www.cro.ie) or call +44 (0)131 347 0100 to find out which body registers the firm. If you’re unable to resolve your complaint directly with the audit firm and it is registered with ICAEW, please contact us and we will consider your complaint.

If you believe the financial statements of a company don't show a true and fair view, you should refer the matter to the Financial Reporting Council's Conduct Committee or the Company Investigations section of the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy as they have the powers to review, make recommendations and refer cases to court. Only the courts can determine matters of judgment such as a true and fair view.

My complaint relates to local public audit work

ICAEW can only deal with audit-related complaints involving the firms it registers. The duty to licence and register local auditors who carry out the audit of local government and health bodies is a statutory function delegated to recognised supervisory bodies (RSBs) by the Financial Reporting Council (FRC). ICAEW is a RSB for the purposes of regulating local auditors under the Local Audit and Accountability Act 2014.

If a firm signs an audit report as a local auditor; it must be registered by a RSB. The RSBs in England are:

  • Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW)
  • Institute of Chartered Accountants in Scotland (ICAS)

To find out which RSB the local auditor is registered with, please access the Local Auditor Register. The register contains a list of the firms that ICAEW and ICAS has registered as local auditors and key audit partners. This register will help you clarify if ICAEW is the RSB of the local auditor and is therefore responsible for regulating it. The firm’s notepaper should also show the name of the firm’s registering body. If you’re still not sure, consult the register of statutory auditors UK, statutory auditors Ireland or call +44 (0)131 347 0100 to find out which body registers the firm.

If you’re unable to resolve your complaint directly with the audit firm and it is registered with ICAEW, please contact us and we will consider your complaint.

My complaint relates to insolvency work

An insolvency practitioner (IP) has to comply with the law, standards set out in the Statements of Insolvency Practice, the Insolvency Code of Ethics and ICAEW’s insolvency licensing regulations. If you're concerned the IP may not have followed any of these standards, you'll need to send your complaint to the Insolvency Service.

There is an online complaint form for you to complete. Other ways in which you may contact the Insolvency Service to make a complaint are set out below.

  • E insolvency.enquiryline@insolvency.gsi.gov.uk;
  • Post IP Complaints, 3rd Floor, 1 City Walk, Leeds LS11 9DA;
  • T 0300 678 0015 - calls are charged at between 1p and 10.5p per minute from a land line; for mobiles, between 12p and 41p per minute if you're calling from the UK.

If you're challenging the decisions of an IP, there are procedures under insolvency legislation that you need to follow. The IP acts under statutory rights and powers; only the courts have the power to decide if the IP has exercised them properly. ICAEW can't intervene in these matters; for example, retention of title.

My complaint relates to investment business advice

If you think the accountant did not act according to the regulations or gave you misleading information when making the sale, please contact us and we will consider whether we can become involved. If, however, your complaint is that the investment has not reached the investment performance you expected, this is not something we can help with. Investments include pensions and endowments.

Firms offering investment business advice have to be authorised. The current authorising bodies are:

The firm's notepaper will show who it's authorised by. If the firm is authorised by the FCA, you need to send your complaint to them.

You may be entitled to apply for compensation from the Chartered Accountants’ Compensation Scheme Ltd if:

  • it was given by a firm that was previously authorised or licensed by ICAEW and which no longer exists; and
  • the investment business advice you were given was inappropriate; and
  • it was given after 28 August 1988; and 
  • you have exhausted all other avenues.

Visit icaew.com/cacs or call + 44 (0)1908 546 378.

My complaint relates to legal services work

For complaints relating to legal services work.

  1. Please check your service provider (eg accountancy firm) is licensed or authorised by ICAEW to provide legal services. Please note we can only deal with complaints if your service provider is licensed or authorised by ICAEW. A list of ICAEW accredited probate firms is available here.
  2. Please check your letter of engagement from your service provider. This should outline how to make a complaint. ICAEW firms that are licensed for legal services are required to participate in the Legal Ombudsman (LeO) scheme for complaints about service providers.
  3. In the first instance, please write to your service provider detailing the nature of your complaint. Your letter of engagement should state who the point of contact is at your service provider and the timescales in which they will address your complaint.
  4. If the complaint is not dealt with within the stated timescales or you are unhappy with the response, you may take the matter up with the Legal Obudsman. Guidance on the type of complaints LeO can deal with is available.
FAQs on the ICAEW disciplinary process

This section may help to answer some of your questions having made a complaint about an ICAEW member or member firm.

What is the Investment Business Compensation Scheme?

ICAEW, ICAS and ICAI operate a compensation scheme for members of the public who have incurred a financial loss as a result of investment advice given by a firm of chartered accountants.