On the recommendation of my solicitors, I appointed the firm of Cooper Hathaway of Radnor House, 93-97 Regent Street, London to take over my accountancy affairs and investigate Lake Bushells/LB Group handling of the capital gains tax matter.
Within days, Cooper Hathaway were able to confirm that Lake Bushells had been negligent in handling my affairs and recommended that formal complaint be made to the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England & Wales (ICAEW). For reasons still unexplained, neither Cooper Hathaway, nor the solicitors, filed the complaint with the ICAEW as discussed and instructed. I did not discover this fact for well over a year, at which time I decided to fully investigate the whole matter personally.
I was highly sceptical of making complaint to the ICAEW. Having discussed the matter with a number of local business people, I was disturbed by the general perception of that professional body and had little confidence that the Institute would take any real action - despite the gravity of the case.
Dissatisfied with the performance of both my solicitors and Cooper Hathaway, I had demanded the return of all correspondence files and started investigation of the matter myself. As stated, the Inland Revenue were very cooperative and provided copies of all missing correspondence. This not only helped me to appreciate and prove the case against Lake Bushells, but also demonstrated that Cooper Hathaway had done nothing but write two letters to the Inland Revenue notifying them of their appointment and asking for copies of correspondence. Other than these two letters, Cooper Hathaway's total work on the case over the following two years amounted to answering three telephone calls initiated by the Inland Revenue. It seemed a true case of "out of the frying pan, into the fire!".
My disgust at both firms of Chartered Accountants led me to ignore general advice and make formal complaint to the ICAEW on 19th April 2001.
The immediate reaction of the ICAEW was to say that Lake Bushells were no longer active or registered with the Institute. In fact, the tone and content of all the Institute's early communication totally endorses the perception that the Institute does not make it easy - or are possibly not interested - in hearing complaint against members. Hardly surprising, then, that I formed the opinion that they were doing everything possible to avoid dealing with my complaints and effectively "sweep them under the carpet".
It would be pointless to detail all correspondence here. However, the Institute has proven to me that the lax handling of matters demonstrated by both Lake Bushells and Cooper Hathaway is probably endemic to the profession and almost certainly starts with the ICAEW itself. Dealing with the ICAEW has been a nightmare. Throughout my dealings with them, I have felt like the accused. Everything about their complaints procedure appears designed to coerce the complainant to give up in disgust.
The ICAEW dismissed my complaints against Cooper Hathaway out of hand. Despite the firm of Cooper Hathaway promoting itself as Chartered Accountants, it turned out that Simon Hathaway, the partner who handled my affairs, was not a Chartered Accountant. He has since been found guilty of misconduct over the matter by the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants*. However, it appears that the ICAEW has no control over 'firms' - only over individual members. The ICAEW appear prepared to licence any firm or corporation to trade as Chartered Accountants but seems to accept no responsibility for the performance or conduct of those utilising this apparent guarantee of professional standards, unless they happen to be qualified Chartered Accountants. They therefore appear happy to allow non-qualified, or accountants qualified in other branches of the so-called profession, to trade under the title of Chartered Accountant. It's a mad, mad world!
Despite their obvious reluctance to deal with the matter, the weight of evidence was so overwhelming that the ICAEW eventually had no alternative but to agree that "a prima facie case had been established" against Lake and Francis. Whilst they accept that disciplinary action is appropriate, the form of this action has yet to be announced. It is my understanding that the ICAEW are so frightened of being sued by members, should disciplinary action result in loss of income, that they must 'negotiate' an acceptable penalty that will not result in action against the Institute.
Eighteen months after filing complaint, I have the satisfaction of knowing that my case has been proven, but my disgust at the accountancy profession will remain with me for the rest of my life.
* Full details of the case against Simon Hathaway of Cooper Hathaway can be found at www.cooperhathaway.co.uk.
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