The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) is set to become the second accountancy body that enables its members – 90,000 of them in the UK – to provide probate services.
If approved by the Legal Services Board (LSB), it will follow the lead of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW).
The board is expected to announce its decision as soon as tomorrow and, unlike with the ICAEW, it will not need government approval.
The ACCA has actually been an approved regulator for probate services since 2009 but until now has not sought to activate the right.
It has submitted to the board a detailed plan as to how it plans to regulate its members for probate work and its status as an approved regulator means that the LSB would need to show a good reason to refuse the application.
The ACCA, which has 198,000 members in 180 countries, said in its application that many of its members would be competent to provide probate services to a “high standard”.
It went on: “The ability to provide probate services complements the professional services that professional accountants already provide to clients, such as inheritance tax, estate planning and wealth management.
“Many clients have long and close relationships with their accountants and would appreciate being able to engage that same accountant for probate work, rather than have their affairs dealt with by a solicitor with whom they may be less familiar.
“Clients would therefore benefit from a firm’s ability to offer continuity of service, thereby reducing costs, inconvenience and stress.”
The ACCA said it was “looking at the future needs” of small and medium-sized accountancy firms.
“Given the rise in audit thresholds, many firms are withdrawing from audit and seeking new forms of work. We are therefore exploring new activities and opportunities for our practising members in areas where professional accountants can add value to society.”
A survey in 2016 showed a “clear demand” from members, with 81% of almost 450 respondents saying it should apply to regulate probate work.
The ACCA said that initially it would only be able to authorise a firm for probate activities where all of its managers were individually authorised after going through the association’s proposed training scheme.
However, it intends to make a further application to become a licensing authority for probate activities later this year, opening the way for it to regulate firms where not all of the managers are individually authorised as alternative business structures.
The ACCA said those wanting to be authorised for probate work would have to hold an accountancy practising certificate, complete a relevant course and undertake probate-related continuing professional development.
Firms would also need complaints-handling procedures in place, which complied with the requirements of the Legal Services Act, the Legal Ombudsman and LSB guidance.
They would need to possess the ACCA’s compulsory professional indemnity insurance, with a minimum cover limit for probate work of £100,000.
However, there was a further requirement on most firms to obtain ‘fidelity guarantee insurance’. The ACCA said these insurance protections for clients removed the need for a compensation scheme.
The application said the independence of ACCA’s regulatory arrangements would “continue to rely on the fact that an independent lay member of a regulatory or disciplinary committee or of ACCA’s regulatory board will be someone who is not an accountant”.
There was no need, therefore, to have a regulatory body “at arm’s length” from its representative functions.
Like the ICAEW, it distinguished itself from legal regulators like the Solicitors Regulation Authority, by stressing that it was not regulating people whose “primary reason” to be regulated was the provision of reserved legal activities.
The accountancy body said that approval from the LSB would support the regulatory objectives of the Legal Services Act by promoting competition, increasing consumer choice and encouraging a strong and diverse legal profession.
The then Lord Chancellor Chris Grayling approved the ICAEW’s application to become both an approved regulator of probate services and licensing authority of ABSs carrying out probate work in March 2014.
It has accredited some 330 firms and many hundreds of individuals.
The ICAEW applied to the LSB to regulate other reserved activities, including litigation and rights of audience, in July 2016, in the context of tax work. Despite the backing of the LSB, David Lidington, then the Lord Chancellor, rejected the application in September last year.