Unlike the term solicitor, the term accountant is not restricted in the UK. Anyone can set themselves up without training and call themselves an accountant, which makes it difficult for clients to decide whether they should trust the advice they are being given or not.
There is also no single body overseeing those who are qualified. Some of these bodies govern a very restricted area, such as tax or insolvency, and some are general practice which will allow coverage of all areas of a client’s business.
Of the general practice firms, two names you may come across are the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) and the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA). Members of both these bodies are termed ‘chartered accountants’ and they are very similar in their rigorous approach to training, monitoring, quality control and compulsory professional insurance.
One big advantage to using a Chartered Accountant is that they are recognised as having high levels of integrity and honesty. Their reports carry weight whether they are providing a reference or dealing with an enquiry by HM Revenue and Customs.
If you are a large business, you may require an audit. This is a highly regulated area requiring the firm to be a “Registered Auditor”. This is over and above being Chartered and only members of certain bodies, such as the ICAEW and ACCA mentioned above, are eligible to apply. You may think that this does not apply to you, but certain grant applications do require the firm signing to be Registered Auditors even if the report being prepared is not a full audit. We are Registered Auditors and have dealt with several small firms in this position.