Lawyer-Accountant: (4) Disputes

Bart Van den Bossche writes:

Disputes between clients and accountants can arise over many different types of issues.

Types of dispute

Some issues are clear-cut: if an accountant submits a client's tax documents after the required deadline.

Other issues are less clear-cut: you may feel you are being overcharged for work undertaken but are unable to prove it. Or you are dissatisfied with the general quality of service you are receiving. For example, are your voicemail messages and emails going unanswered for long periods of time and you have to waste time “hunting' for answers?

With a clear-cut dispute (like a missed tax deadline) it is for your accountant to sort out the mess. The tax authorities may threaten you with a fine, and your accountant should negotiate with them on your behalf.

If you feel you are being overcharged for work undertaken, ask for a clear breakdown of your accountant's invoice. If this request is refused or responded to in an unclear way, then you may be able to take the following action if your accountant is a member of one of the two Belgian Accountant's Societies (IAB/IEC and the BIBP/IPCF). Explain to your accountant that if you do not get a clear invoice breakdown you will contact his/her professional organisation and ask it to review the invoice. Such a step is serious for both the accountant and the client; no accountant delivering a professional service should want such a review and for a client to even have to threaten such a step questions the ongoing professional relationship.

Liability

Check what your accountant's general business terms and conditions state. Even if it is claimed liability for a particular event is excluded, you can still check with the appropriate Accountant's organisation to see whether such exclusion is actually allowed.

The issue of who is liable if a mistake is made is always situation-specific. If a tax deadline is not met by your accountant and all the documents were available, then probably s/he is liable. The client will be responsible if all the documents were not available as the accountant could not submit them in time.

Leaving your accountant

Even once you have instructed an accountant to act on your behalf, you are not obliged to remain with that accountant. Whatever your reason(s), you can easily terminate your accountant's services.

You have 2 options regarding how you leave your accountant.

One is to tell your accountant, in writing, that you are terminating her/his services.  S/he is obliged to send your file (containing all the documents relating to your accountancy affairs) to you for free.

Alternatively, if you are switching to a new accountant, then you do not need to make any contact with your (now former) accountant. Your new accountant will demand your file from your former accountant. Your file will be transferred between your former and new accountants without you being involved. The reason this switch should go smoothly is because both accountants will be members of the Belgian Accountants Society.

Remember: if the person supplying accounting services to you is not a member of the Belgian Accountants Society then these professional obligations will not apply. In that situation you are reliant on the goodwill of the parties involved and, if that does not work out, will have to go to court to demand your file.

Whether or not the other person is an accountant, no one has the right to retain your tax file. The documents in your file are personal to you and only remain in the possession of someone else if you permit it.

For both options, if your former accountant claims there is unpaid work outstanding, s/he is still obliged to send your file and cannot make it subject to you paying that invoice first. Even though your professional relations are now over, you must still pay that outstanding invoice (unless it is disputed - in which case you may want to contact the Belgian Accountant's Society for advice).

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Author: Bart Van den Bossche  ©
First published: 12 November 2005
Last updated: 19 August 2006