Monday, October 26, 2009

A sad but True Tale of Non-Honest Non-Chartered Accountants

This is a bit of a departure from normal practice. But what after all is the point of running something as self indulgent a waste of time as a blog if you can't use it (a) to vent a bit and (b) to provide public service information? :)

Pangloss is not unbusy - perhaps a mere gnat by comparison to the Masters of the Universe of Olswangs and Clifford Chance and perhaps even Queen Mary, but, even so, kinda busy you know. So for a number of years her practice has been to pay someone to prepare her self assessment tax return in January. Many moons ago, she noticed a quiet but well appointed outfit called Gillespies Accountants conveniently situated on Edinburgh's Lothian Road which boldly advertised flat rate self assessment. Inside was an aged retainer who revealed to Pangloss (who actually had a first career as a tax editor but it was mainly about CTT which had more or less been abolished so no bloody use) the glories of capital allowances, taking off money for the home office, and generally managing to secure far more in tax savings than he cost. Pangloss was entranced and became a regular. The procedure was simple: dump an envelope of receipts and invoices on his desk, come back in a couple days, and write a cheque to the IR , left to be sent who knows where, and a cheque to Gillespies. Short, swift and satisfying.

Several years later, Pangloss re arrives in Auld Reekie and around the post festive time, searches out her benefactor. Alas, he has gone to the great accounting firm in the sky. But lo, Gillespies still exists, albeit in far less convenenient premises in the middle of the giant hole in the road formerly known as Haymarket. Miracle! she breathes, and hastens thereto (performing several illegal left turns). The place is a post festive Marie Celeste, inhabited by one young and extremely distracted looking accountant called Campbell Walker who is a bit like the manic depresive insane patient David Tennant played in his very first role in Taking Over The Asylum. But ne'er mind, looks aren't everything right? And they'rer still (fairly) cheap.

So receipts are unbundled all over the desk and Pangloss flees merrily unburdened before her car is towed away, and then comes back again, braving icy weather, bagpipers and lost haunted buses, to sign the forms, and sign a cheque to HMRC and Gillespies and escape again. Phew.

Now imagine her surprise when some eight months later (because the post is decrepit and at least one letter had clearly never made it to her new temporary address with its communal postie area) she discovers that (a) her tax was never paid and (b) the HMRC are now charging a hefty surcharge for late payment with threats of sending the boys round. Imagine her surprise at having thought professional accountants she had paid to do this might have managed to send off a cheque in time. Imagine her not surprise at discovering Gillespies have nonethless long banked the cheque she wrote them. Imagine her not surprise redoubled at discovering that no cheque had indeed been processed by HMRC at the right time. Imagine also her consternation at not having kept her old cheque book because come on guys, cheque factories are closing down all over Britain they're so twentieth century and Pangloss looks everything up on RBS's very efficient online direct banking these days.

And imagine further her surprise on ringing Gillespies, and after ooh, only a two week wait on an urgent enquiry, being directed to the Eminence Grise Senior Partner (think Wolfram and Hart here) receiving not an apology, not an explanation, and certainly not an offer to pay the surcharge, but instead a denial of all knowledge of any cheque, or having lost one , or having not asked for one when one was needed, and a thinly disguised accusation (by someone who's very clearly seen too many cop shows) of it all being NOT ONLY some kind of elaborate fraud to gain a princely sum of about £200, BUT ALSO, ABSOLUTELY, HER OWN FAULT for being one of the people who dared to get their self assessment done - for money - at the last minute.

Pangloss was so perplexed she almost didn't manage to point out that THIS WAS HOW GILLESPIES M ADE MOST THEIR MONEY.

And so to the Web. Strangely Gillespies have no website so Pangloss cannot name and shame the Senior Partner she spoke to. Let's call him CrackerPot. Nor, it turns out, are they chartered accountants. or members of ICAS. Which means they have no regulator to report them to. Unlike lawyers, you can call youself "accountant" it seems and not be part of any professional body. In fact, they are in fact as duely accredited as any other self respecting homeopath, clairvoyant or witch doctor.

Pangloss feels very stupid. But if I didn't know this stuff, how in **'s name is an ordinary member of the public meant to? And is it not some kind of major failing in the 8 million, 342,000 consumer protection laws we have now that calling yourself "Accountants" involves no professional regulation of any kind?

Would anyone out there like to do some pro bono work in professional negliegence for grateful academic? :-) Alternately just pass this on, and if you live in or nearabouts Edinburgh please do NOT risk the attitude I befell - choose life, don't choose Gillespies. Please pass on!

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