Some Professional Standards matters to consider as a result of COVID-19

There are a range of things for tax advisers to consider, particularly sole practitioners and principals in small firms, if you have not already done so, to manage office closures, remote working and potential sickness.

Business continuity plan

Our Professional Rules and Practice Guidelines emphasise that all members should have in place “a business continuity plan which would ensure the continuity of the business in the event of a serious incident such as fire, flood, major IT systems or security failure or terrorist incident.” While not specifically listed, a pandemic such as this is undoubtedly such an incident. No doubt most members have already dusted off such plans.

For example, you should know the process for redirecting post and phones to a partner or principal’s home, in case the office has to be closed. You will need to make sure that, if you move to operating remotely, any data you possess is still being held and used in a GDPR-compliant way, outside the usual office environment.

One important thing to consider if you are a small practice is whether you have adequate arrangements in place for reciprocal working (e.g. with other local practices), in terms of putting an alternate in place if the sole practitioner or principal has to self-isolate or becomes ill. ATT/CIOT guidance on appointing an alternate can be found here.

Complying with Professional Conduct in Relation to Taxation (PCRT) FAQs

The PCRT FAQs have been updated including what to do if a client has instructed their employees to continue working while furloughed. Further guidance can be found here.

Anti-money laundering (AML) and client due diligence (CDD)

The firms we supervise for AML might need to reconsider how they undertake client due diligence where clients are not met face to face. Our professional standards team have published a new article on our websites providing further guidance.

Managing AML Risk

In times of uncertainty, managing risk can be difficult. However, it is sensible in such uncertain times to establish a thorough contingency plan. Make sure that you have support for your MLRO, which may include if possible appointing a deputy in case the MLRO becomes unwell, so that it is not all on one person’s shoulders. Also, consider whether your firm’s written AML policies and procedures need to be updated to cover changes you may have introduced as a result of Covid-19 such as adapting your CDD processes or where you may be using technology more to meet your regulatory requirements.

What will happen if I am due to have an AML visit?

Following recent Government guidance, CIOT and ATT will not be carrying out onsite AML visits for the foreseeable future and have moved to doing all their own meetings with supervised firms via phone and video calls.

Comment from OPBAS

OPBAS has indicated that AML Supervisors are expected to maintain the usual level of supervisory activity during the Covid Crisis and have provided us with the following comment:

“We support the communication HMT made on supervisors reminding firms that they must continue to comply with their obligations under the Money Laundering Regulations, while encouraging them to make use of the flexibility in the regulations and guidance to be pragmatic in their application of the regulations. We would expect firms to have regard to the guidance issued by their professional supervisor, in particular when considering alternatives to face-to-face identification of verification of customer identity. Where customers cannot produce a document required for CDD purposes due to the epidemic, firms should consider whether there are any other ways of being reasonably satisfied as to the customer’s identity.

In addition, the FCA has published its expectations on how financial services firms should apply their systems and controls to combat and prevent financial crime during this crisis. While not directly applicable to the accountancy sector, there might be some helpful advice for all firms carrying out regulated activity under the MLRs,  including a reminder that criminals are already taking advantage of the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic to carry out fraud and exploitation scams. Those seeking to launder criminal proceeds or finance terrorism are likely to also exploit any weaknesses in firms’ systems and controls where regulated activity takes place.

Accountancy practitioners may also wish to consider whether it is appropriate for clients to apply for government or other loans, particularly in situations where the client may already be deemed to be insolvent.”

Cybercrime

In these times of increased cybercrimes, Interpol has published some cybersecurity recommendations and prevention tips here

Scams

Watch out for scams related to Covid-19 and make sure you do not click links or open emails from senders you don't already know. These scams can take many forms and could relate to insurance policies, pensions transfers, investment opportunities, etc. The BBC has produced an article highlighting a number of scams including one for a Covid-19 tax rebate here  

If you suspect a scam, contact Action Fraud or call them on 0300 123 2040.

Covid-19 Glossary Codes for Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs)

The UK Financial Intelligence Unit have implemented three new SAR glossary codes for reporters as a result of the increased threat posed by organised crime groups seeking to exploit the COVID-19 situation by means of fraud, including one for HMRC Self-Assessment Tax Refund system. They are set out on page 10 of the current SAR Glossary Codes publication here.

In addition, the NCA have produced a document highlighting trends and observations in Covid-19 and SARs reporting here.

Data Protection

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has published a document setting out their regulatory approach during the Covid-19 pandemic and some useful guidance on security issues to watch out for with video conferencing -

https://ico.org.uk/global/data-protection-and-coronavirus-information-hub/

https://ico.org.uk/about-the-ico/news-and-events/news-and-blogs/2020/04/video-conferencing-what-to-watch-out-for/

Professional Indemnity Insurance (PII)

There are numerous PII issues to consider as a result of Covid-19 including:

  • If you are currently paying for your insurance cover in monthly instalments and are finding it difficult to meet the payments, contact your PII provider to explain your situation and see if they can help by deferring any payments whilst still maintaining cover.
  • If your insurance is due for renewal, make sure you contact your insurer to discuss your policy in plenty of time and check whether after renewal your policy will cover claims due to Covid-19.
  • Where your business premises are temporarily unoccupied due to the Government’s response to the pandemic and advising working from home, check with your insurers what you need to do and whether there are any additional security measures that may be required. Also check whether your policy is automatically extended to provide the same level of cover for you and any employees working from home.

Continuing professional development (CPD)

Some provision of CPD has changed due to Covid-19 with many providers switching to remote training. CIOT/ATT guidance relating to CPD and Covid-19 issues can be found here.

Setting up in practice

If your employment circumstances have changed and you are considering setting up in practice, our guidance on this can be found here.

Looking after yourself

Working as a tax adviser and complying with all your obligations can be demanding and stressful particularly if you have an overwhelming workload due to clients needing advice in such difficult circumstances.

There are a host of websites with helpful information on looking after your wellbeing including:

We also have our Members Support Service on 0845 744 6611 where you can be put in touch with a volunteer member who will listen in the strictest confidence if you have work-related personal problems. Call the number and say "Member Support Service" – you will then be asked for a mobile or other private telephone number so that a member of the scheme can get in touch.