Dealing with a complaint

Learn more about what happens when client disputes are escalated to us as a formal complaint 

In brief

  • All members have an obligation to handle client disputes effectively.
  • Failure to handle a dispute may result in a complaint being made directly to us
  • Processes exist that allow us to review and investigate these complaints, and if necessary, take appropriate action to reprimand members.

All members are subject to the complaints and professional conduct process. If you find yourself dealing with a complaint or you are under investigation, it’s important to be well informed about the process, to treat it seriously and respond constructively.

Handling a complaint

If a complaint is raised against you as a member, we will first assess whether it’s in our jurisdiction to investigate. If it is, you’ll receive a copy of the complaint, and 14 days to respond. In your response, you will need to treat the matter seriously and be open about any shortcomings you can identify in your conduct.
Consider including some of the following:

  • A detailed timeline or chronology of key events
  • Copies of relevant communications (ie letters or emails)
  • Copies of relevant agreements (ie engagement letters, conflict of interest disclosure and consent to act forms, trusts deeds, powers of attorney or other legal documents referred to in the complaint)
  • Copies of relevant financial information (ie financial statements, valuation or audit reports, or tax returns)
  • Any other additional information you feel relevant to your response. If you don’t agree with the complaint, you will be expected to explain why.

Our disciplinary bodies expect you to show insight and defend your argument.

Respond on time

It’s important to respond within the time frame given, and to provide a clear and direct response. Failure to respond or provide further information as requested by the Professional Conduct Committee (PCC) is considered a serious matter and can be referred to the Disciplinary Tribunal. Investigations and proceedings will continue in your absence, should you fail to respond.

Going direct

If the client filing the complaint has not contacted you, and if the circumstances are appropriate, you may wish to try and contact them to talk about it.

Be mindful that they may not wish to engage in such discussion and it is important to be respectful of this.

Get help

Your complaint will be assigned a case manager, who can be contacted for any queries about the process.

For additional guidance and help, members in New Zealand can contact our Segment Support team on 0800 469 422.They can confidentially discuss the complaint and may be able to informally mediate an issue before it escalates to a complaint.

Members in Australia and the rest of the world can contact a member of your regional CA Advisory Group (CAAG).

Depending on the nature of the complaint, you may want to advise your professional indemnity insurers or seek legal counsel.If you are unsure about whether this is necessary contact Segment Support or a CAAG representative.

Contact us

Contact us or find your local office.

Contact us

What you need to know

  • Our decision-makers

    The Professional Conduct Committee (“the PCC”), Disciplinary Tribunal and Appeals Tribunal/Council investigate and discipline members.  

    Their powers and procedures are set out in:

    • The By-Laws and the Professional Conduct Regulation; or
    • The New Zealand Institute of Chartered Accountants Act 1996 (“the NZICA Act”) and NZICA Rules (applicable for complaints about New Zealand resident members)

    Members must comply with applicable standards, including the Code of Ethics, and professional and technical standards.

    More information

    Read the full by-laws and code of ethics.

    View the code of ethics

    The PCC investigates complaints to determine if a complaint should be referred to the Disciplinary Tribunal. It can also issue sanctions against a member and make costs and publicity determinations.The PCC’s initial investigation is undertaken in writing, however it can require the member to appear in person to discuss the complaint.

    Hearings before the Disciplinary Tribunal and the Appeals Tribunal/Council are formal proceedings. At the Disciplinary Tribunal the PCC has the responsibility of presenting the case against the member.

    Either the member or the PCC can appeal Disciplinary Tribunal decisions to the Appeals Tribunal/Council. In both forums, members are entitled to legal representation. The PCC also has legal representation. Hearings are heard in public and the presumption is that decisions are published.

    If a complaint is not referred to the Disciplinary Tribunal, the member and the complainant can seek a review by the Reviewer of Complaints: independent lawyers from outside our internal disciplinary bodies. The Reviewer will look at the process followed by the PCC and assess the decision given the information presented.They will report findings to the parties, and may direct the PCC to reconsider its decision or make recommendations.

    All disciplinary bodies must observe the rules of natural justice or procedural fairness ensuring that fair procedure is followed.

  • Scope of our jurisdiction

    As a disciplinary jurisdiction, the focus of the complaints process is on the member’s professional conduct.

    The outcomes available relate to a member’s membership and standing. Our disciplinary bodies do not have the powers of the court and cannot intervene in or overturn any court decisions.

    We cannot require a member to pay damages or compensation or make criminal findings. This is only within the remit of the civil and criminal courts.

    More information

    Learn more about our jurisdiction in Australia, New Zealand and overseas.

    Read more
  • Complaints review process at a glance

    Initial review

    • Complaints are initially reviewed to make sure there is jurisdiction to investigate.
    • Further information may be needed from the complainant.
    • If the PCC determines not to investigate the complaint, the complainant will be notified.

    Investigation

    • If the PCC is able to investigate, a copy of the complaint is sent to the member for response.
    • Members have 14 days to respond and provide any further information sought. If more time is needed, an extension should be requested as soon as possible.
    • The member’s response will be sent to the complainant for comment and the member is given a final right of reply.
    • This will continue until there is sufficient information for a decision to be made about the complaint.
    • In serious or complex cases, an expert investigator may be appointed by the PCC.
    • Members are obliged to co-operate with the investigation and provide any information or documentation sought.

    Consideration

    • Once sufficient information has been obtained from the parties, it will be considered by the PCC.
    • If more information is required the PCC may seek additional information, including by a meeting with the member and perhaps the complainant.
    • The PCC has a range of sanctions and powers. These are discussed in Possible Outcomes below.
    • Parties are notified of the PCC’s decision within 21 days of the decision being made.

    Possible outcomes

    Following a review of the complaint, the PCC may decide to:

    • Caution the member
    • Convene a case conference / final determination
    • Refer the complaint to the Disciplinary Tribunal for hearing or apply for interim suspension
    • Adjourn the complaint to obtain more information
    • Require the member to pay the costs
    • Offer sanctions by consent with the member to be included on the member’s record, including to:
      a. be reprimanded or severely reprimanded
      b. pay a fine
      c. pay costs
      d. complete professional development or engage an adviser or tutor
      e. publicise the decision
    • Require a quality or practice review be undertaken
    • Take no further action

    Time frames

    • Investigations usually take 4-9 months. If a matter is complex or if there are delays in obtaining relevant information from the parties, it may take longer.
    • Complaints referred to the Disciplinary Tribunal take approximately 12 months to conclude.
  • Meeting with the Professional Conduct Committee

    Members may be asked to attend a meeting with the PCC if a more detailed investigation or discussion is required. A list of issues to discuss will be provided beforehand, and the meetings generally run to no more than 90 minutes.

    In some cases, the complainant may also be invited, but this meeting is not open to the public and witnesses are not required attend.

    Either side can bring a support person such as their colleague or partner; however they are not entitled to contribute to the discussion.This includes any solicitor attending as a support person.

    A decision will be made following the discussion, sometimes on the same day. A possible outcome may be that the member is offered sanctions by consent. In this case, the PCC will discuss the sanctions they intend to impose, and with the member’s consent, they will be entered on their membership record and the complaint will be concluded.

    If the member does not agree with the sanctions, the complaint will be referred to the Disciplinary Tribunal. Members are given an opportunity to take independent legal advice prior to agreeing to any sanctions in this way.

  • Attending a Disciplinary Tribunal Hearing

    At a Disciplinary Tribunal Hearing, evidence is presented from the PCC’s investigation, which can include witness accounts from the complainant, experts or others.

    Members may also present evidence in defence, call witnesses and make submissions to the Tribunal. They are also entitled and encouraged to be legally represented.

    Hearings are held in public and decisions are generally published with the member’s name and location on our website, in Acuity and in any other place determined by the Tribunal.

    Both parties will also receive formal notice of the decision in writing following the hearing.

    Possible outcomes

    Tribunal hearings may result in:

    • Removing a member from our register of members
    • Member suspension for up to five years
    • Monetary penalties or costs
    • Cancellation or suspension of a Certificate of Public Practice
    • An investigation or review of the member’s practice
    • Professional development or tutoring for the member
    • Censuring, reprimanding or severely reprimanding the member
    • Cancelling, suspending or varying an audit license issued under the Auditor Regulation Act (New Zealand only)

    Tribunal decisions

    View past Tribunal decisions.

    Read more
  • Making a complaint or appeal

    Protesting the PCC

    If you are dissatisfied with the way the PCC has handled a complaint or its decision, you may request a review by the Reviewer of Complaints.

    They may direct the PCC to reconsider its decision or make recommendations. Decisions are also reported to the Professional Conduct Oversight Committee or the New Zealand Regulatory Board.

    They cannot review a complaint if it has already been referred to the Disciplinary Tribunal, or if it does not comply with the requirements of the By-Laws or NZICA Rules.

    Reviewer of Complaints

    Read more about the Review of Complaints in both Australia and New Zealand

    Australia and overseas New Zealand

    Appealing a Disciplinary Tribunal Decision

    If the member or the PCC are dissatisfied with the procedure followed by the Disciplinary Tribunal or its decision, either may apply to the Appeals Tribunal.Complainants are unable to appeal decisions of the Disciplinary Tribunal.

    The Appeals Tribunal council can vary or reverse any decisions of the Disciplinary Tribunal, including in relation to liability, sanction, costs and publicity.

    Proceedings are heard in public and there is a presumption that decisions are published.

    More information

    Read more on the appeals process in Australia and New Zealand.

    Australia and overseas New Zealand

  • Self-reporting

    Members have an obligation to report aspects of their conduct that breach the By-Laws and standards.

    This includes insolvency, criminal convictions, adverse findings made against a member by another regulator, and any other conduct which would amount to serious misconduct such as defalcation, fraud or dishonesty.

    Member obligations

    Read more on members’ obligations to report.

    Read more

    Contact us

    If you are unsure about your obligations to report contact the Professional Conduct team

    Contact us
  • Avoiding and resolving complaints

    Lack of communication is a common cause of many complaints that come through to us.

    Many could be avoided if the member had put in place good strategies to proactively prevent or respond to issues.

    Members have an obligation to handle client disputes effectively under the standards.

    Tips for good practice and effective dispute resolution:

    • Be upfront: clarify the services to be provided, fees and basis of billing, expected timeframes, payment terms, and record ownership/retention policies. These matters should be formally communicated in a letter of engagement or similar
    • Disclose: potential conflicts of interest or threats to objectivity, put in place safeguards and get written informed consent to act. Conflict disclosure and safeguards should be periodically reviewed
    • Communicate: any changes in time frames, delays or changes to fees quoted. Effective communication helps manage clients’ expectations and they will generally be more understanding if there is going to be a delay or change to what has been previously discussed.
    • Transparency: clients are entitled to an adequate explanation of invoices, illustrating how fees are arrived at and what work has been undertaken.
    • Establish procedure: to resolve disputes and avoid them escalating and damaging the client relationship. Deliver what you promise, when you promise it.
    • Work within your expertise: do not take on work you are not skilled to do or give the impression that you are more experienced in a particular field or industry than you actually are. If you wish to extend your scope of practice, upskill first.

     

    Dispute Resolution Toolkit

    Download our Dispute Resolution Toolkit for members

    Download now

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