Wednesday, September 9, 2009

NON-accountant jailed for £2.5m buy-to-let tax fraud

John Warman described himself as an 'accountant' for over 40 years. He practiced in Nottingham but had no professional qualifications.

As reported in the press, Warman has now been jailed for eight years for his part in a £2.5 million buy-to-let tax fraud. His co-accused was a client, Simon Fields, a key figure in Nottingham’s property rental industry.

On sentencing Warman, Judge Hamilton said: “You were not a very good accountant, but a very good fraudster, manipulating people and finances to fund a very comfortable lifestyle for yourself. You used your clients to feather your own nest. People trusted you and you breached that trust."

I mention this here as it comes as a surprise to lots of people to learn that anyone can call themselves an accountant. Unlike 'solicitor' and 'dentist' the term is not reserved to qualified professional advisers. John Warman was unqualified and a crook. I wonder how many of his clients were aware he had no professional qualifications?

For the record there have been attempts to prevent unqualified practitioners, like John Warman, from describing themselves as accountants. Last year Vince Cable tabled an Early Day Motion to secure protection for the term. The Government formally rejected the idea. I think this was a good result. My view is derived from many discussions with members of the public in connection with the Tax Advice Network which provides a support service for accountants. I quickly realised that that there was a degree of confusion as most non-accountants assume that all accountants are tax advisers - ie: the words are thought to be synonymous.

In a post on the Ambitious Accountants blog last year I explained my view that the campaign to protect the term 'accountant' could backfire. Simply stated, most people are more interested in saving tax than in getting a set of accounts. If unqualified people could no longer call themselves accountants they would simply call themselves tax advisers. This is another unregulated term and would quickly become better recognised by the public than is currently the case. And tax advisers would then become more popular professionals to approach re tax matters than accountants. Qualified accountants wouldn't like that scenario I'm sure.

The bottom line is that there are good and bad unqualified accountants. There are good and bad qualified accountants and there are good and bad tax advisers. With the advent of a ratings system and public testimonials it should be clear that we only retain good tax advisers in the Tax Advice Network ;-)

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