Working Papers Belong to Whom?

How to get the accountant working papers

How to get your accountant working papers

How to get your accountant working papers. Working Papers Belong to Whom? Many of us believe (incorrectly) that as accountants, the files we create in relation to our engagements and retainers are our own property. This post has linkage to Pursuit of the Accountant’s Files.


As a Licensed Insolvency Practitioner, I am routinely requesting the files of other firms of accountants when attenting to the Liquidation of companies. See for example the case of Green v Chubb [2015] EWHC 221 (Ch) in which I sought the working papers of the former joint administrative receivers of Corporate Jet Realisations Limited.


In response I have historically regularly been in receipt of communications submitting that the files held belong to the professional firm and so cannot be disclosed to me as Liquidator for the company / client.


This appears quite a widespread misconception and I understand the concerns of fellow practitioners faced with such a demand for files from liquidators.


So how is it that so many of us regard the papers we create and store on our files as our own property in there entirety?


Well the problem no doubt has some origins in that whilst these papers may not belong to us in their entirety, some of the papers may very well do so. However, this does not mean that they all belong to us.


More likely than not some of the papers belong to us and some of the documents belong to the client. So how do we distinguish between our papers and those of the client?


This is a legal matter and determination of the same needs to be drawn from legal principles and where appropriate legal advice may be needed. It needs however to recognise that withholding documents from a client or their successors in title, inadvertently pursuant to the misunderstanding of who owns the papers, could nevertheless constitute a conversion.


So better to get it right! The regulatory bodies from who we may draw guidance and advice often do not issue legal advice for reliance purposes and neither does this discussion. The guidance summarised as to the views of one regulatory body appears available to consider and also referring to the case of Chantrey Martin & Co v Martin [1953] 2 QB 286.


This discussion is intended to debate the matter as there appear passionate views on the subject.


So how might you distinguish your documents from those of the client? It matters not who created the document but the purpose for which the document was created and for which it was intended.


If the document was created to enable the client to satisfy their statutory obligations then it is likely such a document(s) belongs to the client. It also matters in what capacity you have acted pursuant to the retainer, ie. as auditor, agent, provider of professional services, principal etc.


It is of course worth remembering that you enter into a form of contract with a client when you are retained by the same. The files that you create evidence the work that you have undertaken and indeed more so than your time sheets.


The files may need to be disclosed to clients and / or their successors to evidence and in some cases test (if fees are subject to a formal challenge) the consideration you have provided and from which you wish to claim fees.


We must remember that we prepare our own time sheets and enter the data into the same ourselves. We are entrusted by the client in this regard but very often the real evidence of the consideration we provide to the client is what is in our working paper and correspondence files which justifies the time we feel we have needed to spend in fulfilling our contractual obligations set out in the engagement letter(s).


Regardless of matters of ownership, I cannot conceive of many good reasons that clients should not be able to obtain access to, inspect and copy most working papers in the interests of transparency save arguably for matters pertaining to liens for instance. Let us help you do that if you are having some difficult in obtaining the same. Get in touch and our CEO Elliot Green will speak to you initially free of charge to see if we can assist you with the dilemma. Email us at [email protected], request a callback or pick up the phone and call us on 020 3925 3613.


Disclaimer: The comments in this post ‘How to get your accountant working papers’ are not legal advice and ought not be relied upon as such. No liability is accepted by the author for any reliance placed upon the same. You should seek independent legal advice to consider the discrete facts of your scenario.

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