Regulation with Rosie: Good accountants

The Charity Commission's Rosie Chapman on getting a good accountant.

Doctors, lawyers and accountants all seem to speak in languages that are a mystery to outsiders. This makes it hard to know whether you've got the best specialist for the job. And accounting for charities is a specialist field in its own right.

All accountants may well be created equal, but most will go on to specialise after qualifying. Your accountant will obviously be of more use to you if he or she works with several charities: you get the benefit of their knowledge of the sector and charity accounting standards. Many smaller charities tend to use the same accountants they started out with, often because the individuals in question have always been supportive. But that doesn't necessarily make them the most appropriate accountants.

Corporate governance codes require large organisations to review the appointment of their auditors regularly, and large audit firms often rotate the partners on clients' audits every three or four years. Smaller charities could do themselves a similar favour by regularly reviewing the appointment of their accountants, independent examiners and auditors.

Try asking other local charities who does their accounts and how good these people are. Most accountants expect relationships with clients to be reviewed and are happy to meet trustees, attend interviews or give presentations.

And remember, price isn't everything: some firms may charge more because they work exclusively with charities and know how much work is involved. Make sure all quotes cover exactly the same work, and give all the firms detailed lists of your requirements. And if your current supportive accountant doesn't win the bidding round, try asking him or her to be a trustee. Accountant trustees are like gold dust.

- Rosie Chapman is executive director of policy and effectiveness at the commission.

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