Andrew Conway

Government ignores IPA lobbying on behalf of auditors

The Institute of Public Accountants has slammed the government’s response to concerns it has raised around the proposed three-year SMSF audit cycle, saying that they “seem to be falling on deaf ears”.

In May, IPA chief executive Andrew Conway said he was working with the government around concerns about the three-year SMSF audit cycle.

Then in June, the IPA ramped up its lobbying efforts, calling the government’s justification that the three-year cycle will reduce compliance costs “flawed or could be a cost deferral at best”. This was closely followed last month by the government opening up the proposal for consultation.

However, Mr Conway said key concerns raised throughout the consultation period “seem to be falling on deaf ears”, with the government showing a lack of understanding and respect of the important work carried out by auditors.

In particular, he cited a point made in the government’s discussion paper that concerns ‘will be mitigated by appropriate eligibility criteria and, if necessary, transitional arrangements’.

“Considering the concerns we have already raised along with other stakeholders, we find this statement to be unhelpful and in fact, downplays the important role that SMSF auditors perform in the regulatory oversight of trustees,” Mr Conway said.

“While we appreciate that some concerns can be mitigated, for Treasury to be so categorical that they will be, may be an indication of a lack of understanding of SMSF procedures and the environment that SMSFs operate under.”

Mr Conway said there are risks that cannot be mitigated by limiting access to a three-yearly audit cycle through using appropriate eligibility criteria, using an example of ensuring assets are held on trust for the super fund.

He noted that if the title is not in the name of the super fund, there is no safeguarding of assets held in trust to protect the assets from creditors or other claimants.

“Moving to a three-yearly audit cycle based on a good compliance track record does not show what happens behind the scenes at the desk of an auditor. Not all breaches by trustees end up being reported as contraventions, thanks to the good work of auditors,” Mr Conway said.

“Many fund trustees receive a management letter from the auditor, outlining minor compliance issues, preventive advice and education advice. Without this sort of timely check and balance we fear a spike in contraventions which could have been avoided.”

Finally, Mr Conway said the ATO cannot mitigate all risks by monitoring super annual returns as suggested in the discussion paper, and that the SMSF auditor plays a vital role in providing the regulator with assurances that SMSF trustees are playing by the rules.

“Trustees should see an annual audit as a safeguard and a form of insurance against potential, significant penalties that can be imposed by the ATO for contraventions. The role of the auditor recognises the need to protect some trustees from themselves,” Mr Conway said.

“A well-functioning SMSF sector is a by-product of good regulation.”

3 thoughts on “Government ignores IPA lobbying on behalf of auditors

  • August 10, 2018 at 4:01 pm

    While I have the greatest respect for Andrew, I would question whether he can sustain a good debate on this issue without being drawn into a discussion on whether the current process provides protection for SMSF trustees or simply provides another layer of regulation. As an FIPA in public practice, I outsourced my SMSF audit work many years ago. I have never had an SMSF client exposed to a negative audit comment BUT I am required to await the completion of the audit before I can lodge the SMSF tax return. As such, I have lodgement obligations to my SMSF client, the Trustees thereof and the ATO – all of which are governed by the timing completion of the external audit. As a tax agent, I am required to meet “fit and proper person” standards and as an IPA in practice, I have professional standards to meet YET I am required to delay the filing of the tax return UNTIL I have an audit clearance from someone with (often) lesser professional requirements.

    If my client as Trustee is in breach of Regulations, I have a prima facie obligation to inform them and indeed, the Regulator. As such, I afford the system a substantial layer of protection. This fact seems to be overlooked. If an auditor found that the Trustee was in breach of a regulation and I had failed to act, it is my licence on the line with the Regulator and my assets on the line with the Trustee. In many respects, the auditor is providing ME with an audit clearance.
    Should Trustee obligations change to three yearly audit, the professional obligations of the practitioner in the interim will be maintained. From my personal perspective, it will at least give the management of my practice back to me for two of those three years. Whether it reduced the SMSF audit fee is debatable but will largely depend upon the quality of the working papers retained by the practitioner.
    However, I question whether it is the role of professional bodies to advise a Regulator the best way to regulate.

  • August 10, 2018 at 7:45 pm

    This is very unfortunate!!!

  • August 11, 2018 at 2:14 pm

    To reduce the compliance cost, why not abandon the audit at all.
    ATO can choose some fund at random for audit and the fee be paid by the super fund annual levy.

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