Your rights and what to do if you aren't happy with their service.
If you have a problem with your accountant or tax agent:
- Try to sort it out directly.
- Go to the Disputes Tribunal or District Court, if you still can't agree
- Report them:
- to their professional organisation
- to the Commerce Commission — if they have misled you or said something that wasn't true.
- to the Privacy Commissioner — if they shared confidential information without your permission.
1. Sort it out directly
An email, conversation or letter may be enough to fix your concern. Before talking about you issue know:
- your rights
- how to complain.
The Consumer Guarantees Act says accountants and tax agents must provide a good service. This means:
- doing what you hire them for
- with reasonable care and skill
- in a reasonable timeframe
- for a reasonable price — if not agreed beforehand.
Under the Fair Trading Act, they must not mislead you, eg say they're an expert in investments when they're not.
If your accountant or tax agents belongs to a professional organisation, they must also follow certain rules and ethics, eg not using private information for personal gain.
Rules and ethics
Breaking professional membership rules and ethics may include:
- keeping your records or funds from you — unless you haven't paid their fees
- deducting fees without your consent
- acting unprofessionally or incompetently
- not telling you about a conflict of interest
- not giving you neutral advice
- not billing you regularly or explaining their fees
- giving you information they knew was wrong
- not respecting privacy and confidentiality.
How to complain
Before you complain
- Try to pinpoint why you aren't happy — think about what consumer law or rule they may have broken, or if it is something else, eg the way they speak to you.
- Decide your ideal outcome — what would it take to make it right, eg an apology, better communication, cancelling a bill.
- Gather evidence —have on hand anything helpful to making your case, eg emails, texts, letters, receipts or bills.
- Stick to the facts — explain the problem in detail and provide any evidence you have.
- Tell them what you want — be clear what you expect to fix your concern.
- Put your complaint in writing — for your personal records. Accountants and tax agents who are part of a professional organisation may ask for a written complaint.
- Take notes — record the dates and outcome of any conversations.
Complaint letter template — Tips when complaining
2. Disputes Tribunal or District Court
If you can't sort out your issue directly, this is your next step. Which you go to depends on the sum of money in question.
Disputes Tribunal: can look at claims up to $30,000. This is a less formal process than court.
District Court: deals with claims over $30,000 but less than $350,000.
Speak to a lawyer before filing a claim at the District Court. If you can't afford one, you may be able to get legal aid.
Read more about the Disputes Tribunal and District Court:
3. Report it
Ask your accountant or tax agent if they belong to a professional organisation. It may be on their website or on a certificate in their office.
It could be:
- Chartered Accountants Australia New Zealand (CAANZ)
- Accountants and Tax Agents Institute of New Zealand (ATAINZ)
Complaints about a CAANZ member(external link) — CAANZ
Complaints about an ATAINZ member(external link) — ATAINZ
These professional organisations can look into complaints about unethical behaviour, or where rules may not have been followed. They cannot look at complaints about fees.
Going to ATAINZ or CAANZ could help stop a similar thing happening to somebody else.
Complain to the Commerce Commission if you think your accountant or tax agent has:
- misled you, eg told you they were an expert in an area they aren't
- said something that is not true.
The Commerce Commission enforces certain consumer laws, including the Fair Trading Act. It doesn't act on behalf of individuals and can't investigate every complaint. But their investigations do help make sure businesses are complying with the law. Your information helps them assess which consumer issues are causing greatest harm.
Make a complaint(external link) — Commerce Commission
If your privacy has been breached, eg your accountant has shared your personal data with another company without your permission, or you are having problems getting hold of information you have asked for, you can complain to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner.
Making a complaint(external link) — Office of the Privacy Commissioner
Get support at any point from:
- Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) — a free, independent service, run by volunteers. CAB can advise you on your consumer rights and obligations, in person, by phone, or online.
- Community Law Centre — offers free one-on-one legal advice to people with limited finances. The organisation has 24 community law centres throughout the country. You can find legal information and other resources on its website.
Find a CAB(external link) — Citizens Advice Bureau
Our law centres(external link) — Community Law Centres