Dr Neil Dickson (Associate, ACIE) looks at the value a good Independent Examiner can add to your charity.
Is your charity one of the many eligible for an independent examination? Do you feel confident that you know the difference between a good independent examiner and not-so-good one?
One answer might be the level of their technical knowledge of charity accounting. However, discussions that I have had with some small charities cause me to suggest a different answer: good independent examiners add value.
Let me explain. Small charities are often run by committed volunteers who focus their time and energy on the charity. Office-bearers (especially treasurers) are often not in post because of special skills or ambition, but because “someone has to do the job”. For such charities, the independent examiner will prepare the accounts as well as examine them, but good examiners do far more than tick their way through their examination checklist. Good examiners work for a range of charities, they have taken time to get to know their charities and they keep themselves up to date by attending conferences and extensive networking with other examiners. As a result, they have seen how other charities have dealt with issues, what worked and what did not work.
Therefore good examiners, who may be the only professionals that trustees of small charities meet regularly, are a valuable source of advice – and not just in relation to accounts and record-keeping systems. Good examiners are familiar with constitutional and governance issues, and how best to handle relations with regulators (and not only the charity regulators – for example nurseries and preschool groups have to interact with care regulators and local authorities). They have seen the range of bank accounts, online banking facilities, and prepayment and credit cards available to charities. They have knowledge of other charities’ experience in dealing with HMRC and grant-awarding bodies, and setting up auto-enrolment pension schemes. They are aware of exemptions and reductions that small charities should be claiming: no VAT on advertising, reduced VAT rate on electricity, reductions on business rates, water rates and employer’s National Insurance contributions, for example. They also have good contacts. For example, even the smallest charity can get into difficulties with employment issues or VAT. Good examiners will know of an expert that another charity found useful on such matters, or can use their contacts to help find one. So good examiners don’t just do accounts: they add value by allowing charities to tap into their store of knowledge.
If you are an independent examiner, ACIE membership can offer you advice, support and training to enhance your practice. If you are a charity looking for an independent examiner, ACIE has a directory of members ready to work with you.
To help us improve our practice, ACIE is keen to hear from charities about their experience of having an independent examination. Why not help us, by taking 10 minutes to complete our simple survey? Click here to start.
The Association of Charity Independent Examiners is the only professional body dedicated to independent examination. www.acie.org.uk