Professional ethics

Ethical behaviour

AAT is committed to enhancing and upholding the highest ethical and professional standards, which is key to maintaining public confidence in the accountancy profession.

The decisions we make in the everyday course of our professional lives can have real ethical implications. To help our members make the right choices and offer the highest levels of professional service at all times, our members are required to comply with AAT’s Code of Professional Ethics (PDF).

Our Code of Professional Ethics is based on the IESBA Code of Ethics for Professional Accountants and sets out the five fundamental principles which all AAT members are required to adopt: -

  • integrity
  • objectivity
  • professional competence and due care
  • confidentiality
  • professional behaviour.

Supporting guidance and resources

We have created some resources which can support you in understanding the Code of Professional Ethics and applying ethical principles on topics of specific interest:

Ethical case studies

The Consultative Committee of Accountancy Bodies (CCAB) have published some case studies to help apply the fundamental principles to ethical issues encountered by:

  • professional accountants in business
  • professional accountants in public practice
  • professional accountants working as non-executive directors
  • professional accountants working in the voluntary sector
  • professional accountants working in the public sector.

AAT independence provisions relating to review and assurance engagements

Sections 290 and 291 provide specific guidance on independence requirements for licensed members who perform review and assurance engagements.

The full provisions relating to this can be found within the AAT Code of Professional Ethics: independence provisions relating to review and assurance engagements (PDF).

Professional conduct in relation to taxation (PCRT)

Professional members working in tax must comply with the fundamental principles of behaviour outlined in Professional conduct in relation to taxation (PDF). This guidance has been produced by AAT, ACCA, ATT, CIOT, ICAEW, ICAS and STEP, and has been effective since 1 March 2019.

Helpsheets (PDFs)

Anti-bribery

AAT members must be fully aware of the ethical implications of anti-corruption legislation in their profession as well as the implications of laws such as the UK Bribery Act 2010. It is important to note that under the Act, a bribe does not have to be money; it can also include excessive and disproportionate gifts or hospitality. 

The Bribery Act

The Bribery Act came into force on 1 July 2011. The aim of the Act is to promote anti-bribery and corruption practices among UK businesses. The Act pulls together some existing offences under old UK anti-bribery and corruption laws and creates a new offence of failure by an organisation to prevent bribery.  

The main offences covered under the Act are:  

  • offering, promising, or giving a bribe  
  • accepting a bribe  
  • bribing a foreign public official  
  • failure by an organisation to prevent bribery by employees or associates.

Safeguards

Members, particularly members in business or in public practice will need to ensure they have appropriate polices and controls in place to safeguard themselves and their business from the risk of bribery. An anti-bribery policy should be appropriate to the level of risk your business faces and shared will all staff (and that they understand). As a minimum it should include:

  • an approach to reducing and controlling the risks of bribery
  • rules on accepting gifts, hospitality, or donations
  • directions on how to conduct your business such as negotiating contracts
  • guidance on avoiding or stopping conflicts of interest.

Failure to comply with the Act  

The Act creates strict liability offences, so ignorance to the actions of employees and associates is not a defence. The Act gives the courts the powers to impose penalties including unlimited fines and prison sentences of up to ten years.  

Further information about the Act  

If you would like more information on the Bribery Act 2010, you will find the following resources helpful:  

AAT disciplinary processes and tribunals

If a member has breached our Code of Professional Ethics we will take disciplinary action where necessary to ensure that AAT membership retains its high standards.

Read more about our disciplinary processes and tribunals

Protect – speak up, stop harm

Whistleblowing is when an individual raises a concern about a danger, risk, malpractice, or wrongdoing within an organisation. The concern may be raised internally or externally.

As a member you might see something unethical or become aware of behaviour which concerns you and you need to decide whether to speak up and raise your concerns. This might be informing your line manager or someone else in authority, or whistleblowing to an external body.   

In the UK Protect (formerly Public Concern at Work) are leading experts in whistleblowing. They operate a free, confidential advice line about misconduct at work to anyone who is not sure whether or how to raise their concerns. Protect aims to help enquiries to identify how to best raise the concern while minimising any risk to the whistleblower and maximising the chances for misconduct to be properly addressed

For whistleblowing advice you can call +44 (0)20 3117 2520, email whistle@protect-advice.org.uk or visit their website.

Members also have statutory obligations to report to the National Crime Agency under the anti-money laundering legislation. This requirement is discussed in AAT’s AML Whistleblowing policy and guidance

Useful guides and publications

 

Responsible business

Responsible business is about businesses taking responsibility for their actions and recognising the wider social, ethical, and environmental impact they have, in addition to looking after their profit margins. It covers everything from professional ethics, sustainability, diversity, and inclusion. It should be embedded in everything our professional members do and represent. AAT's own Responsible Business strategy is published on the AAT's Responsible Business strategy webpage.

Sustainable development goals

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), also known as the Global Goals, were adopted by the United Nations in 2015 as a universal call to tackle the biggest challenges facing our planet – namely to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure that by 2030 all people enjoy peace and prosperity.

Read AAT’s article on How accountants can engage with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Additionally, visit Sustainable Development (un.org)  and UN Global Compact Network UK to find out more about the Sustainable Development Goals and for other resources our members may find useful.

Modern slavery

Modern slavery is the extreme exploitation of other people for personal or commercial gain, with victims forced into working for little or no pay and with no choice in how, where or when they work. It can take many forms, including child labour, human trafficking, forced labour, and bonded labour. 

Professional accountants play an important role in identifying modern slavery. By acting ethically and with integrity in all business relationships and implementing and enforcing effective systems and controls will help address the risks of modern slavery and human trafficking. Read AAT’s article on What accountants can do to help fight modern slavery and IFAC’s article on Tackling Modern Slavery: What Role Can Accountants Play? | IFAC

The UK government have also published several documents relating to modern slavery, including guidance on how to identify potential victims. 

Equality, diversity, and inclusion

Diversity, equity, and inclusion are among the most influential cultural and ethical factors in the workplace. It is essential our members develop and adopt a truly inclusive working culture. Not only is this the right thing to do but encouraging diversity allows people to reach their full potential, are treated fairly, and are not subjected to unfair or unlawful discrimination. Read AAT’s guidance on:

Ethics enquiries

AAT’s ethical helpline will help if you need to talk about an ethical dilemma at work or within your firm. We can discuss the situation, the options available to you and the safeguards you can put in place to ensure you continue to work in an ethically responsible way.

To discuss any ethical questions you might have, call us on +44 (0)20 7397 3014 or email ethics@aat.org.uk.