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TPB turns around on its Cloud Accounting Position
In what is seen as a turnaround on their original Cloud Accounting position (which we described at the time as BAS Agent/Tax Agent unfriendly), a fresh Exposure Draft / Practice Note has just been released by the Tax Practitioners Board (TPB). Gone are the objectionable aspects:
Additionally, Australian Bookkeepers Association worked directly with the Board to clarify and modify the wording around the general factors that BAS Agents may wish to consider when entering into cloud computing arrangements.
Australian Bookkeepers Association (ABA) is pleased with the substantive changes that have been made which alter the tone of the document from instructional to informational, and we thank the Board for making the changes.
We also thank the hundreds and hundreds of BAS Agents who gave us their views about the original Exposure Draft and the adverse effect it would have had on their business if unamended. We took all of your views forward and they were heard.
As you may recall, the Tax Practitioners Board late last year released for comment an Exposure Draft Information Sheet Cloud Computing and the Code of Professional Conduct. The Australian Bookkeepers Association made clear in our written submission to the Board earlier this year, the Exposure Draft was decidedly ’BAS Agent-unfriendly’ in that it shifted the responsibility for client Cloud security to BAS Agents. By bracketing the choice to use Cloud accounting with any other outsource choice that a bookkeeper may make (like a subcontractor), the Board potentially made it a Code of Conduct violation by the BAS Agent for client information security breaches that may occur as a result of security failures by Cloud providers. Before we filed our submission with the Board, we sought your feedback which was overwhelming supportive of our view – urging that the Board soften its position, and remove this onus from BAS Agents. This feedback from our members was then collated and attached to our submission.
The good news is our voices have been heard! Following public consultation (including taking on board our submission and your feedback), the Board has now just released its revised Practice Note which addresses the concerns raised in our submission as follows:
Action Plan for BAS Agents as a Result of the Amended Exposure Draft?
With the bookkeeper-unfriendly provisions gone, where does the amended Exposure Draft leave bookkeepers in terms of their Code of Conduct obligations vis-a-vis the use of Cloud Accounting?
Code Item 6 of the Code of Conduct says that Agents are still required to disclose to clients that they are using a Cloud provider and obtain client consent before putting a client’s information ‘in the Cloud’. Why? By way of background, Code Item 6 states:
“unless you have a legal duty to do so, you must not disclose any information relating to a client’s affairs to a third party without your client’s permission.”
In terms of the method of disclosure, the Exposure Draft at paragraph 12 stipulates that the Client Engagement Letter is an appropriate medium. To this end, in terms of wording, you may wish to review your Engagement Letter for adequacy or adopt the clause contained in our Client Engagement Letter Template which is available on our website. For those of you who do not use Engagement Letters (and, for a whole range of reasons, we strongly recommend that you start doing so) alternatively disclosure will need to be made by some other (preferably written) means e.g. email (and be sure to obtain a record of client acknowledgement).
Where to from here with the Exposure Draft?
Together, with our submission and your feedback, we’ve contributed to achieving some major ‘BAS Agent -friendly’ changes to the Exposure Draft – changes which it must be said were largely not sought and fought for by all industry associations. However in our view there are still a number of minor aspects of the latest Exposure Draft that could have clarification/improvement for bookkeepers before the Board finalises its position later this year on how the Code of Conduct applies to Cloud computing. We will take these matters up with the Board in our final submission on the latest Exposure Draft over the next few weeks.