IPA's cross-profession regulator plan gains lukewarm support

The Insolvency Practitioners Association (IPA), has caused controversy by calling for a new unified body to oversee the regulation of lawyers and accountants who are insolvency practitioners.

The idea has been met with a lukewarm response from several prominent insolvency lawyers.

The IPA's proposal, which it described as “vital to maintaining public confidence”, is contained in its response to the Government's consultative document on the future regulation of insolvency practitioners.

Currently, insolvency practitioners are regulated by eight recognised professional bodies (RPBs), including the Law Societies of England, Wales and Scotland and the Institute of Chartered Accountants for England and Wales.

Under the IPA proposals, the recognised professional bodies' regulatory functions would be still be exercised by these bodies, but they would be brought closer together and be subject to review by the new body.

In a move to head off Austin Mitchell MP's criticism of “the failed system of chaps regulating chaps”, the IPA said that only a minority of members of the new board should be insolvency practitioners and that those members should be appointed by an independent body or an individual.

But IPA president David Sapte stressed: “Practitioner representation would be vital to ensure lay members understand the profession's perspective on complex issues.”

Sapte added that the proposals “would create a playing field that is seen to be level”.

Linklaters insolvency partner Tony Bugg said he could see benefits in the proposals. But he added: “The big problem is who would pay for all this.”

Bugg pointed out that if insolvency practitioners funded the new body the cost would indirectly be passed on to the “stakeholders”, such as creditors and consumers.

Hamish Anderson, insolvency partner at Norton Rose, agreed with Bugg, saying that the new system would be expensive.

Anderson also said that there was an issue of “double jeopardy”, where a practitioner's conduct might be investigated and the same issues tried by more than one organisation.

Anderson added that having separate professions undertaking the same activity provided more choice for consumers and greater competition.