The Financial Reporting Council (FRC) has issued a consultation proposing changes to the UK’s Ethical and Auditing Standards. The FRC proposes to set more stringent ethical rules for auditors, in response to findings from recent audit enforcement cases and from audit inspections. In response to feedback from investors, the FRC also proposes to enhance the quality and content of auditor’s reports in order to improve transparency about what is found in the course of an audit.
Key changes proposed include:
A clearer and stronger ‘objective, reasonable and informed third party test’ which requires audit firms to consider whether a proposed action would affect their independence from the perspective of public interest stakeholders rather than another auditor. This is supported by additional material to encourage a wide-ranging assessment, which considers both the spirit and the letter of the standard.
Enhancing the authority of the Ethics Partner function within audit firms, in order to ensure firm wide focus on ethical matters and the public interest, and to require reporting to those charged with governance where an audit firm does not follow the Ethics Partner’s advice.
The list of prohibited non-audit services that auditors of Public Interest Entities (PIEs) can provide to audited bodies has been replaced with a much shorter list of permitted services, all of which are ‘closely related’ to an audit or required by law and/or regulation. No other services can be provided.
The requirement for the auditors of all UK listed entities to include in their published auditor’s reports the performance materiality threshold used in the audit.
Further detailed amendments to individual standards clarify the auditor’s responsibilities when considering whether the bodies they have audited are compliant with relevant laws and regulations, and when checking there are no material misstatements in the ‘other information’ companies include in their annual financial reports (other than the financial statements which are subject to audit).
The FRC said its proposals are not intended to pre-empt the outcome of the current reviews of the audit sector, or the direction of future government policy. They are focussed on improving current ethical and auditing standards in the light of experience since the last major revision in 2016, to drive up the quality of audits being carried out in the UK, and to continue to promote public confidence in audit. The consultation period closes at 5pm on Friday 27 September 2019.
FRC Chief Executive Stephen Haddrill said: “Recent corporate failures and the FRC’s own enforcement work have shown that standards need to be strengthened. Our audit inspections and enforcement activity continue to identify a lack of professional scepticism and independence as being key points of failure when things go wrong. The UK will only continue to attract high-quality global investment if investors have confidence in the independence of auditors and the means to have a better understanding of the critical judgements those auditors make. Our changes will strengthen and clarify ethical requirements in the public interest.”