Authority over CPAs
The Board regulates the practice of public accounting by CPAs and certain credential holders in Washington State. We have authority over the following credential holders and applicants:
- Certified Public Accountants (CPA) and CPA firms
- CPA-Inactive certificateholders
- CPA applicants
- Non-CPA owners of CPA firms
Authority over non-CPAs
Accountants and tax preparers are not required to hold a CPA license. If an accountant is not using the title “CPA” and is not performing attest services, then the Board does not have jurisdiction and cannot pursue an investigation. For complaints against accountants or bookkeepers, contact the Attorney General's Office - Safeguarding Consumers.
Complaints Not Investigated
The Board does not have the authority to resolve fee disputes, award damages, settle disputes over tax code interpretation, or otherwise settle claims.
- Fee disputes: The Board does not have jurisdiction over fee disputes. A dispute over fees does not constitute a violation of professional standards. Fee disputes include but are not limited to a disagreement over fees charged, billing amounts, and providing itemized billing.
- Complaints against a respondent that is under litigation: If the subject matter is currently in litigation or under review by another agency, the Board may defer the investigation until the proceedings are completed.
- Complaints against non-CPAs: We do not have authority over non-CPAs, unless they are using the title “CPA” or performing attest services. For complaints against non-CPAs, contact the Attorney General's Office - Safeguarding Consumers.
- Frustrating matters that to do not violate professional standards: Some situations may create frustration for a client but do not violate professional standards. This includes but is not limited to slow or non-existent communications for status updates, failure to provide detailed billing, and rude behavior.
Some common complaints that we investigate include:
- Negligence and gross negligence in the performance of professional services: A CPA that commits an act of negligence may be in violation of professional standards.
- Failure to return client records: Within 45 days of a written request, CPAs must provide original papers that are the property of the client, and/or files that would constitute part of the client’s records, as defined by WAC 4-30-051. A CPA is not required to provide incomplete work product, working papers, or records that have been previously provided. CPAs cannot refuse to return client records pending client payment of outstanding fees.
If you are having difficulties with getting your records from a CPA, we recommend that you submit your records request to the CPA in writing detailing the specific records that you want returned, and send your request by certified mail to the CPA. If the CPA does not return your records within 45 days, you may file a complaint with a copy of your written records request, and the specific records that you asked to be returned.
CPAs may charge a reasonable fee to compile and transfer records, and require that fee be paid prior to providing the records.
- Integrity and objectivity: CPAs must remain honest, objective, and not misrepresent facts in the performance of professional services.
- CPA title use by non-CPA accountants, bookkeepers, or firms: An individual using the title “CPA” without a CPA license is prohibited.
If you are aware of an individual using the title “CPA” and they are not listed in the Licensee Search, please notify us. (Exception: Mobility)
If you are aware of an individual or a firm performing attest services in Washington state and they are not listed in the Licensee Search, please notify us. (Exception: Mobility)
What to Expect
All investigations are performed following WAC 4-30-140. You will receive a written notice of the Board’s final decision concerning the outcome of your complaint.
The Board must have sufficient evidence of a violation to pursue discipline. A disagreement on the handling of accounting matters, or an honest mistake, may not constitute a violation of professional standards.
The Board has the power to impose the following disciplinary actions for sufficient evidence of a violation of the Public Accountancy Act:
- Revoke, suspend, or refuse to renew or issue a license
- Require completion of continuing professional education (CPE)
- Impose a fine to be paid to the state of Washington
- Recover investigative costs to be paid to the Board
If there is sufficient evidence of a violation of professional standards, then the Board may issue a statement of charges and resolve the matter through an administrative hearing.
What Not to Expect
You should not expect to receive any money or reimbursement, have records provided to you, or to have services ordered to be completed. You may seek to recover damages through a legal proceeding. Board actions are restricted to the practice of public accounting and specific disciplinary measures the Board is authorized to impose.
We cannot provide an estimate on how long an investigation may take. Updates are not provided for an open investigation. Once the complaint is closed, we will notify you of the results.
Filing a Complaint
To file a complaint, you must complete and submit the Board’s online complaint form. Complaints cannot be submitted by mail, email, or phone.
In the online form, please state the exact nature of your complaint. To take disciplinary action for an alleged violation, the Board must have sufficient documented evidence, and an alleged violation of professional standards.
If the Board does not have jurisdiction over the complaint, we will not be able to investigate.
We may request additional information during the investigation process, and we ask for your timely cooperation. Once the complaint is closed, we will notify you of the results.
If you are uncertain whether we are the appropriate agency to handle your complaint, or have other questions, please contact us. You may reach us at (360) 664-9266 or firstname.lastname@example.org.