Financial Qualified Member Appeal Tribunals
Background of David Douglas
David Douglas is a qualified Chartered Accountant with 30 years post qualification experience. In his professional accountancy career he has worked in a number of different roles across the private and public sector. Currently his main area of work is business consultancy across a number of different organisations, mostly in the engineering sector.
David has a keen interest in history and has a part-time business as a Tour Guide.
Why did you decide to apply for the positon of Financial Qualified Member (FQM) of the Appeal Tribunals?
I have been a member of the Tribunal Appeals Service (TAS) since around 2002. The reason I applied was because I had an interest in law having studied some modules as part of my degree at Queens University Belfast. If I could go back in time, I would have studied a law degree instead of an accounting and economics degree, though I would still have trained as an accountant. To apply for the position of a FQM you need to have a professional accountancy qualification from one of the accredited professional bodies – I am a member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Ireland.
As a Financial Qualified Member, what does your role entail?
My role is to be an expert on the financial aspects of cases presented to the tribunal panel. The main two case areas are in Child Support and certain Social Security means tested benefits. Means testing is when we look at the party’s other financial income to work out if they should receive the benefits they are currently receiving. As a FQM we can also be involved in Tax Credit Tribunals but I have not yet been involved in these cases.
It is important for me to be able to explain the relevance of the information we received or what is missing from the papers to the Legally Qualified Member (LQM) of the panel. The panel for these cases comprises only a FQM and a LQM. The information we receive can be anything relating to the financial history of the party. This could be things like financial reports, investments and tax returns.
Social security cases that come to us, in my experience, are more complex in nature as most of the simpler cases can be resolved internally by the department. The party can appeal the decision made by the department and that is when we have to review it as an independent panel.
However as a full panel member I am able to get involved in all aspects of the case not only the financial side. As a panel of two we are a sounding board and another pair of eyes for each other.
Talk us through a typical day?
The nature of the role is on an assignment basis so there is no such thing as a typical day but each assignment does follow the same process.
I receive all the papers a number of weeks in advance and read through initially to ensure there are no conflicts of interest with any of the parties involved and to get an understanding of the case. On the day of the case the legal member and myself would discuss any notes we have made from reading the papers and what issues that could come up during the hearing. I also brief the legal member, who is the chairperson, on the financial aspects of the case and they would brief me on the legal points they have identified. We would also identify what oral evidence and what information we need from the parties involved to help us come to a decision.
We don’t have a set amount of cases we hear per day, it is normally two cases per sitting – one oral and one written. Oral cases could take longer, especially in Child Support cases as there could be three parties involved; the parent with care of the child, the absent parent and the Child Maintenance Service. So if everyone speaks the cases could go on a bit longer. Social security cases normally have only two parties present at the hearing.
A written case is when the parties involved are happy for the panel to make a decision based on the paper evidence we have been provided with.
Once we have and hear all the evidence the panel meets to discuss the outcome and to arrive at a decision. It is important we take the evidence in its entirety. If we feel there isn’t enough evidence we can ask for more information to come to our decision, this means the hearing could be over more than one sitting. If we have all the evidence that allows us to come to a decision, we make a decision, and depending on time pressures will can either inform the parties by calling them in again or judgement is sent out afterwards.
What challenges do you face?
We need to keep up-to-date on the current legislation and case law. It’s more important for the legal member to keep on top of the legal changes but I also do the same.
Many cases can be delayed or postponed so you need to keep revisiting and rereading the case papers which can become time consuming. I normally read the papers and make notes only a few days in advance in case this does happen. As not all cases require a FQM, it can be challenging to keep your expertise and skills sharp. We are given formal refresher training once per year to keep us abreast of the tribunal processes and procedures.
As all cases I am involved in have a financial aspect to them, the final decision made can have a financial impact for the party involved which can lead to disappointment. Sometimes we are seen as part of ‘the System’ but it is important to reinforce that we are there as an independent panel to ensure fair judgment is made. In Child Maintenance cases your focus is always on the welfare of the child or children and ensure they are being provided for.
Name three aspects of the role you enjoy most
- I enjoy reading through the legal aspects of a case, firstly because it is something that I want to know about and also because it is different from my normal day-to-day job so it gives me more variety.
- It is good to be part of a team and feel your expertise is appreciated by your fellow panel member. In my day-to-day job I work independently so don’t often get that team environment.
- That you are part of the process of getting justice done in a fair and reasonable manner.
What would you say to anyone considering a role on a tribunal in the future?
Certainly I would encourage fellow accountants to get involved, especially if they have an interest in the law and to add additional varied skills and experiences which may be helpful in other roles in the future of their financial career.