On May 1, 2020 the AICPA Professional Ethics Executive Committee (PEEC) issued an exposure draft (ED) proposing revisions to clarify and update the rules on client records requests. The records requests rule addresses the ethical responsibilities applicable when a client requests their records and other information created during a professional engagement (e.g., the practitioner's work product, work papers or ancillary information).
The interpretation has long permitted practitioners to withhold some records in certain circumstances, including nonpayment of professional fees and fees for retrieving and copying the records. However, it has also long prohibited withholding records the client (or the client's representative) provided to the practitioner ("client-provided records") even when fees have not been paid. Recently, the staff noted that it was unclear whether a practitioner could withhold client-provided records when the client refused to pay costs for retrieving and copying the records. In the ED, PEEC clarified that these records should not be withheld when responding to a client’s initial request for the records, whether or not the retrieval/copying fees have been paid. This is consistent with the PEEC's longstanding position that a practitioner must return client-provided records whether or not fees for that engagement have been paid.
Other proposed changes would:
- add that practitioners may charge for shipping the client's records because, similar to charging for retrieving and copying, shipping costs are an additional expense of fulfilling the request;
- substitute the requirement to return or provide records to the client with a requirement to make the information available, e.g., for pick-up by the client or via a portal, as PEEC believes this should satisfy the ethical requirement;
- clarify (to correct an oversight) that the practitioner should provide both work products and member-prepared records to a beneficiary of the practitioner's services.
Comments on the ED are due by September 30, 2020.