One of the things which I have always felt we reviewers could handle better is the guidance we give on the seriousness of our findings in compliance visits. The problem is that an RPB compliance visit doesn’t just look at the findings on any one file in isolation – context is everything. A few late reviews in one practice, where there are no other significant issues might only attract a plea to be more consistent – but if it’s a recurring problem with other issues, the licensing authorities will feel start to worry about what else might go wrong at a practice – rightly in my view.
So, it is important to deal with all compliance issues that are raised in any review. Equally, I don’t think it is right to treat all compliance issues with the same priority. IPs in smaller practices can’t simply drop everything to address all systemic issues together. And while RPBs tend to understand that, I think IPs can still lose a great deal of time and energy working on things that don’t need such immediate all-out attention.
“So, why don’t the RPB reviewers give more guidance?” I hear you ask. Well, some will make some limited comments, but an RPB reviewers’ main priority is to point out the issues. He or she only has limited time at your practice and will only get a limited understanding of your systems and staff and resources in that short time. In any case, their chief concern will be to write up a clear report for the licensing committee; after all, it is only the committee that has the power to decide. This is also why RPB reviewers are generally quite reluctant to leave anything out of a report or to vouch too much of their own opinion in case the RPB takes a different tack.
But as a compliance advisor, I think you should be able to expect me to give pretty clear indications on seriousness and priority, at least to start you off. On a first visit, I may not get to know a lot more about your systems than an RPB reviewer but you are my client….. So, I have developed my own grading system to help make my reports that much more helpful. I found it a refreshingly clear way of organising my thoughts and, so far, at least, my first clients seem happy, too –
||Any exception(s) to the Rules or SIPs which raise serious questions about the actual or perceived integrity, capability or fitness of the IP. Anything actionable against the IP; findings which are likely to lead to action by the courts, the regulator or both.
||Exceptions or systemic issues which threaten the effectiveness or quality of outcome for key-stakeholders (real or perceived); things which, could well lead to regulatory action even if no dangerous exception arises.
||Exceptions which may put doubts into the mind of a third party, over the quality, thoroughness or reliability of the IP’s work – generally related to systems or methods of practice. Again, left unaddressed, they will lead to worse problems.
||Exceptions which appear isolated and have no significant effect on the outcome of the work, but which should receive attention to ensure they don’t get worrying.
||These are things which you are doing that I think raise the bar on common standards or procedures.
By grading it this way, I like to think that my clients will understand the immediate implications of my findings more readily and be able to prioritise their remedial work accordingly.
On remedial work, I think the key principles are speed, effectiveness and robustness. With anything “dangerous” I would say to you, “drop everything – get this sorted”. If remuneration has been overdrawn, pay it back right now; don’t wait for the time costs to accrue – the RPB will think that you are showing insufficient care. If you discover an ethical problem has been overlooked, talk to me or a good insolvency solicitor about meaningful ways of addressing it.
With anything “significant”, you need to act with similar speed to anything “dangerous” but you also need to take the time to find out how deep the problem goes and whether it lies in systems or training, or specific personnel. If, for example, a review has raised concerns about the standard of work on a house sale, check any similar cases to see how deep the problem goes and then go to work on preventative measures.
What if you can’t overhaul a system straight away? At least put in a temporary fix and ensure all your staff know about it – then, diarise the time for a more complete work-over later. RPBs aren’t ogres (at least not most of the time) and their committees are peopled by fellow IPs who know what it is like. They will allow time for improvements to be carried out, providing there is a rational and targeted programme.
For worrying issues, I would still advise that you take a closer look quite soon, after you have dealt any other, more significant issues. As for minor or isolated issues, I think it is fine to give these a low-ish priority, but it would still be wise to look at these points again on say, your next review, to make sure they really were isolates.
And if in doubt about what to do and how fast, don’t hesitate to ring your compliance advisor. The more experienced will probably have seen your problem somewhere else and have a good idea of both how to fix it and what priority to give it.
I hope that helps, but if you have any questions or comments on the gradings, suggestions for better words, etc. please get in touch.