The following auditing interpretation is not the current version and does not reflect any amendments effective on or after December 31, 2016. The current version of the auditing interpretations can be found here.
Evidential Matter: Auditing Interpretations of Section 326
- [.01 - .05]
- (.06 - .23) The Effect of an Inability to Obtain Evidential Matter Relating to Income Tax Accruals
- [.24 - .41]
Question—The Internal Revenue Service's audit manual instructs its examiners on how to secure from corporate officials "tax accrual workpapers" or the "tax liability contingency analysis," including, "a memorandum discussing items reflected in the financial statements as income or expense where the ultimate tax treatment is unclear." The audit manual states that the examiner may question or summons a corporate officer or manager concerning the "knowledge of the items that make up the corporation's contingent reserve accounts." It also states that "in unusual circumstances, access may be had to the audit or tax workpapers" of an independent accountant or an accounting firm after attempting to obtain the information from the taxpayer. IRS policy also includes specific procedures to be followed in circumstances involving "Listed Transactions," to help address what the IRS considers to be abusive tax avoidance transactions (Internal Revenue Manual, section 4024.2-.5, 5/14/81, and Internal Revenue Service Announcement 2002-63, 6/17/02).
Concern over IRS access to tax accrual working papers might cause some clients to not prepare or maintain appropriate documentation of the calculation or contents of the accrual for income taxes included in the financial statements, or to deny the independent auditor access to such information.
What effect does this situation have on the auditor's opinion on the financial statements?
Interpretation—The client is responsible for its tax accrual, the underlying support for the accrual, and the related disclosures. Limitations on the auditor's access to information considered necessary to audit the tax accrual will affect the auditor's ability to issue an unqualified opinion on the financial statements. Thus, if the client does not have appropriate documentation of the calculation or contents of the accrual for income taxes and denies the auditor access to client personnel responsible for making the judgments and estimates relating to the accrual, the auditor should assess the importance of that inadequacy in the accounting records and the client imposed limitation on his or her ability to form an opinion on the financial statements. Also, if the client has appropriate documentation but denies the auditor access to it and to client personnel who possess the information, the auditor should assess the importance of the client-imposed scope limitation on his or her ability to form an opinion.
The third standard of field work requires the auditor to obtain sufficient appropriate evidential matter through, among other things, inspection and inquiries to afford a reasonable basis for an opinion on the financial statements. Paragraph 35 of Auditing Standard No. 14, Evaluating Audit Results, requires the auditor to obtain sufficient appropriate evidential matter about assertions in the financial statements of material significance or else to qualify or disclaim his or her opinion on the statements. Section 508, Reports on Audited Financial Statements, paragraph .24, states that, "When restrictions that significantly limit the scope of the audit are imposed by the client, ordinarily the auditor should disclaim an opinion on the financial statements." Also, section 333 on Management Representations requires the auditor to obtain written representations from management. Section 333.06 states that specific representations should relate to the following matters, "availability of all financial records and related data," and section 333.08 states that a materiality limit does not apply to that representation. Section 333.13 states that "management's refusal to furnish a written representation" constitutes a limitation on the scope of the audit sufficient to preclude an unqualified opinion.
Question—A client may allow the auditor to inspect its tax accrual workpapers, but request that copies not be retained for audit documentation, particularly copies of the tax liability contingency analysis. The client also may suggest that the auditor not prepare and maintain similar documentation of his or her own. What should the auditor consider in deciding a response to such a request?
Interpretation—Section 339,Audit Documentation, states that audit documentation is the principal record of auditing procedures applied, evidence obtained, and conclusions reached by the auditor in the engagement. Audit documentation should include sufficient appropriate evidential matter to afford a reasonable basis for an opinion. In addition, audit documentation should be sufficient to enable members of the engagement team with supervision and review responsibilities to understand the nature, timing, extent, and results of auditing procedures performed, and the evidence obtained.
The auditor's documentation of the results of auditing procedures directed at the tax accounts and related disclosures also should include sufficient appropriate evidential matter about the significant elements of the client's tax liability contingency analysis. This documentation should include copies of the client's documents, schedules, or analyses (or auditor-prepared summaries thereof) to enable the auditor to support his or her conclusions regarding the appropriateness of the client's accounting and disclosure of significant tax-related contingency matters. The audit documentation should reflect the procedures performed and conclusions reached by the auditor and, for significant matters, include the client's documentary support for its financial statement amounts and disclosures.
The audit documentation should include the significant elements of the client's analysis of tax contingencies or reserves, including roll-forward of material changes to such reserves. In addition, the documentation should provide the client's position and support for income tax related disclosures, such as its effective tax rate reconciliation, and support for its intra-period allocation of income tax expense or benefit to continuing operations and to items other than continuing operations. Where applicable, the documentation also should include the client's basis for assessing deferred tax assets and related valuation allowances and its support for applying the "indefinite reversal criteria" in APB Opinion No. 23, Accounting for Income Taxes—Special Areas, including its specific plans for reinvestment of undistributed foreign earnings.
Question—In some situations, a client may furnish its outside legal counsel or in-house legal or tax counsel with information concerning the tax contingencies covered by the accrual for income taxes included in the financial statements and ask counsel to provide the auditor an opinion on the adequacy of the accrual for those contingencies.
In such circumstances, rather than inspecting and obtaining documentary evidence of the client's tax liability contingency analysis and making inquiries of the client, may the auditor consider the counsel as a specialist within the meaning of section 336, Using the Work of a Specialist, and rely solely on counsel's opinion as an appropriate procedure for obtaining evidential matter to support his or her opinion on the financial statements?
Interpretation—No. The opinion of legal counsel in this situation would not provide sufficient appropriate evidential matter to afford a reasonable basis for an opinion on the financial statements.
Section 336.01 defines a specialist as "a person (or firm) possessing special skill or knowledge in a particular field other than accounting or auditing." It is intended to apply to situations requiring special knowledge of matters about which the auditor does not have adequate technical training and proficiency. The auditor's education, training, and experience, on the other hand, do enable him or her to be knowledgeable concerning income tax matters and competent to assess their presentation in the financial statements.
The opinion of legal counsel on specific tax issues that he or she is asked to address and to which he or she has devoted substantive attention, as contemplated by section 337, Inquiry of a Client's Lawyer Concerning Litigation, Claims, and Assessments, can be useful to the auditor in forming his or her own opinion. However, the audit of income tax accounts requires a combination of tax expertise and knowledge about the client's business that is accumulated during all aspects of an audit. Therefore, as stated above, it is not appropriate for the auditor to rely solely on such legal opinion.
Question—A client may have obtained the advice or opinion of an outside tax adviser related to the tax accrual or matters affecting it, including tax contingencies, and further may attempt to limit the auditor's access to such advice or opinion, or limit the auditor's documentation of such advice or opinion. This limitation on the auditor's access may be proposed on the basis that such information is privileged. Can the auditor rely solely on the conclusions of third party tax advisers? What evidential matter should the auditor obtain and include in the audit documentation?
Interpretation—As discussed in paragraphs .17 through .19 above, the auditor cannot accept a client's or a third party's analysis or opinion with respect to tax matters without careful consideration and application of the auditor's tax expertise and knowledge about the client's business. As a result of applying such knowledge to the facts, the auditor may encounter situations in which the auditor either disagrees with the position taken by the client, or its advisers, or does not have sufficient appropriate evidential matter to support his or her opinion.
If the client's support for the tax accrual or matters affecting it, including tax contingencies, is based upon an opinion issued by an outside adviser with respect to a potentially material matter, the auditor should obtain access to the opinion, notwithstanding potential concerns regarding attorney-client or other forms of privilege. The audit documentation should include either the actual advice or opinions rendered by an outside adviser, or other sufficient documentation or abstracts supporting both the transactions or facts addressed as well as the analysis and conclusions reached by the client and adviser. Alternatives such as redacted or modified opinions may be considered, but must nonetheless include sufficient content to articulate and document the client's position so that the auditor can formulate his or her conclusion. Similarly, it may be possible to accept a client's analysis summarizing an outside adviser's opinion, but the client's analysis must provide sufficient appropriate evidential matter for the auditor to formulate his or her conclusion. In addition, client representations may be obtained stating that the client has not received any advice or opinions that are contradictory to the client's support for the tax accrual.
If the auditor is unable to accumulate sufficient appropriate evidence about whether there is a supported and reasonable basis for the client's position, the auditor should consider the effect of this scope limitation on his or her report.
Footnotes (AU Section 9326 — Evidential Matter: Auditing Interpretations of Section 326):
[fns 1-3] [Footnotes deleted, effective for audits of fiscal years beginning on or after December 15, 2010. See PCAOB Release No. 2010-004. For audits of fiscal years beginning before December 15, 2010, click here]