Conducting an audit independently and to a high quality standard is not just best practice.
An auditor is legally required to be independent from the entity it audits, and to uphold audit quality, as outlined by the Australian Securities & Investments Commission (ASIC).
Auditor independence legislation
The legally enforceable requirements for auditor independence are located within the following legislation and standards:
- Divisions 3, 4 and 5 of Part 2M.4 and s307C of the Corporations Act 2001.
- APES 110 Code of Ethics for Professional Accountants.
- Auditing standard ASQC 1 Quality Control for Firms that Perform Audits and Reviews of Financial Reports and Other Financial Information, and Other Assurance Engagements.
- Auditing Standard ASA 220 Quality Control for an Audit of a Financial Report and Other Historical Financial Information.
As part of an audit, an auditor must provide a written declaration confirming that there have been no contraventions of the auditor independence requirements.
How does an auditor maintain independence?
There are several factors an auditor needs to be mindful of, and respond to appropriately, in maintaining independence from the entity that is being audited.
Conflicts of interest
If the auditor or a member of the audit team has any kind of relationship with the audited entity, such as being a family member of a company manager, this will present a conflict of interest.
Attention must also be given to general requirements, including the provision of certain non-audit services.
Auditor rotation is a fundamental aspect of ensuring auditor independence, due to the threat of familiarity through long associations impacting the objectiveness of an audit.
Generally, an auditor or audit company must not play a significant role (such as being the lead auditor) in the audit of an entity for more than five successive financial years.
In certain limited circumstances, auditor rotation relief may be granted by ASIC.
Auditors are required to report contraventions and suspected contraventions of the Corporations Act to ASIC.
For example, if a conflict of interest situation remains in existence after seven days, the auditor must inform ASIC of this in writing.
Other contraventions of the Act that auditors are required to report include the use of bribery or corruption to unduly influence a person involved in the conduct of an audit.
An auditor is also legally required to take steps to ensure that the audit is of high quality, in accordance with section 307 of the Corporations Act.
It is the auditor’s responsibility to form an opinion about whether:
- The financial report being audited is accurate and complies with accounting standards.
- The entity has provided the auditor with the required information and assistance to conduct the audit.
- The entity has kept sufficient financial and other records.
Under the Corporation Act, auditors are legally required to be independent from the entities they are auditing, ensuring that there are no conflicts of interest, that auditor rotation guidelines are adhered to, and that breaches are reported to ASIC.
Auditors are also required to conduct due diligence on the audited entity to ensure that they have provided complete and accurate information to allow for a high quality audit to be conducted.