One of the most valuable risk management tools that an adviser can use when dealing with clients is to proactively manage client files well. A well managed file is akin to a ‘useable trail’ of actions, which will benefit the adviser as well as the client.
An issue that has been identified in this area of professional practice is that of advisers making Privacy Act requests from Immigration New Zealand for full client files, because they have not maintained adequate client files themselves.
Clause 3 of the code of conduct relates directly to the professional practice obligations of a licensed immigration adviser to maintain professional business practices relating to finances, records, documents, contracts and staff management. Keeping a well documented file also assists advisers to:
All aspects of the adviser’s relationship with a client and his or her affairs must be recorded clearly, chronologically, and completely. All communications should be recorded by way of file note or letter.
If the client chooses not to take an adviser’s advice, the adviser should record this, and get the client to acknowledge in writing that they are going against the adviser’s advice.
As a matter of best practice, the Authority recommends that advisers take the following actions in relation to the management of their unique client files.
Having taken instructions to proceed with an immigration matter, it is essential that an adviser opens a unique client file, and places all documentation in that file.
If questions arise, having a well-maintained unique client file will help to prove that issues were considered, advice given, and actions taken.
If no records exist the adviser will find it difficult to prove they did act properly, especially when they have an obligation to keep those records.
Compliance with the requirement to keep a client informed can best be achieved by:
Provided is a Sample file summary sheet.
The word ‘application’ in this context should be read to mean:
In respect of an ‘appeal’, ‘request’, ‘claim’ or ‘other representation’ any other relevant form(s), supporting documentation and covering letter submitted to Immigration New Zealand or the Immigration and Protection Tribunal should similarly be retained.
Given that changes to immigration instructions can occur frequently, and changes to immigration legislation occur periodically, it is useful to also place on the client’s file a copy of the relevant legislation or instructions that apply to their particular immigration matter.
This will also assist advisers to easily access the relevant legislation or policy based on which they provided their immigration advice at the time.
During the progress of an immigration matter, written communications may occur between the adviser and the client, Immigration New Zealand, or another relevant statutory authority. In relation to an immigration matter, written communications can include the following:
File notes are used to record:
File notes are primarily for the benefit of the adviser and others working on the file. However, file notes often have a wider readership. If things go wrong, the client, the Authority, the Immigration Advisers Complaints and Disciplinary Tribunal or a court may all be potential readers.
The key reasons for using file notes are:
Advisers should make file notes where there would otherwise be no written record. While writing file notes can be time consuming, and at times difficult, it is worth the effort. All file notes should identify the following:
In an interview or meeting situation, any notes taken are likely to be incomplete. Usually what is required is not a summary of the course of the discussion, but rather a summary of the information acquired and any advice given.
Where the record of who said what or exactly what was said is likely to be important, it should be set out in the first person:
“John then told me that…”
“I then advised John that…”
This will be a much more reliable record than something more general like: “We discussed…”.
One note-taking method during an interview is to jot down key words and phrases to act as reminders of specific facts that seem important, and topics or subjects that need investigation. Notes covering these points provide a basis for the subsequent file note and a reminder of topics that need to be explored further.
After the interview, the notes taken should trigger recall of details, if the file note is prepared promptly. A suggested framework for organising the raw material from these notes is:
All files notes should be initialled (or signed) and dated when they are made. This is particularly important for notes that record the giving of advice and any client decisions made on the basis of that advice.
If an adviser is dictating a file note, the date and time at which the file note is being made should also be dictated, and the adviser should also sign and date the typed copy when it has been proof read.
Where a file note is potentially controversial, there is value in ensuring that it is transmitted electronically, to ensure that the adviser has proof that it was prepared at the time. Ideally the adviser would send it to the client, and give them the opportunity of confirming the record.
Copies of the following should be kept on the client file:
Advisers must ensure the security of all client records, in order to:
There are a range of means available for an adviser to protect client records, including having a secure files room, a lockable safe or filing cabinet.
Advisers can choose the method that they use to file client records. Many advisers simply store files in alphabetical order of the client’s family name, while others do this within each visa class, or by country of origin. Other custom-designed systems may also be used, but the primary considerations in respect of any filing system should be:
In all situations, however, the adviser must ensure that the professional practice requirements on a licensed immigration adviser in relation to client records at clause 3e is adhered to: