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Local authority accounts and audits deadlines extended

6 April 2020: final regulations are expected this week to extend the legal deadlines for 2019/20 statutory accounts and audits for local authorities in England.

The new deadline for publication for final, audited accounts will be 30 November 2020, a change from 31 July for Category 1 authorities and 30 September for Category 2 authorities.

To give local authorities more flexibility, the formal 10-working-day public inspection period has been delayed as well. This must start by 1 September 2020 instead of June (for Category 1 authorities) and July (for Category 2 authorities). In effect, this means that draft accounts must be approved by 31 August 2020 at the latest, although local authorities are still encouraged to approve them earlier, wherever possible.
Authorities must publish the dates of their public inspection period this year, and it is recommended that they provide public notice on their websites (where available) when the public inspection period would usually commence, explaining why they are departing from normal practice.
In terms of meetings needed to approve draft and final accounts new regulations will enable meetings to be held remotely, and to hold and alter the frequency and occurrence of meetings without the need for further notice. 
The UK Government Financial Reporting Advisory Board (the ‘FRAB’) is meeting to discuss potential relaxations in accounting and disclosure requirements in local authority annual reports for 2019-20, while the National Audit Office is also talking to audit firms about how audits can be conducted in the circumstances.
Commenting on the move Alison Ring, Director, Public Sector, ICAEW said: “The relaxation of the accounts and audit deadlines is very welcome given the challenges facing local authorities and their finance teams. However, uncertainties surrounding the exact requirements for local authority annual reports and on the detail of audit procedures need to be clarified as quickly as possible so that local authorities and their auditors can move forward in good time. 
“Local authorities and their auditors will be conscious that delaying accounts and audits could cause problems in other areas, such as the approval of housing benefit subsidies, and so many will be keen to complete their accounts as soon as they can, even with the more relaxed legal deadline. Either way, resourcing accounts preparation and audits will be challenging this year.”