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Annual accounts filing: Companies House pushes for digital delivery

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 27 Sep 2021

With the peak filing month of September drawing to a close, Companies House says more streamlined ways to file digitally, some of which were introduced during the pandemic, have boosted the proportion of annual accounts filed electronically and reiterates its call for companies to go digital.

New digital filing capabilities including a new filing service that allows users to digitally upload nearly 400 types of documents, are removing the dependency on paper forms and reducing the need for in-person contact. According to official figures, 88.4% of annual accounts sent to Companies House in the 2020/21 financial year were filed electronically, up from 84.9% in the previous year. For all documents filed with Companies House, there has been an overall increase in digital take-up from 88.4% in 2019/20 to 91.4% in 2020/21. 

Companies House says the benefits of online filing should encourage more companies to follow suit. In particular, it says filing electronically can help save companies time and money, avoids rejects due to inbuilt checks to help customers avoid mistakes and means they are less likely to receive a late filing penalty.

Despite the push to online filing, Companies House has continued to receive a high volume of paper forms and documents during the pandemic. They say they regularly monitor these volumes in order to maintain a balance between having enough people on site to complete essential work and keeping those numbers as low as possible, in line with government guidance for working safely during coronavirus.

Lisa Davis, Head of Regional Delivery & Registrar of Scotland, said during peak filing periods, it could take longer than usual to process paper documents sent by post. “Throughout the pandemic, we’ve tried to do all we can to maintain our services during this difficult time, but it’s been essential that we balance this with ensuring the safety and wellbeing of everyone who works for Companies House.”

It is the directors’ responsibility to file a company’s accounts and Companies House is warning that failing to deliver accounts on time could result in a criminal record, a fine and disqualification. If you are eligible you can apply for an extension to your filing deadline, however you must have applied for that extension before your filing deadline.

The automatic three-month filing extension deadline introduced during the pandemic has expired and private companies with 31 December year ends have until the end of this month to file with the register – or risk facing penalties.

Sally Baker, Technical Manager in ICAEW’s Financial Reporting Faculty, said: “The law imposes an automatic penalty where filing deadlines are not met. Although they can be appealed, the Registrar has limited discretion to not collect the penalty. Directors should also be aware that postal delays are not a reasonable excuse for filing late.” 

Members planning to file online for the first time should be aware that they require a Company Authentication Code to progress their online filing. It can take around five days for that to be sent out, so those planning to file close to their deadline should factor that into their planning, Baker urged. As a result of the pandemic, if a director is unable to access the company’s authentication code at the registered office address, there is currently a service available to choose to have the code sent to their home address instead.

Anyone needing to file accounts on paper should send them to Companies House well before the deadline to also allow for any corrections to be made if they are rejected. “We would advise companies to check their deadlines carefully and plan accordingly to ensure that they can be met,” Baker added.

The ongoing consultation on Companies House reform includes a proposal to make digital filing to Companies House mandatory. Companies House said as part of its strategy to support people through the transition to online filing and to encourage users to interact with the register digitally, it had developed online services to ensure they are accessible, easy to use and give a great user experience.

Companies can now apply to extend their filing deadline online, where it meets the criteria for doing so, making it easier to request more time to file accounts. If a company’s filing deadline has already passed, users can now pay or appeal a late filing penalty online. 

Meanwhile, since 1 April 2021, UK listed companies can file accounts using the UK single electronic format (UKSEF) taxonomy, paving the way for the register’s future ambition to become a fully digital organisation.

Existing services have also been enhanced to allow more users to file online; some documents can now be filed using the Find and update company information service, including abridged or full accounts and a change to a registered office. Future plans include adding filing for other types of accounts, confirmation statements, officer appointments and changes to the company details.

Davis said the register supports investment, informs decision making, enables business transactions and helps to hold directors to account. “We want to inspire trust and confidence in our register and data, and the accuracy of information on the register is vital.”

Useful links

Filing requirements for UK companies

Coronavirus and filing deadlines 

Small company filings options FAQs

Micro-entities filing options FAQs

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