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Preparing company accounts for your limited company is a legal requirement, but it can seem like a daunting task. Here’s an overview of what you need to do.
Company accounts include full (statutory) annual accounts and your company tax return. Statutory accounts are annual financial records prepared at the end of your company’s financial year and sent to shareholders, Companies House, and HMRC as part of your tax return.
All limited companies must file their company accounts each year, although small businesses can send simpler accounts than their bigger counterparts.
Please use this article as a guide only and get professional advice before preparing your accounts. You can check the government’s company accounts guidance and speak to an accountant.
Every company needs to send a copy of its accounts for each financial year to every member of the company and file their accounts at Companies House. The accounts you file with Companies House are publicly available.
Normally, the time allowed for delivering accounts to Companies House for a private company is nine months from your accounting reference date (ARD). Your ARD refers to the end of your financial year.
When you form your company, your financial year starts on the day of incorporation and your first accounting reference date will be a year later, on the last day of the month you incorporated. Your ARD will then be on this date every year. For example, if you incorporated your company on the 6 July 2018, your first ARD will be on the 31 July 2019, and then 31 July every year.
As you deliver company accounts nine months after your ARD, this means your first company accounts aren’t due until 21 months after the date you registered with Companies House (your first financial year, plus nine months).
There are penalties for filing your report late, ranging from £150 for filing under a month late, to £1,500 for filing more than six months late.
File first accounts with Companies House
21 months after registering with Companies House
File annual accounts
Nine months after the end of your company’s financial year
Pay corporation tax (or tell HMRC you don’t owe any)
Nine months and one day after the end of your company’s accounting period for corporation tax
File company tax return
12 months after the end of your company’s accounting period for corporation tax
You use your company accounts and company tax return to work out how much corporation tax to pay, but confusingly, corporation tax is due before your company tax return.
Statutory accounts include a:
Depending on the size of your business, you may also have to include a director’s report and an auditor’s report.
But if the government counts your business as a small company or a micro-entity, you may be able to send simpler ‘abridged’ accounts to Companies House and not need to be audited.
Your company counts as small if it has at least two of the following:
It counts as a micro-entity if it has at least two of the following:
Small businesses and micro-entities can use an exemption so that their accounts don’t need to be audited, and can choose whether to send a copy of the director’s report and profit and loss account. The balance sheet can be simpler.
Micro-entities can prepare simpler accounts that just meet statutory minimum requirements, and send only their balance sheet to Companies House.
Statutory accounts need to meet accounting standards, either:
There’s lots of accounting software available, which you can use to prepare and file your annual accounts.
Or, if you’re a small company or a micro-entity, you may be able to use the Company Accounts and Tax Online (CATO) service, which allows you to submit your accounts data to both Companies House and HMRC at once.
You can also do your company accounts on paper and send them to Companies House in the post, but HMRC says paper accounts take a long time to process.
When it comes to the company tax return, you have to file online. You can only use the paper form CT600 if you have a reasonable excuse for not being able to file online, or you want to file in Welsh.
You can choose to do your own accounting for your limited company, including preparing and filing your annual accounts.
However, most limited companies hire an accountant to manage their finances. A limited company’s structure and obligations are more complex than sole proprietorships, meaning it can be difficult to do everything yourself. There are severe penalties if you make a mistake.
Accountants are experts in business finance – if you hire a good accountant they'll be able to take a lot of the stress out of filing your accounts with HMRC and Companies House. They can help you meet all of the legal requirements and avoid any penalties, ensuring company accounts meet accounting standards.
However, it’s important to understand that even if you use an accountant, company directors are still the ones who are legally responsible for making sure accounts are accurate.
Your accountant or your accounting software will usually help you to format your annual accounts properly and to include all the necessary information. As we’ve said, what you need to include in your accounts will depend partly on the size of your business.
If you want to double check the required format and content for your statutory accounts, you can look at the relevant regulations, which can be found on the government’s legislation website. Accounts must comply with UK accounting standards.
There are some limited company accounts templates and examples online, including on the Sage website.
Be careful about using online templates, as they might not meet the right standards for company accounts. Check with a professional if you’re not sure about anything.
What are your biggest struggles when it comes to filing your annual accounts? Tell us in the comments.
Zach Hayward-Jones is a Copywriter at Simply Business, with six years of writing experience across entertainment, insurance, and financial services. Zach specialises in covering small business and landlord insurance. He has a particular interest in issues impacting the hospitality industry after spending a number of years working as a pastry chef.
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