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A guide to accounting reference dates and periods

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A question that we’re often asked is, “What date should my accounts be made up to?” It’s a very important question, as a company sending its accounts to us late will get an automatic fine.

In this post I’ll explain the basics for you and include some examples that I hope will help you gain insight into the process. However, this is only a summary, so for further advice you should always refer to our guidance for limited companies partnerships and other company types. And, remember, you can check your accounting reference period and filing date by using the Companies House service.

Every company must prepare accounts that report on the performance and activities of the company during the financial year. The financial year starts on the day after the previous financial year ended or, in the case of a new company, on the day of incorporation. Financial years are determined by reference to an Accounting Reference Period (ARPs). The financial period ends on the accounting reference date.

For all new companies, the first accounting reference date is set as the last day in the month in which its first anniversary falls. The subsequent accounting reference dates will automatically be on the same date each year. A company may make its accounts up to 7 days either side of their accounting reference date.

Here is an example:

Company incorporated  First accounting reference date
7 January 2015 31 January 2016
23 June 2015 30 June 2016
1 December 2015 31 December 2016

It’s very easy to change the accounting reference period, by using the appropriate online form. You can change the current or previous accounting period and there is no limit to shortening, but you can only extend once in five years (except in certain circumstances, see chapter 2 Life of a company: annual requirements).

The form must be received within the delivery time of the accounting period if you wish to change the date and you cannot change it if the accounts are already overdue.

Delivery times for filing accounts – this table should help you:

 Deadline for first accounts (if covering a period of 12 months or more)
Private company/Limited Liability Partnership 21 months*
Public Limited Company 18 months*
 Normal deadline (after your first year)
Private company/Limited Liability Partnership 9 months*
Public Limited Company 6 months*
*or 3 months from the accounting reference date (ARD), whichever is longer.

Here's an example of filing dates:

 Filing times
Accounting Reference Date Last date for filing
4  March 2015 4 December 2015
30  April 2015 31 January 2016

For a new company:

Private company incorporated 7 January 2015
Accounting Reference Date 31 January 2016
Accounting Reference Period of first accounts 7 January 2015 to 31 January 2016
Last date for filing 7 October 2016

Here's another example for you:

Accounting Reference Date 31 January 2015
Last accounts filed 31 January 2015
Accounting Reference Period of accounts 1 February 2015 to 31 January 2016
Last date for filing 31 October 2016

We always recommend that you send accounts to us well within the filing times. Please remember: if you’re not sure you can always get in touch with us. I hope you’ve found this blog useful.

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