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How we’re developing our digital services for company accounts

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Digital transformation

The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) has over 150,000 members and represents chartered accountants across England and Wales. We were invited to give a presentation to a small but influential group of accountants who had paid to attend a day full of seminars at their plush headquarters.

The challenge was to come up with a presentation that outlined the benefits of using our digital systems. It was a daunting task.

This was a perfect opportunity to try and win people over to the electronic world. But it was also a perfect opportunity for the audience to ask some very tough questions about our services. Thankfully, having our policy experts Mark and Alison onboard meant we had the skillset to cover all aspects of Companies House operations.

Carl Allen from Companies House standing outside the ICAEW headquarters.
My colleague Carl outside the ICAEW headquarters.

The benefits of digital

The day of the presentation arrives and within minutes, the room was full. There was literally standing room only.

Our presentation opened with the vision of our electronic services and our goal to become a fully digital organisation. XBRL or eXtensible Business Reporting Language is a freely available and global framework for exchanging business information. Concentrating on accounts, we explained the benefits of using services that utilised XBRL and the benefits this technology gives both those filing and searching the information.

We covered the main benefits of using our digital services, and the increased efficiency and accuracy these services could bring for customers.

By filing information electronically, users:

  • are less likely to get late filing penalties
  • get confirmation we’ve received their documents
  • find out if it has been accepted or rejected

It’s also quicker. Most of our online documents are processed within 24 hours. But documents sent by post might take a week or more to process – which means you might miss your deadline if your accounts are rejected and you have to resend them to us.

Making all accounts types available

Some of the accountants stated that users cannot file all accounts types electronically. But this is true for only a very small percentage of specialist accounts types, like group package accounts.

We have digitally enabled over 99% of accounts. This means most users could find an electronic service to send their annual accounts to us, either through third party software or using our web services.

Although most accounts can be filed electronically, some made the point that all accounts must be resubmitted on paper if they have to amend a mistake.

Companies House is looking at developing an electronic service for ‘amended’ accounts and some specialist accounts types, such as community interest companies (CICs). Accounts for CICs are slightly different from other company types, as they must file an additional form for the CIC regulator and pay a fee.

Our electronic take-up

Many of the accountants were interested in the current level of electronic take-up.

At the end of March 2018, we were hitting 78.9% take-up. But by promoting our digital services, our goal is to hit 87% of all accounts filed electronically.

This started a discussion on the continuing use of paper, and how there seemed to be a reluctance to switch to electronic filing. The conversation was friendly but quite animated at times – it was interesting to see people getting so passionate about accounts!

It seems that traditional accountancy practices gravitate towards paper wherever possible. And at this time, there’s still a lot of opportunity to file on paper. Our team emphasised the wish to make the switch to digital on a voluntary basis, working in collaboration with accountants to implement all the required changes.

Many accountants were keen to ask why Companies House does not allow accounts to be submitted as PDFs. They argued that as many of the accounts they submit are copies, there should not be an issue over the signing of accounts.

Although PDFs sometimes seem like an obvious solution to filing on paper, from a practical standpoint there are still many drawbacks. For those filing and searching, the information contained in the accounts would not utilise the vast functionality of XBRL, which helps to provide fast and accurate reporting of information.

Our software filing services

XBRL can benefit both the small filer as well as the big players.

With our software filing services we can accept and validate even the most complex submissions. But we’re also committed to providing a free web service using our Companies House service platform. This platform allows companies to file small unaudited accounts. We then create the XBRL behind the scenes, which then gives the companies the benefits of this technology.

It’s our belief that XBRL is the way forward with accounts. And as much of the world now uses the language for regulatory purposes, it’s important we go with the flow. Technology is moving forward, and accountants who are not utilising the potential of XBRL risk getting left behind.

A laptop screen showing the 'file your company's accounts' page.

Although our original slot was 20 minutes, my colleague Carl had done such an excellent job that the talk was still ongoing over an hour later. In fact, we overran our slot and had to vacate the room as conversations were continuing!

Hopefully, we’ve managed to persuade some of the audience that the electronic world is one the accountancy profession will want to be involved in.

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  1. Comment by John Harvey posted on

    Some years ago I had a problem with a charity's accounts when it set up a subsidiary as a mutual because, I believed, mutuals had , in practical terms, a far lower level of transparency.

    Are there any plans to set up mutuals so that they are subject to XBRI ?

    • Replies to John Harvey>

      Comment by Carl Palfrey posted on

      Hi John

      Thank you for your interest in the article.

      I am afraid that although mutuals do file their accounts at the FCA we currently do not accept these filings at Companies House. As the article states however, regarding any accounts submissions we do receive, we are keen to make people aware of the benefits of filing using iXBRL.


  2. Comment by John Harvey posted on

    And is anyone suggesting to FCA that they use the same technology as yourselves?

  3. Comment by Cecile Gillard posted on

    Charitable companies, as well as CICs, cannot use Companies House current 'webfiling' to file accounts and reports that fully comply with the reporting obligations they have (under company law and charity law, regulations and reporting standards - charities; under company and CIC law and regulations - CICs). Few are large enough to have their own iXBRL software (only 1 in 6 registered English charities have any paid staff at all) and few have accountants assisting them have it either.

    So charities and CICs are forced to paper file. Most would prefer to Webfile for speed, certainty of delivery and to reduce their environmental impact. PDF format would be much the easiest and simplest for them.

    It is essential Companies House upgrades its 'Webfiling' to allow easy online web-based filing of compliant accounts and reports by charities and CICs as soon as possible.

    A reply with a progress report on this would be much appreciated.

    • Replies to Cecile Gillard>

      Comment by Carl Palfrey posted on

      Hi Cecille

      Thank you very much for your interest in the article and your comments on our electronic services.

      We will soon be launching an initial release that will allow some CICs to file their accounts online. Keep an eye on our digital channels for more updates.


  4. Comment by Geoff Vevers posted on

    I strongly agree with Cecile's comments on charitable companies and web filing. The Charity Commission still allows PDF filing and so should companies house for all the reasons Cecile mentions. We cannot afford iXBRL software nor do we have staff with the time to learn how to use it. It seems very "limited" for Companies House to deny us the obvious solution of PDF filing. Paper filing involves an unnecessary cost charities have to fork out on limited budgets. Companies House could be more charitable to us! Please.

  5. Comment by Peter posted on

    LLPs have been waiting over a decade for small unauditted accounts to be made so that they can be electonically submitted via WebFiling, as it has been available to LTDs for many years.

    Any plans for this to happen in the near future?

    • Replies to Peter>

      Comment by Carl Palfrey posted on

      Hi Peter
      Thank you for your interest in our article.
      Although as you point out, LLPs are not currently able to use our web services, we have enabled LLP software submissions to allow users to submit iXBRL accounts.
      As an organisation we are always seeking to expand our web services but we currently have no information about any plans to extend this service.