What is a Company’s Accounting Reference Date and How Does It Affect Your Business?

Your accounting reference date (ARD) is the final day of your financial period (i.e. your year-end) and marks the date when your company’s annual accounts should be made up to. It is important to know your company’s ARD and the implications of this date when it comes to preparing and filing your accounts. In this guide, we will explain the purpose of an ARD, where you can find your ARD, and how to change your ARD.

Accounting reference periods and accounting reference dates

Under the Company Act 2006 (the ‘Act’), all companies are required to produce accounts for each financial year. Your company’s financial year or accounting reference period (ARP) runs from the date that your company was incorporated to the accounting reference date (ARD). Your company’s ARD is 12 months after the last day of the month of incorporation.

Example:

If your company was incorporated on 8th August 2022, the ARD will be on 31st August 2023. You will notice that this means the first accounting reference period may be more than 12 months.

Continuing this example, the ARP for your company’s second financial year will run from 1st September 2023 to 31st August 2024.

It is only the first year that may have a financial year that exceeds 12 months. All subsequent years have a duration of exactly 12 months, and your ARD will remain the same each year. It is, however, possible to change the ARD if necessary, as we will discuss below.

Where can I find my company’s accounting reference date?

Your accounting reference date is determined by Companies House when you first register your company. As part of the company registration process, they will confirm your ARD by email. It is useful to keep this email for future reference. If you cannot find your ARD, unless it has been changed, you can calculate it yourself by adding 12 months to the last day of the month in which your company was incorporated.

Another way to find your ARD is to search for your company details on the Companies House website. To do this, you simply need to search for your company and refer to the ‘Next accounts made up to’ date. This can be found under the accounts section of the overview page.

If your company was incorporated by Uniwide Formations, we can provide details of your accounting reference period and accounting reference date.

What do I need to do at the end of the financial year?

At the end of your company’s financial year, you will need to prepare your annual accounts and file these with Companies House. Your annual accounts provide details of your company’s profit and loss and the amount of tax payable. Accounts are prepared for the whole financial year, up to and including your accounting reference date. There is some flexibility, however, as your company can make its accounts up to 7 days of its accounting reference date (on either side).

Once your annual accounts have been prepared, they must then be submitted to Companies House by the deadline provided. This deadline will depend on the type of company and whether you are filing your first or subsequent accounts, as follows:

Deadline for filing first accounts (for a financial year or 12 months or more)

  • Private company/Limited Liability Partnership: 21 months
  • Public Limited Company: 18 months

Deadline for filing subsequent annual accounts 

  • Private company/Limited Liability Partnership: 9 months
  • Public Limited Company: 6 months

Example:

If your private company was incorporated on 7th January 2022, the accounting reference date would be 31st January 2023, and the last date for filing your annual accounts will be 7th October 2023. 

If you filed your last annual accounts with Companies House on 31st January 2022, your new period will run from 1st February 2022 to 31st January 2023, and your next deadline for filing will be 31st October 2023.

Note: when it comes to filing your accounts with HMRC (i.e. your Company Tax Return), your deadline may differ from your Companies House filing deadline (see below for more details).

What are the Annual Filing Requirements for a Company?

Can I change my company’s accounting reference date?

In certain circumstances, it may be necessary to change your accounting reference date. This may be necessary, for example, to bring your financial year into line with another branch or subsidiary of your business. Thankfully, Companies House enable companies to shorten or lengthen their accounting reference period from the standard 12 months. There are certain rules that you must meet before you can change your company’s ARD:

  • Your current annual accounts must not be overdue, and
  • You can only change your company’s ARD for its current financial year or the one immediately prior. 

If you plan to lengthen your company’s financial year, it is important to be aware that you can only do so up to a maximum period of 18 months (this may be longer if your company is in administration). In addition, you can only lengthen your company’s financial year once every 5 years. It may, however, be possible to lengthen your company’s financial year end more frequently if:

  • Your company is in administration
  • You need to make the change to bring your company’s accounting reference period in line with a subsidiary or parent company, or
  • You have been given special permission by Companies House.  

If you plan to shorten your company’s financial year, there are no restrictions on how many times you can do so. It is even possible to shorten your financial year by a single day. Do bear in mind, however, that your first set of accounts must be for a minimum period of 6 months. 

How can I change my company’s accounting reference date?

Changing your company’s accounting reference date is relatively straightforward and can be completed using the Companies House WebFiling service or by post (form AA01). When requesting a change of ARD, you will need to provide Companies House with details of:

  • Your company number and name
  • Your current account reference period
  • Your new account reference date (whether shortened or extended)
  • Why you are extending your ARD more than once in five years (if applicable) – i.e. administration, permission from the Secretary of State, aligning with a parent or subsidiary company, or if you are submitting the request for an overseas company 
  • The authorised signature of a company Director, Secretary, Person authorised, Permanent representative on behalf of an overseas company, Administrator, Administrative receiver, Receiver, Receiver manager, Charity Commission receiver and manager, CIC manager, or another authorised person.

Before completing the online WebFiling process to change your ARD, you will need to hand:

  • The email address and password that you provided when you signed up for the Companies House online service, and
  • The authentication code provided by Companies House when you signed up 

It is important to note that your new ARD will not take immediate effect once you submit the request. The change will be made once it has been received, processed, and authorised by Companies House.

You can also use the WebFiling service to make other changes to your limited company, including changing your:

  • Directors and company secretaries
  • Company name
  • Registered office address
  • ‘People with significant control’ (PSC) 
  • Company’s share structure
  • Company’s mortgages (i.e. new mortgages or mortgages paid off)

Is my Companies House financial year the same as my corporation tax accounting period?

Not necessarily. Very often, the Companies House financial year and the HMRC accounting period are different. Your Companies House financial year is determined by when your company was incorporated. Your HMRC corporation tax accounting period, on the other hand, is determined by when your company started operating. If you started operating your business on the same day it was incorporated, then the financial year and accounting period will be the same. 

Remember, you must inform HMRC that your company has become active within 3 months of doing so by registering for Corporation Tax. Based on the information provided to HMRC, they will write to you to confirm the start date of your corporate tax accounting period. This will end on your company’s Accounting Reference Date. Your annual accounts will then be used to calculate your company’s corporation tax.

Final words

Knowing your company’s Accounting Reference Date will ensure that you meet your filing obligations within the required deadlines. Late filing can result in fines of up to £1,500 for private companies (and much more for public entities). And failure to file may result in criminal sanctions against directors or LLP-designated members. For this reason, it is always advisable to make a note of your ARD and place a reminder in your calendar each year to ensure your filings are completed on time.

At Uniwide Formations, we understand the importance of keeping on top of your annual filing obligations for Companies House and HMRC. This is why we have partnered with a trusted specialist accountancy service that can handle your accounting matters for a reasonable monthly fixed fee, including preparing and submitting your annual accounts and Corporation Tax Returns.

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