The timely filing of accounts and other documents at Companies House is an important statutory obligation of all company directors.
Every UK company must each year file at Companies House: 1) the company’s accounts and 2) a confirmation statement confirming that the company has updated Companies House about any notifiable changes in the company, such as resignations or appointments of directors and changes in the company’s ownership.
The late filing of accounts attracts an automatic penalty of £150 for a private company although there is no such penalty for the late filing of a confirmation statement.
Directors are warned that late filings are an offence and that the company may be struck off the register if the late accounts or confirmation statement are not filed on time. However, although the late filing of accounts and confirmation statements can lead to a prosecution in the criminal courts with a maximum fine of up to £5,000, in the past, actual prosecutions were relatively rare.
However, it is clear that in recent years that position has changed. In 2014, Companies House successfully prosecuted 3,360 directors for late filing offences in addition to collecting £81 million in late filing penalties.
At VWV, our experience supports the statistics and indicates that Companies House are indeed hardening their approach to late filings not only by issuing late filing penalties payable by the company but also pursuing prosecutions against directors resulting in personal fines.
Such prosecutions are generally difficult to defend because the offences are almost strict liability offences. It is only in exceptional circumstances that a successful defence can be made and often the most appropriate response is to admit the offence but submit a plea in mitigation, so as to try and minimise the level of fine as much as possible.
The Companies House website provides comprehensive information regarding the dates that filings are due in respect of all UK companies. For directors, it is important (and indeed is a statutory obligation) that they are aware of the required statutory deadlines to ensure that the company fulfils its filing obligations.
The key message is to plan well ahead.
Jos Moule is a partner at award-winning regional law firm VWV. Jos can be contacted on 0117 314 5650 or at firstname.lastname@example.org for further information about filing requirements and VWV’s company secretary service.