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Accounting reference dates

1. What is a financial year?

A financial year is usually a 12 month period for which you prepare accounts. Every company must prepare accounts that report on the performance and activities of the company during the financial year. This 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.

The accounting reference period ends on the accounting reference date or a date up to seven days either side of it, if this is more convenient.

2. How is the accounting reference date determined?

For all new companies, the legislation sets the first accounting reference date as the first anniversary of the last day in the month in which the company was incorporated. The subsequent accounting reference dates will automatically be on the same date each year. For example, if the company was incorporated on 6 April 2008 its first accounting reference date would be 30 April 2009 and 30 April for every year thereafter.

3. Can I change the accounting reference date?

Yes, you can change the current or the immediately previous accounting reference period so as to extend or shorten the period. To do this you must notify Companies House of a change of accounting reference date - AA01. You must submit an acceptable change of accounting reference date before the filing deadline of the accounts for the period that you wish to change. In other words, if accounts for a particular accounting reference period become overdue, it is too late to change the accounting reference date.

You can do this via our Software Filing or WebFiling services or by sending the relevant paper forms to Companies House.

Private companies have 9 months and public companies 6 months to submit their accounts to Companies House after the end of each accounting reference period. The period allowed for submitting a company's first accounts and for changing its accounting reference date is different and we explain this in Chapter 5

4. Are there any restrictions on changing the accounting reference date?

You may change an accounting reference date by shortening an accounting reference period as often as you like and by as many months as you like.

However, there are restrictions on extending accounting reference periods:

You may not extend a period so that it lasts more than 18 months from the start date of the accounting period, unless the company is in administration;
You may not extend more than once in 5 years unless:
- the company is in administration;
- the Secretary of State has approved this; or
- the company is aligning its accounting reference date with that of a subsidiary or parent undertaking under the law of the UK or another state in the European Economic Area (EEA).

5. Are there any extra restrictions when changing a company’s first Accounting Reference Date?

No. The restrictions for changing any period are the same as those described in question 4 above.

You should note that when you extend your first accounting period to the maximum 18 months, you must count the date of incorporation as the first day of the period. Many companies make the mistake of simply adding 6 months to the end of the period, which can in some cases extend the period beyond 18 months.