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What Is an Accounting Reference Date?

What Is an Accounting Reference Date?

Processing important documents to deadlines is a familiar pressure endured by most business owners. Whether you’re finalising your business address or submitting a business plan for investors, keeping track of key dates is paramount — and the accounting reference date (ARD) is one date you with which you must swiftly familiarise yourself.

Accounting Reference Date Explained

The accounting reference date reflects the end of the company’s financial year (typically a 12-month period). Companies are allocated an accounting reference date once they complete registration with Companies House.

A company’s maiden accounting reference date will be the anniversary of the last day of the month in which the company was incorporated. For instance:

  • You register a company on 1st July 2020 – your first accounting reference date will be July 31st 2021.
  • Annual accounts must be set to this accounting reference date and should be filed at Companies House no later than 9 months after the accounting reference date.

At the end of each fiscal year, you must:

  • Prepare comprehensive (statutory) annual accounts
  • Send a copy to all company shareholders
  • Provide a copy of the accounts to Companies House
  • Provide a copy of the accounts to HMRC  as part of your Company Tax Return

Can You Change an Accounting Reference Date?

A company’s accounting reference date may be amended at any point before the submission deadline. However, the accounting reference date cannot be changed if there are overdue accounts on the company books (unless the company is in administration).

You can reduce your 12-month financial year as often as you require and by any number of months. However, it is only once every five years and up to 18 months from your incorporation date or previous accounting reference date that a financial year may be lengthened.

For any changes to the accounting reference date to occur, the company director must complete Form AA01, which takes only a few minutes to complete. You’ll need to provide the following details:

  • Your company’s number
  • Your full company’s name
  • Date of accounting reference period (this is the present or immediately previous accounting period for which your annual accounts are not yet overdue)
  • Your new accounting reference date
  • Signatures of company director, company secretary, or any other authorised individual

Unless you decide to make other amendments to your financial year, the new accounting reference date will be the date to which all subsequent annual accounts will be made.

Who Should Be Notified When Changing Your Company’s Accounting Reference Date?

Any changes made to an accounting reference date must be reported to HMRC as you may otherwise risk implications to your corporation tax accounting dates. Accounting periods may be 12 months or fewer, but unlike the financial year, the accounting period must not exceed 12 months.

If your financial year exceeds 12 months, two Company Tax Returns have to be filed — one for the initial 12 months, and another for the surplus period.

Defining a Financial Year?

A financial year is traditionally 12-month period for which annual accounts are prepared. Your company’s financial year begins on the day after the last financial year ended, or on the day of incorporation for those who have just set up a company.

Completing Your Own Annual Accounts

Since limited companies are more likely to have an abundance of accounting needs, it may be comparatively easier for sole traders to complete their own accounts. Limited company annual accounts must adhere to strict accounting regulations set by the Financial Reporting Council (FRC).

Company directors have the responsibility to maintain accurate annual accounts records and prompt filing of any relevant documents with Companies House and HMRC.

If you do require the service of a professional accountant, you must have the following information to hand:

  • Receipts and invoices for all purchased/sold goods and services.
  • Utility bills.
  • Bank account statements.
  • Credit card statements.
  • Loan agreements.
  • Cheque book stubs.
  • Cash books and petty cash books.
  • Payroll documentation.
  • Dividend vouchers.
  • Details of any finances owed to the company, or owed by the company.
  • General expenses.
  • Investment details.
  • VAT records.
  • Stock records held by the company at the end of the financial year.

Auditing Limited Company Annual Accounts

Many small to medium-sized companies will not require an audit, unless the articles of association explicitly declare that an audit has to be carried out and shareholders who own at least 10% of issued shares make a request.

Audits are expensive and can take up a lot of time as they involve a thorough stock take and analyses of all your financial documentation. Audits must also be practised by independent accountants who are authorised to act as auditors.

Conversely, audits may be quite advantageous as they permit you to review your financial status, therefore reassuring lenders and investors of your company’s viability and prospective profitability.


It’s important to take of note your accounting reference date so that you can prepare any necessary documents in a timely manner. If you do wish to change your accounting reference date, it’s worth remembering that most changes implemented online are registered in public records within just a couple of hours, so you needn’t hesitate if you do wish to make the change.

If you need more information about your accounting reference date and assistance with registering a business address, contact Your Virtual Office London, today.

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