Your accounting reference date (often abbreviated as ‘ARD’) is the final day of your company’s financial year – and the date that your annual accounts must be made up to. It is automatically set by Companies House as the anniversary of the last day of the month of company incorporation.
In this post, we begin by clarifying what an accounting reference date is and why it is important. We then explain how to find the ARD for your company and what happens if you decide to shorten or lengthen your company’s financial year.
What is an accounting reference date?
An accounting reference date (ARD) is the end of a limited company’s financial year, which normally spans a period of 12 months. It is sometimes referred to as a company’s ‘year end’ or ‘financial year end’.
The ARD is the date that a company’s annual accounts should be ‘made up to’ – this means that the information contained within the accounts should cover the period up to and including the accounting reference date.
A company’s accounting reference date also determines the deadline for delivering annual accounts to Companies House. The filing deadline is 9 months after the company’s ARD.
Where do I find the accounting reference date for my company?
When you form a limited company, your accounting reference date will be automatically set as the anniversary of the last day of the month in which your company was incorporated. Therefore, it’s generally easy to work out.
Example 1: If you incorporate a company on 6 August 2023, your accounting reference date will be 31 August 2024.
Example 2: If you incorporate a company on 31 August 2023, your accounting reference date will be 31 August 2024.
Your ARD will be the same each and every year, unless you ask Companies House to shorten or lengthen your company’s financial year. Your accounting reference date (and thus the deadline for filing your accounts with Companies House) will then change as a direct result.
If you don’t know or have forgotten your company’s accounting reference date, you can find it in one of two ways – through Companies House service or 1st Formations Online Company Manager.
Companies House service
To find your accounting reference date via Companies House service, follow these steps:
- Visit Companies House service
- Enter your company name or registration number in the search box
- Click on the correct company name from the list
- In the ‘Overview’ tab, scroll down to the ‘Accounts’ section – your ARD will appear next to ‘First accounts made up to‘ or ‘Next accounts made up to’
1st Formations Online Company Manager
To find your accounting reference date through 1st Formations Online Company Manager, follow these steps:
- Log in to your Customer Dashboard (existing customers)
- Select ‘My Companies’
- Click on the company ID, company name, or ‘View’ icon
- Your ARD can be found in the ‘Company Accounts’ section
If you’re not an existing customer of 1st Formations, you can simply create a free account here and import your company to enjoy the benefits of our Online Company Manager facility. Thereafter, you can:
- manage your company online
- view and download your company formation documents
- view your company details, including your registration number and authentication code
- access filing dates and deadlines for your annual accounts and confirmation statement
- update directors’ details and company addresses – and report these changes to Companies House online
- change your company name
- file confirmation statements
- receive reminder alerts when a filing deadline is approaching
Through this facility, you can also purchase a range of professional company products and services from our online Shop, including our Registered Office Address Service, Confirmation Statement Service, Dormant Company Accounts, Business Telephone Services, and much more.
How long is a company’s financial year?
The financial year of a company is normally 12 months, but it can be longer or shorter than this.
In the first year after incorporation, your company’s financial year will:
- start on the day that your company is formed
- end on the accounting reference date
Unless your company is incorporated on the last day of the month, your first financial year will be slightly longer than 12 months.
After the first year, your company’s financial year will:
- start on the day after your accounting reference date
- end on the accounting reference date the following year
Example: If you incorporate a company on 6 August 2023, your accounting reference date will be 31 August 2024. So, your company’s financial year will be longer than 12 months.
In the next year, your financial year will run from 1 September 2024 (the day after the ARD) to 31 August 2025 (the ARD), which is exactly 12 months.
Going forward, your financial year and ARD will stay the same – unless you decide to shorten or extend your financial year at any point.
Changing your company’s ARD
If you want to make your company’s financial year shorter or longer than 12 months, you can apply to Companies House to change your accounting reference date.
To change your ARD, you must complete form AA01 and deliver it to Companies House. You can do this online via the WebFiling service (which is the best option), or you can complete the form on paper and send it by post.
Changes to your company’s financial year will affect your ARD and your deadline for filing annual accounts with Companies House. It may also affect your accounting period for Corporation Tax.
Rules on changing your ARD
You may shorten the financial year of your company as many times as you want. However, you can only lengthen it up to a maximum period of 18 months (or longer if the company is in administration) once every 5 years.
You may only lengthen the financial year of your company more than once every 5 years if:
- the company is in administration
- you want to align dates with a subsidiary or holding (parent) company
- you are granted special permission from Companies House
You can only make changes to your current financial year or the one immediately before. Furthermore, you cannot change your company’s financial year if your annual accounts are already overdue.
Why would I change my accounting reference date?
One of the reasons for changing your accounting reference date would be to align your company’s financial year with the tax year, which runs from 6 April to 5 April the following year.
Another common reason would be to align your financial year with your accounting period for Corporation Tax. You will find that these two periods of time differ if you don’t start trading on the day that your company is incorporated. This is because:
- your company’s financial year begins on the date of incorporation, but
- your company accounting period for Corporation Tax begins on the date that your company starts trading and becomes ‘active’ for Corporation Tax, which may or may not be the date of incorporation
With so many limited company filing dates to remember, it makes sense for some companies to bring their financial year in line with other significant dates – but it’s entirely optional, so only do what works best for you.
Do you have any questions?
We hope that this post has given you a clearer understanding of your limited company’s accounting reference date, including what it is and why it’s important, how to find the ARD for your company, and the steps you need to take if you want to shorten or lengthen your company’s financial year.
If you have any questions about this topic – or any other aspect of setting up and running a limited company – please contact us or leave a comment below.