UK limited companies are required to pay a flat rate of 19% Corporation Tax on the profits they make. Overseas companies with an office or branch in the UK also need to pay Corporation Tax, but only on profits generated from their UK activities. This business tax applies to income received from sales, investments, and chargeable gains from the sale of assets.
All companies generating taxable income in the UK must register with HMRC for Corporation Tax and file Company Tax Returns and accounts every year. Below, we explain how to do this – and what you need to do if your company is dormant.
Does my company have to pay Corporation Tax?
If your company is carrying on any kind of business activity or receiving any form of income, it is liable for Corporation Tax on all taxable profits. Business activities include:
- Buying and selling goods or services
- Leasing or buying property
- Selling assets
- Managing investments and receiving dividend payments
- Paying dividends
- Earning interest
- Paying employees, including directors
- Paying bank charges and fees
- Paying legal or accountancy fees
- Receiving income from any other source
If your company is not involved in any such activities, it will be classed as dormant (inactive) for Corporation Tax. In such instances, you must contact HMRC as soon as possible to report this dormant trading status.
How and when to register a company for Corporation Tax
Companies must register with HMRC for Corporation Tax no later than 3 months after starting any kind of business activity. To register your company as ‘active’ for Corporation Tax, you will need to sign up for HMRC’s online services by creating a Government Gateway user ID and password. You will then be asked to provide the following details:
- Company name
- Company registration number (CRN) – you can find this on your certificate of incorporation
- Unique Taxpayer Reference (UTR) – HMRC will send this to your registered office address shortly after company formation
- Start date of trading activity – this will determine your company’s accounting period for corporation tax, which is normally a 12-month period that correlates with the financial year in your annual accounts
- Main trading address where the majority of business activities are carried out
- Principal business activities carried out – a Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) code must be used to identify these activities
- Accounting reference date (ARD) – this is the date the annual accounts are made-up to, which usually falls on the anniversary of the last day of the month of company formation
When your registration is complete, HMRC will send information to your registered office. This will include the deadlines for paying Corporation Tax and filing a Company Tax Return and annual accounts.
Do I have to file a Company Tax Return?
If your company is ‘active’ for all or part of its Corporation Tax accounting period, you must prepare a Company Tax Return (form CT600) and annual accounts for HMRC. These must be delivered no later than 12 months after the end of the accounting period, even if you make a loss or have no Corporation Tax to pay.
Your company’s accounting period will begin on the day that it becomes active for Corporation tax, which may or may not be the day that it is incorporated at Companies House. Each accounting period will run for a maximum period of 12 months, ending on the accounting reference date (ARD) of your annual accounts.
If your company has been dormant from the date of incorporation or for the entire duration of its most recent Corporation Tax accounting period, you will not have to deliver a Company Tax Return or accounts to HMRC.
What is an accounting period for Corporation Tax?
An accounting period for Corporation Tax begins on the date a company starts trading. For most, this is the date of company formation, unless the company is dormant for a period of time after incorporation. An accounting period will end on the accounting reference date (ARD), which is the end of a company’s financial year and the date its annual accounts must be made up to.
The ARD should fall on the anniversary of the last day of the month in which the company was incorporated at Companies House.
Corporation Tax accounting periods are usually 12 months’ long and correspond with the financial year in the annual accounts. Accounting periods can be shorter than 12 months, but they cannot be longer than 12 months.
In the first year of trading, the financial year may be longer than 12 months if your company starts trading as soon as it is incorporated.
In such instances, you will have two accounting periods for the first year, which means that you’ll have to prepare two Company Tax Returns – one for the first 12 months in the annual accounts, and a second tax return for the additional period in the accounts.
You will be required to pay tax liabilities arising from any business activities carried out during each accounting period. You must record all financial activities and transactions in your company’s accounting records, which you will use to prepare a Company Tax Return and work out how much tax you need to pay.
A company is formed on 1st May 2020 and begins trading immediately:
- The financial year starts on 1st May 2020 and ends on 31st May 2021 (ARD). The first annual accounts will cover a 13-month period.
- The company will, therefore, have two accounting periods for Corporation Tax and be required to file two Company Tax Returns. One tax return will cover a 12-month period from 1st May 2020 to 30th April 2021. The second tax return will cover the additional month from 1st – 31st May 2021.
- Thereafter, the company’s accounting period should align with the financial year in the annual accounts, which will run from 1st June 2021 to the ARD (31st May 2022). The company will then file just one tax return for the 12-month period in the annual accounts.
Do dormant companies have to pay Corporation Tax and file tax returns?
Dormant companies do not have to pay any Corporation Tax, provided they have been dormant from the date of incorporation or for the entire duration of their most recent accounting period. If a dormant company receives or spends any money, or becomes involved in any kind of business activity, it will cease to be dormant.
Likewise, dormant companies do not have to file Company Tax Returns unless they are active for Corporation Tax purposes for part of an accounting period. If the company has not traded, the director must write to HMRC to advise that the company was dormant and does not need to file anything. HMRC will write back and confirm when the company should next expect to receive Corporation Tax information.
In such instances, HMRC will send a ‘Notice to deliver a Company Tax Return’ to the registered office. This must be completed for the period of activity prior to the company becoming dormant.
How and when to file Company Tax Returns
Tax returns must be delivered to HMRC online within 12 months of the end of each accounting period, even if your active company has no tax to pay. You can file tax returns using accounting software or HMRC’s online Corporation Tax service.
To use HMRC’s online services, you will need a Government Gateway user ID and password. You get these details when you register for Corporation Tax. To file your tax return, you must:
- Sign into your online HMRC account
- Upload the set of annual accounts that matches the accounting period in the tax return
- Include Corporation Tax calculations and supporting documentation to show how you reached the figures in the tax return from the figures in the accounts
- Include a completed Company Tax Return form CT600
The person submitting the return (usually a director or an appointed accountant or tax advisor) must include a declaration that all information is correct and has been completed to the best of their knowledge.
Please note: you must notify HMRC if you appoint someone to handle your tax affairs.
How and when to pay Corporation Tax
Corporation Tax must be paid electronically to HMRC before the corresponding tax return is due. The deadline for paying Corporation Tax is 9 months and 1 day after the end of each accounting period.
Corporation Tax late filing penalties
Directors are legally responsible for ensuring the company maintains all statutory filing obligations for HMRC.
Failure to meet these requirements and adhere to the imposed deadlines will normally result in a penalty. In severe cases, directors can be personally fined or prosecuted and a company may face compulsory closure if the situation remains unresolved.
Late filing of Company Tax Return
Failure to deliver a tax return and full accounts by the statutory filing deadline will result in a flat-rate penalty of £100 being imposed. A further penalty of £100 will be charged if the return is more than 3 months late.
If a company’s tax return is filed late for 3 or more consecutive accounting periods, the flat-rate penalty will rise to £500. An additional penalty of £500 will be applied if the return is then filed more than 3 months late.
Tax returns filed between 18-24 months late will incur a fine of 10% of the unpaid Corporation Tax liability. Returns that are outstanding for more than 24 months will face an additional 10% charge on the unpaid Corporation Tax liability.
Late payment of Corporation Tax
Penalties for the late payment of Corporation Tax are determined by the amount of outstanding tax. This is referred to as the ‘potential lost revenue’ or ‘PLR’, which varies from 30% to 100% of the unpaid tax liability. However, HMRC will take into consideration any ‘reasonable excuse’ that a company may have.