Companies House filings and COVID-19
For many companies, dealing with Companies House filings will not be an immediate priority in the wake of navigating the impact of COVID-19.
However, there is currently no general relief from having to file documents as required by law, and the timeframes for doing so have not been automatically extended, so companies should be mindful on how COVID-19 might impact their ability to file documents.
Where a company is experiencing issues caused by COVID-19 that will impede its ability to file accounts within the deadline, the company has the option to apply to Companies House for an automatic and immediate three-month extension to the filing deadline. This extension is only available if applied for in advance of the date the accounts are due to be filed, so should be prioritised, as late filing fees will automatically apply otherwise. There is limited discretion for the Registrar to waive these fees, and there is no guarantee that late filing following as a result of COVID-19 will result in fees being successfully appealed.
Companies House has acknowledged the difficulty of filing documents given the current situation and, at the time of writing, Companies House published changes to both its strike-off policy and late filing penalties. For a temporary period Companies House have announced they will:
- ease strike off activity;
- treat late filing penalty appeals sympathetically - if the late delivery of accounts was caused by the coronavirus outbreak;
- provide a break for companies to pay late filing penalties; and
- provide additional support with payment plans for late filing penalties.
It is not clear from points 3 and 4 whether a company will be given a break or additional support for late filing penalties or indeed in what situation either might apply, therefore important that where possible companies continue to make every effort to file documents within their filing time frames.
Voluntary strike off applications are often the easiest and cheapest option for tidying up a corporate group, for example where dormant companies are no longer required. In respect of the easing of strike off activity, Companies House has announced that where applications for voluntary strike off are made Companies House will register the application and publish a notice in the Gazette in the usual way, however they will suspend any further action to strike off and dissolve the company in order to protect creditors and other interested parties who may object to the strike off. It is not clear how long this measure will be in place however Companies House has stated that it is a temporary measure which will be reviewed from 1 May 2020 with guidance published on their website following the review. In circumstances where a strike off is made by the Registrar rather than a voluntary strike of application by the company, Companies House will continue to write to companies if either their annual accounts and/or confirmation statement are overdue however they will not publish a notice in the Gazette in order to assist companies with bringing their filings up to date.
Companies House is experiencing significant delays processing paper forms, so companies should consider electronic filing. Where a document must be filed by a certain date, there is a risk that if a paper form has to be returned, by the time it is re-submitted, the time for filing may have passed (which can have significant impact if, for example, the form was registering a new charge). By registering for the Companies House webfiling service, many forms can be filed electronically and are often processed and available on the register within hours. Companies House is actively looking to increase the number of forms that can be filed in this way. Please note that registering for webfiling takes a short period of time, as the log-in details must be posted to the company's registered office to prevent fraudulent filings, so it is worth applying for in advance, if not already obtained.
Finally, all same-day services are currently suspended, so this service should not be relied upon to deal with any last-minute filings.
This is a difficult time for all companies, but with a little forward planning steps can be taken to ensure that filing Companies House documents do not become a problem that later results in a need to divert precious management time.
If you would like more information on the Companies House filing requirements or applying for a filing deadline extension, please contact Rebecca Burford or Edward Robinson at Charles Russell Speechlys.