"A dog ate our accounts" and why you should avoid filing your charity annual return late

The Charity Commission has started naming and shaming groups who file their annual returns and accounts late. Don't be one of them!

If you’re a registered charity, then once a year, no later than 9 months after the end of your financial year, you need to file an annual return with the Charity Commission.

Why not be late with this? Well, anyone can look you up on the Charity Commission website and see if you have been filing your returns on time. If you’re in default, it will not look good – literally bright red. At best you’ll come across as badly run, at worst as a group with disregard for the institution of the charity. This in turn weakens public trust in you and could impact your fundraising, if you do any, or potential members’ decisions to join.

The Charity Commission has now published a list of the most feeble excuses for filing late, and although some are more obviously ridiculous than others ("'I don't have internet access' [sent by email]") 'I’m only a volunteer' is probably a common refrain…

Less amusingly, they have now also started publishing lists of charities in randomly picked areas which are in default with their returns. We don’t think Making Music members will wish to appear on such naming and shaming lists, so do be warned!

The biggest stumbling block is often presented by the accounts which you have to file, whatever your size, if you’re a Charitable Incorporated Organisation, or if your income is over £25,000 if you’re a registered charity (and not a CIO). Accounts often take longer than you think to put together, so it’s important to start as soon as your financial year ends and to schedule the AGM which needs to approve them and the trustees’ report in good time to make the filing deadline.

There is also the requirement to have your accounts independently examined if your annual income is £25,000 or over (full audit if over £1m income) or if your governing document specifically requires it, whatever your size. Members often struggle to find someone to do the independent examination. One solution is Treasurers of different groups examining each other’s accounts. If you don’t have any contacts with other local groups yourself, do get in touch and we will help you with that.

You can find you more about annual returns in and you responsibility as a trustee  in our Trustee Handbook. You can submit your annual return online as well as read the Charity Commission guidance.