Got an April year-end? Your filing deadline is 31 January. If you are thinking about online filing with Companies House read this first.

It's a risk
Staff at Companies House (and their old penalties guidance) confirm that it is "risky" to use online filing close to the deadline. 

Why? It can be difficult to get through by phone and there is no phonecover at weekends. Busy periods appear to be mornings and weekday afternoons. This is one aspect of the risk, the other is that Companies House online filing does not always work as expected.

The latest guidance on the Companies House website says that it is "safe and secure" to file online, however, do not be fooled! Even the Adjudicator confirms it is risky. The new penalties guidance indicates that if you are aware that you have run into online filing difficulties you need to phone up Companies House. If you are not aware that you have a problem or you cannot get through by phone, then email them. 

Read some of the postings below and you will soon understand that the problems do not seem to be the fault of the users.

Design faults
The fundamental issue with Companies House online systems seem to be that they are badly designed, Dennis Howlett explains in UK Companies House: an end users nightmare

If in doubt
If you are filing abbreviated accounts close to a deadline, then you may not wish to risk using the Companies House abbreviated accounts template. It is generally quicker to type a set of accounts in Word or Excel, and the template does not always work as it should. If it gets locked up or goes blank you will lose your data and have to restart. It may display messages to warn you when servers are busy, but not always.  Our quick guide to known bugs summarises some of the problems below but we do not know what causes them (neither do Companies House, it seems).

Send in your accounts by recorded delivery instead of electonically.

If filing online using Companies House templates do not try and file online at weekends as is seems to be difficult to get through. Additionally, Companies House staff say that if you file online you should phone up to confirm that the accounts have gone in.

User experiences:

Latest: from validation errors to locking up, the on-going saga of the abbreviated accounts template

Companies House - 'lost' accounts
Another report of accounts lost in onling filing system

Fine: submission failed, no reminder received

Problem with online filing at Companies House

Abbreviated accounts problems: "I've tried it for 4 different clients over the past few days on 3 different computers - all same error. Anyone else getting  this error?"

UK Companies House: an end users' nightmare By Denis

Webfiling problems

Server problems

Poor service from Companies House

Companies House incompetence

Companies House slow

Avoiding companies house fines

Declining standards

Companies House Direct

Companies House making things less efficient

Am I over pedantic?

Companies House efiling delays?

Companies House failure

Companies House becoming the new HMRC

And now Companies House are joining in

Companies House - Lost Correspondence

Companies House confesses to losing accounts

Notice of Prosecution by Companies House

Filing abbreviated accounts to Companies House original problems with templates started back in 2007

Accounts layout for filing online?

Companies House Accounts Filing

Onling filing: a small voice

How do you get compensation from Companies House for wasting your time?

New wording - notes about format not accepting brackets

Webfiling new guide (08/10/2009)


IXBRL 0 the rot

More madness with online

The cricket club

Penalties for late filing

Penalities are charged on an "all or nothing basis", Companies House is indifferent to the concept of proportionality almost everyone is charged "all".

  • If you make an innocent error you meet the same sanction as some who has deliberately flaunted the rules.
  • If Companies House online filing system is responsible for your error it is your fault too. The policy is that no appeal is allowed in respect of webfiling and the Companies House Adjudicator, (who is not independent as it turns out) does not investigate late filing appeals in respect of webfiling. The situation is unlikely to improve because appeals against late filing are on the increase.

  • Appeals background information

    The Regulatory Enforcement and Sanctions Act 2008 applies to Companies House. The Act contains a number of safeguards designed to ensure that the civil sanctions powers are used fairly and properly by regulators on whom the powers have been conferred, for instance:
  • Regulators must exercise the power in accordance with the better regulation principles, namely the exercise of the power must be proportionate, transparent, consistent, accountable and targeted.
  • The exercise of each of the powers is subject to a right of appeal.
  • Regulators granted the power to impose a civil sanction must publish guidance about its use of the sanction and revise the guidance where appropriate. Further, it must have regard to the guidance or revised guidance in exercising its functions.

’s principles of regulatory enforcement

• Regulators, and the regulatory system as a whole, should use comprehensive risk assessment to concentrate resources on the areas that need them most;

• Regulators should be accountable for the efficiency and effectiveness of their activities, while remaining independent in the decisions they take;

• All regulations should be written so that they are easily understood, easily implemented, and easily enforced, and all interested parties should be consulted when they are being drafted;

• No inspection should take place without a reason;

• Businesses should not have to give unnecessary information, nor give the same piece of information twice;

• The few businesses that persistently break regulations should be identified quickly, and face proportionate and meaningful sanctions;

• Regulators should provide authoritative, accessible advice easily and cheaply;

• When new policies are being developed, explicit consideration should be given to how they can be enforced using existing systems and data to minimise the administrative

burden imposed;

• Regulators should be of the right size and scope, and no new regulator should be created where an existing one can do the work; and

• Regulators should recognise that a key element of their activity will be to allow, or even encourage, economic progress and only to intervene when there is a clear case for protection.

Appeal against late filing - extract from Companies House guidance

What is exceptional?
"The Registrar has very limited discretion not to collect a penalty. It may be applied when an unforeseen catastrophe strikes a company at a critical time. This might include, for example, a personal tragedy affecting a sole director immediately before a filing deadline or a fire destroying records a few days before the time allowed runs out. The Registrar may also apply discretion if a mistake by Companies House has contributed to the late filing.

The limited nature of the Registrar's discretion underwent a Judicial Review in 2002. To see a full copy of the ruling please click on the attached link, The Queen upon the application of (1) POW Trust and (2) Al's Bar and Restaurant v (1) The Chief Executive and Registrar of Companies and (2) The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (December 2002)."

This case seems to have now been removed. There is little guidance as to the breadth of the Registrar's discretion.

Selcted extracts from the BIS report


The penalty regime was revised in February 2009 to increase penalties, shorten penalty bands, and impose double penalties on repeat offenders. Proportional application of these powers is provided by limited discretion to not collect penalties within a tight framework following judicial review, and treating minor offences, such as stationary or website contraventions, as educational opportunities rather than to punish directors.


Companies House is less transparent in terms of some aspects of its enforcement and sanctions regime. Its penalties and the way in which they apply them is transparent but there is uncertainty in terms of when, and under what conditions, Companies House will pursue legal action.

Lack of transparency in this area is understandable because Companies House is not responsible for most aspects of legal routes and full disclosure of processes and conditions may benefit non-compliant companies.

Companies House was requested to make disclaimers about accuracy more prominent on their website. To date, the website site has a ‘disclaimer’ section but it is unlikely that users would read this section of the site and this information should be more prominently displayed on the site.

Companies House is aware that the market knows that its appetite to take companies to court is low and Companies House itself states that its interest is primarily in ensuring that the register is updated, rather than in penalising or prosecuting businesses. This means that a small proportion of companies and directors will pursue non-compliant behaviours.

However, instances are not widespread and Companies House is generally thought to have got the balance right when weighing the public interest in pursuing legal action.

Late filing manuals
These have all been updated following the introduction of the Companies Act 2006

Older late filing appeals manual

New late filing appeals manual