The GOS is secretary and treasurer of a small local charity. We are set up as a “company limited by guarantee”, which means that every year we must jump through a number of hoops involving Companies House, the Charity Commissioners and HMRC – and surprisingly it is the Revenue who are by far the easiest to deal with, helpful and pleasant whenever you contact them, and prompt to act when action is required. Unfortunately the same is not true of Companies House or the Charity Commissioners.
One particular hoop to be negotiated is the filing of annual accounts with Companies House. The deadline is 31st December, and last year the GOS was a little dilatory, missed the deadline and had to pay an automatic fine of £150.
This year he was determined not to fall into the same trap, so the accounts were prepared by a professional accountant in good time. They were “signed off” by the Chairman at a board meeting at the beginning of December, were examined as the rules require by another accountant, and were posted to Companies House a good ten days before the deadline.
On 23rd December they arrived back in the post, with an unsigned form letter saying that they were unacceptable because the Balance Sheet didn't include the signature and printed name of the person signing off on behalf of the trustees.
Sudden consternation in the Grumpy household, because there at the bottom of the Balance Sheet were the signatures and printed names of not one but two trustees – the entire Board had watched them sign at the meeting. The GOS penned a hasty reply, put them all into an envelope and posted them first class recorded delivery on Christmas Eve.
At the time of writing, they have not arrived and been signed for at Companies House. If they don't arrive tomorrow (31st December) the charity faces another fine of £150, and as this will be the second time that penalty will be doubled - £300 a small charity can hardly afford.
You can't help thinking that Companies House have come up with an elegant way of extracting extra income from the sector that can, and should, least afford it, and that is run by amateurs who are most likely to be confused by the complexities of the system.
You don't allow companies limited by guarantee to file accounts online and force them to use the postal system, and you set the deadline at the time of year when the Post Office is at its least efficient in order to be certain that submissions will be delayed.
And then you make doubly sure that deadlines are missed by refusing to accept the accounts on some made-up pretext. If anyone objects, it'll be easy to just say “sorry, we made a mistake” but insist that the fines are automatic and can't be waived.
So ... a merry Christmas from the bloody bureaucrats to a bunch of elderly gentlemen who are just trying to make the world a better place. Brilliant.
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