Academy trusts failing to submit return to be named

22 January 2018

In a move that should be welcomed, the new Chief Executive for the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA), Eileen Miller, has warned academy trusts that the names of those who are late in filing their financial returns will be published.

On 13 December she wrote to all academy trust Accounting Officers, Chief Financial Officers and Chairs of Trust Boards in her first letter since being appointed to the role.

The great majority of academy trusts do file their returns on time (last year 95% of trusts submitted their 2015/16 financial statements on time and I’m sure the ESFA will be hoping this improved for 2016/17). I therefore think this ‘naming and shaming’ approach is a good idea and hopefully this will encourage more trusts to comply. A 100% compliance rate would only be good for the sector.

The EFSA will publish the first list in September 2018 (and annually thereafter) based upon the preceding year’s returns. There will be some grace; trusts will only be published on the list if they are late submitting two or more of the following annual financial returns:

  • Financial statements, auditors’ management letter, accounts submission coversheet online form – these should have been filed by 31 December 2017
  • Accounts return – due last week on 19 January 2018
  • Budget Forecast Return outturn –due 18 May 2018
  • Budget Forecast Return – due 27 July 2018

The Land and Buildings Collection Tool (LBCT) will be added to the list next time; this year’s LBCT will be due by 31 October 2018 in the 2018/19 academic year and hence will fall into next year’s compliance period.

Of course trusts should do all they can to ensure they file all returns by the applicable deadline. There can be occasions, outside of the trust’s control, that lead to a missed deadline; if there is a genuine reason then the ESFA should acknowledge this. We have had one case recently where an August accounts return could not be submitted before the 19 January deadline because of an inherent fault with the trust’s AAR leading to a hard validation error that had to be cleared before submission. In a situation like this the best you can do is communicate with the ESFA and ensure they are aware of the circumstance; in this particular case the issue was due to the system itself so the ESFA were notified and continue to work on the problem to fix it. We understand the ESFA intend to be reasonable in isolated cases where the trust and auditors have done all they can and were prevented from submitting through factors beyond their control.

It is always wise to try to file returns as early as possible. The online systems can become slow in the days before deadline due to the high volume of users accessing and uploading data, and this alone is unlikely to be seen as a reasonable excuse. If you do experience specific system issues whilst trying to complete a return, I recommend that in addition to notifying the ESFA as soon as possible, you also make a note of the date and time of each problem (and screenshots where possible) so that you have an audit trail to evidence your attempts to comply.

The next return due is the Budget Forecast Return outturn in May. We are often asked by our clients to assist with the Budget Forecast Returns, so if you would like one of our academy specialists to help you prepare the Return, or just to glance their expert eye over it for obvious errors, then please contact your nearest UHY academy specialist.