01 Sep 2020 10:07 AM

In response to the impact of the COVID 19 pandemic the ESFA have extended the reporting deadline to Academies and Colleges from 31 December 2020 to 31 January 2021.

This follows earlier notification from the Office for Students that had extended the deadline by two months. You may well ask ‘Does this change impacts my organisation?’

This additional time is unlikely to impact many audit arrangements or scheduled board meetings since resources have already been committed and diaries of governors/trustees set.

To re-arrange matters to take advantage of this extension is not likely to be practical.

However, where an organisation has concerns over cash flows or bank confirmations supporting the going concern assumption this additional time could be critical and the decision most welcome.

That said, it should be noted that financial statements audits completed remotely is taking longer. This is the general experience of the audit profession. Undertaking audit work remotely relies on much more staff resource and not just from an audit perspective.

Historically academies and colleges could simply arrange a room for the audit team, provide all the necessary records, tea/coffee, the occasional biscuit and the finance team would expect to be rid of the auditors within a manageable period with limited disruption. A tried and tested system!

The pandemic and remote working does not follow the same pattern no matter how well an organisation and finance team is prepared. Evidence to date supports that the time input from the finance team is significantly higher and related disruption that much greater. The meaning of ‘the auditors are in and so I cannot do anything else’ is proving to be more accurate in these troubled times.

More time is being taken in calls, Microsoft Teams meetings, Zoom calls and any number of different variants simply co-ordinating meetings with colleagues, responding to queries and providing evidence.

In the old world many queries would be resolved with an auditor simply walking along the corridor or across campus to chat with a group of your colleagues.

In the new world this group discussion or department meeting will involve numerous calls to the various individuals with additional follow up calls to resolve queries or misunderstandings along with the additional time required by the finance team to set the meetings up in the first place.

Therefore, whilst organisations can expect existing timetables to be met trustees and governors need to appreciate the additional burden COVID has placed on the respective finance teams this year.

If you would like to discuss this situation further please contact me.