Companies (Statutory Audits) Bill 2017: Committee and Remaining Stages

Sections 1 to 75, inclusive, agreed to.
Schedule 1 agreed to.
Question proposed: "That Schedule 2 be Schedule 2 to the Bill."

Schedule 2 deals with the statutory audit. I welcome, in the main, the fact that the provision relating to audit exemptions, whereby companies can continue to apply to the District Court, has been amended. I was a registered auditor for many years and I have been approached by a number of practitioners in respect of this matter. Ireland is the only country in Europe where audit exemption is linked to a late filing date. If a person files one day late, he or she loses the audit exemption. Many of the small practitioners are no longer statutory auditors. They cannot afford to be. They have signed off. If they miss a filing date by one day, their client loses that exemption and they effectively lose a client. There are genuine cases. I have already indicated to the Minister and her Department that this might be looked at again at a later date whereby if there are genuine or exceptional cases whereby somebody falls ill or is late by a short period, an exception will be made and he or she will not lose the audit exemption. The Minister could examine the possibility of allowing a concession once every five years but, of course, repeat offenders would still lose the audit exemption.

Having spoken to practitioners, I know that there are genuine cases. I am aware of one individual who was under enormous pressure. It would not take away from ensuring that people file on time if we were to offer a concession in this regard. If an accountant flagged to the Companies Registration Office a week or two weeks in advance that he or she was dealing with a particular situation - it might be necessary to include a criterion in this regard in the Bill - a once-off exception could be made. As already stated, this would apply once every five years and if the person involved were to file late on a second occasion, there would be no exception. This has significant ramifications for the small practitioner and also for his clients. Many of these practitioners are sole traders, in essence, and they operating as limited companies. What is involved here gives rise to a huge amount of added costs. We must consider not only what we wish to achieve by ensuring that people file on time but also the human aspect. I just wanted to put this matter on record. It can be dealt with at a later date, perhaps under other companies legislation.

I thank the Acting Chairman for allowing me to contribute on Schedule 2.

When it comes to filing annual returns and financial statements, I share the view that we must make it as straightforward as possible for all companies. That is why the law allows them up to 11 months to prepare and file financial statements. Last year, we legislated to simplify or reduce the content of those financial statements for small and micro-sized companies.

The Companies Registration Office is upgrading its IT system to make it even easier for all companies to file on time. The aim is to move to a process that can be done in a single step and entirely online. These are practical solutions that will reduce even more the reasons for companies to be late. That said, I am happy to keep the current situation with regard to late filing under review. Once the Companies Registration Office's IT upgrade is complete it will be easier to obtain accurate information on the profile of the companies that are filing late, because what we do not want to do is accommodate repeat offenders in terms of not making their returns when they should. However, if we are to frame any exemption from the current timelines, we will need to consider it very carefully.

As I mentioned, the current timelines are very fair and timely filing is certainly in the public interest. However, we are happy to look at this at a later date.

Question put and agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment and received for final consideration.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

I thank the Senators for their efforts in facilitating the passage of the Bill. Given its importance, it is welcome that it has moved closer to enactment with such efficiency.

Question put and agreed to.