Nearly time for the end of year accounts and audit 14/02/2024

The end of year accounts and audit time is approaching! Find out what help is available, along with some tips for this year’s audit process!

End of year accounts and audit

We’re now approaching the end of the financial year, March 31 2024, which is often a busy time for local councils as they embark on the audit process. Your Responsible Financial Officer will be starting to prepare the end of year accounts, and the council will be undergoing an internal audit and getting ready to approve the Annual Governance and Accountability Return.

The external auditor for Devon has remained PKF Littlejohn, who will contact councils in due course (often late March) with all the relevant documentation for this year including advice notes and proforma documents. If your contact details have changed since last year, or if you don’t hear from them, you may want to contact them to give them your new information.


While the RFO might prepare the accounts, all councillors share collective responsibility for the financial management of the council, and should have an up to date knowledge of the financial position of the council. The external audit process requires the council to sign the Annual Governance Statement, making a number of assertions about how the council has complied with financial best practice. To make those assertions, councillors need to have sound information and an understanding of the council’s finances.

To help gain financial confidence, councillors will benefit from a Finance for Councillors course; for the first time in four years we are offering a one-off opportunity to attend a face to face course on 5 March, at 6.30pm. Don’t miss out on this rare chance for training, and book now!

For clerks who are doing their end of year accounts for the first time, or need a refresher, we are also offering an End of Year Accounts face to face course on 6 March, 10am. We don’t generally offer these courses in a face to face version so this is a perfect opportunity to attend, ask questions and get a thorough understanding of the audit process. Book your place now!

We also have webinars available through The Parkinson Partnership

More information

If you are new to the end of year accounts and audit process, or just not feeling very confident, then please don’t panic! There are various sources of support available to help. Of course, please do feel free to contact our Advice Service who will be delighted to assist and there’s plenty of guidance in our Knowledge Bank.

The JPAG Practitioners Guide 2023 is full of guidance on proper practices and assistance for completing the Annual Governance and Accountability Return, so will be your handbook for going through the process!

The internal audit is key to a successful process, and appointing an internal auditor is essential for the council. Read our guidance here on what to look for in an internal auditor. The Internal Audit Forum will also be able to help, especially their directory for finding an internal auditor for your council.

Lessons learned from 2023

As our external auditors, PKF Littlejohn released some feedback from the 2022/23 feedback on common issues they encountered, which may help you with the preparation of this year’s documents. We’ve gathered these points below for you.

2022/23 Audit Process

  • Where any responses in the Internal Audit Report is ‘no’, an explanation is required. This can be a note to the side of the report, or a separate note.
  • It is not the role of the internal auditor to complete or assist with the completion of the AGAR; they must be competent and independent.
  • If documents are not correctly published on the website, or incorrect dates for the exercise of public rights are published, then this can be reported in the Annual Internal Audit Report as a response to ‘N’.
  • The AGAR must be approved, and the notice of commencement of the public rights period announced, prior to the first day of the public rights period.
  • Confirmation of the dates for the exercise of public rights must be submitted to PKF Littlejohn, although it is not mandatory to use the proforma they supply.
  • The confirmation of dates notice is not the correct form for publication on your website, a full notice of public rights must be published with all statutory information.
  • The period for the exercise of public rights must be a 30 working day period. While a longer period may be deemed beneficial, a formal objection can only be raised and considered by PKF Littlejohn if it is received within 30 working days of the commencement date that has been set.
  • External auditors must remain independent so are unable to offer advice
  • Please ensure they are aware of any changes in contact details, and have made it clear which email address is used for correspondence. You may need to check your spam folder for correspondence; PKF Littlejohn have no way of checking whether emails have been correctly received.
  • Please let them know if you are unable to meet deadlines or require more time so they can work with you to resolve that.
  • Administrative charges incurred are not set by PKF Littlejohn and they are unable to waive the fee.
  • The standard fees are based on income and expenditure bandings and may increase or decrease each year depending on the band you fall into. Please see the SAAA website for a breakdown. It is a statutory fee set by the SAAA and PKF Littlejohn is unable to waive the fee.
  • Please only send the documents requested.
  • PKF’s policy is to process, complete and finalise files in date order of receipt and start receiving completed AGARS at the beginning of April so bear that in mind for any time delays.
  • Each year, the documents are standalone, and the external auditor will not refer back to information submitted in previous years other than the previous year’s AGAR and Section 3 report. Any other information or evidence you would like them to consider will need to be submitted with the current year’s AGAR.

This is one of the key reasons for raising queries with clerks. PKF Littlejohn need narrative and quantitative information to support the explanations provided, to bring the unexplained element to within 15%. They are looking for evidence that the clerk can demonstrate an understanding for the reason why there is a variance, not just a breakdown of the numbers. A printout of the ledger for both years, or a list of all income and expenditure merely serves to support the mathematical accuracy of the figures.

Similarly, if the explanation of variance relates to the precept, it is not enough to say that the precept went up because it was increased. The external auditor will be looking for an explanation of what was in the budget that caused the precept to increase, with numbers to back this up. Please note that it is the total precept that needs explanation, not the amount payable per household.

A council who has certified as exempt will not be issued a closure documentation since no review will have been carried out by the external auditor. If you meet the criteria for exemption, but have been selected for the 5% sample for intermediate procedures, it is still possible to certify exemption.

Accounting Statements (section 2 of the AGAR)

  • Where changes are made to Box 9 as a result of a review of assets which either add items previously omitted, or removes items no longer held, consideration needs to be made as to the point in time this became applicable. i.e. if the assets were acquired during the 2022/23 financial year but not included in the fixed asset register until the 2023/24 financial year, the comparative figure for the 2022/23 financial year would need to be restated to reflect the correct position at that time.
  • Similarly, a change in valuation policy (not just a change in valuation as a result of application of the fixed asset valuation policy) will require the prior year’s figure to be restated for consistency.
  • In 2022/23, Box 11 was split into Box 11 (a) and Box 11 (b). Box 11 (a) requests confirmation of whether or not the council acts a sole managing trustee. Box 11 (b) requests confirmation of the statement ‘the figures in section 2 do not include trust fund transactions’.
  • In 2022/23, part of the intermediate procedures involved supplying a bank statement for 31 March 2023 to support the bank reconciliation and Box 8 figure. Where the bank statement was not a year-end statement or didn’t straddle the year-end, this would not have been sufficient.