Late June 2020 saw the Corporate Insolvency and Governance Act (the Act) receive Royal Assent and become part of UK law.
While the Act contained a range of provisions, it particularly focused on alleviating some of the difficulties which UK companies were facing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, in relation to such vital functions as holding shareholder meetings and filing accounts with Companies House.
As the impact of the pandemic continued to make itself felt, the decision was made to extend the duration of some of these temporary measures in September 2020.
With kind permission, we have therefore reproduced international law firm Bird & Bird LLP’s explanation (in italics) of what these extended measures mean for a company’s meetings and filings.
The Act includes the following in relation to company meetings and filings:
The Act includes various provisions to make it easier for UK companies to hold meetings, in light of lockdown and social distancing measures.
The provisions originally applied to meetings held between 26 March and 30 September 2020 but they could be extended by subsequent Regulations by periods of up to 3 months (but not beyond 5 April 2021). Regulations made in September 2020 have provided an initial extension of this period to 30 December 2020.
The Act applies retrospectively, so that proceedings at meetings held after 26 March 2020 may be validated if they would otherwise be in breach of legal requirements and the provisions of the company’s constitution.
The Act provides, in relation to meetings of shareholders and classes of shareholders of UK companies, that:
- meetings do not need to be held in a particular place and may be held by electronic means;
- the meeting may be held without any number of those participating in the meeting being together in the same place;
- votes can be cast by electronic or other means; and
- persons attending the meeting have no right to attend the meeting in person, to participate in meetings other than by voting, or to use a particular method of voting (such as by show of hands).
These provisions override the requirements of the Companies Act 2006 and a company’s constitution (articles of association).
The Act allows the Secretary of State to make Regulations regarding the form of, and the means and timing of the sending of, notices and other documents relating to meetings. Once again, these Regulations may amend existing laws and override provisions of a company’s constitution.
Annual General Meetings (AGMs)
Where a company was required by law or by its constitution to hold its AGM (and, for a public company, the meeting where it was due to lay its accounts before members) on any date during the period leading up to 30 September 2020, that meeting could be held at any time before 30 September 2020 (this period has not been extended).
Period for filing accounts
Under the Act, UK public companies which were otherwise due to file their accounts in the period after 25 March 2020 and before 30 September 2020 have until the earlier of 30 September 2020 and the 12-month anniversary of the end of their relevant accounting period to do so. The Companies Act 2006 normally requires the accounts of a public company to be filed within six months of the end of the accounting period.
Pursuant to the Act, The Companies etc. (Filing Requirements) (Temporary Modifications) Regulations 2020 (the Filing Regulations) were introduced on 26 June 2020 and they automatically extend the accounts filing deadline for UK companies by three months (to 12 months for private companies and to nine months for public companies) where the filing deadline falls any time from 27 June 2020 to 5 April 2021 (inclusive). For public companies whose original accounts filing deadline fell on or after 30 June 2020, before it was extended by the Act, the extension available under the Regulations will supersede the extension under the Act. The extensions under the Regulations may not be available for companies that have previously shortened or extended their accounting reference period, or which are filing their first accounts.
For public companies with shares admitted to trading on public markets, the time periods allowed by applicable market rules for the publication of accounts should also be considered. For example, as a temporary measure, public companies with shares listed on the London Stock Exchange’s Main Market, which have the UK as their home state, may be given an additional two months to publish their audited annual financial reports (an extension to the four-month period normally allowed). A company with its shares listed on AIM can apply (through its nominated adviser and before its current deadline) for an extension of up to 3 months if its financial year ended between 30 September 2019 and 30 June 2020 (an extension to the six-month period normally allowed).
The Filing Regulations also automatically extends the time periods for making various filings at Companies House:
|Due to be filed before
|6 April 2021
|Event driven filings (including changes to details of directors, secretaries, people with significant control and registered office address)
|6 April 2021
|Particulars of mortgages and charges
|6 April 2021
We welcome this piece of legislation from the Government, and the extension to some of the temporary measures, which will give companies some certainty about how they hold meetings this year and some assurance that meetings they have already held may be effectively ratified in law.
It seems more than likely that these provisions will be further extended, into 2021, given the new Government restrictions on meetings of groups of people, which it has said may continue for 6 months or more. Companies may wish to use this opportunity to review the provisions of their articles of association and to introduce more flexibility in the way that they hold their meetings, in readiness for when these temporary protective measures come to an end.
The extended filing deadlines will also be helpful as it has been more difficult to arrange the signing of paper forms and documents to make filings at Companies House during the COVID-19 crisis.
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