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SAAA Ltd, the sector-led body responsible for overseeing external audit arrangements for parish and town councils, has issued advice about the external audit arrangements for next year:

The SAAA website gives details of the appointed auditors for all authorities together with contact details for the external audit firms, the Scales of fees, as well as a set of frequently asked questions which are regularly updated. http://www.localaudits.co.uk/appts.html.

Detailed guidance on the process and completion of the revised annual returns will be fully covered in the guidance notes sent out by the audit firms with the annual returns in March next year.  An updated “practitioners guide” will be available by 31st March 2018.

All authorities will be sent an individual ‘notification of auditor appointment’ letter by the end of 2017, which will also provide an overview of the revised process for 2017/18 annual returns. The main changes are in respect of those authorities with under £25,000 annual turnover and who meet the qualifying criteria to enable them to certify themselves as exempt from a limited assurance review. Under normal circumstances they will not have to pay a fee to the external auditor - an exception would be if the external auditor was required to undertake work due to objections to the accounts from interested persons or late submission of either the certificate of exemption for exempt parish councils or the Annual Return for those with expenditure over £25k.  For all other authorities who are still required or who wish to have a limited assurance review by their external auditor, the process has not changed significantly.

Parish councils with neither income nor expenditure exceeding £200k will be subject to basic limited assurance audit review and those with either income or expenditure exceeding £200k will be subject to intermediate limited assurance audit review.  All parish councils (even those who declare themselves ‘exempt’) will still be required to complete and publish the new annual return form which will be known as the “Annual Governance and Accountability Return”. This form will need to be completed in accordance with “proper practices” as set out in ‘Governance & Accountability for Smaller Authorities in England, a Practitioners’ Guide’ and then published in accordance with the applicable Transparency Code.

The external auditor appointed by SAAA for Warwickshire and West Midlands from the 2017/18 audit until the 2021/22 audit is PKF Littlejohn LLP.  If your parish council has any potential conflict of interest relating to the auditor appointment e.g. if a councillor or close relation is employed by PKF Littlejohn, you should advise SAAA immediately. The new Annual Governance and Accountability Return forms will be sent out by the appointed auditor electronically at the end of the financial year. It is assumed that councils are willing and able to accept documents electronically by e-mail unless they specifically advise SAAA to the contrary no later than 31 December 2017.