Expansion of cash basis for unincorporated businesses

From 6 April 2024 significant changes to the cash basis of accounting for sole traders and partnerships have been implemented. This shift is part of a broader effort to simplify tax calculations and align the timing of tax payments with the actual cash flow of businesses. The new cash basis rules aim to make it easier for smaller businesses to manage their finances and understand their tax obligations.

The cash basis of accounting is a straightforward way of managing financial affairs that allows businesses to record income and expenses when the money actually changes hands. This method contrasts with the traditional accruals basis, which records income and expenses when they are earned or incurred, regardless of when the payment is made or received.

Previously, businesses were only able to join the cash basis if their cash basis turnover was less than £150,000 and were forced to leave when their turnover exceeded £300,000. These restrictions have been removed entirely so that unincorporated businesses of any size will use the cash basis unless they elect to use the accruals basis. However, there are various businesses that are not entitled to use the cash basis as follows:

– Partnerships with a corporate member

– Limited liability partnerships (LLP)

– Businesses that have made a claim for farmers’ or artists’ averaging

While the new cash basis of accounting simplifies certain aspects of financial management for sole traders and partnerships, there are also several potential disadvantages to consider. These drawbacks can impact how businesses plan, report and analyse their financial activities as follows:

  • Limited Financial Insight

The cash basis of accounting provides a view of cash flow but does not show the true financial position of a business since it doesn’t account for debtors (income due from customers) and creditors (expenses due to suppliers). This can lead to a misleading picture of a company’s health, as it might appear more, or less, profitable in the short term due to timing differences in cash receipts and payments.

  • Poor Match of Revenue and Expenses

This method does not match income to the expenses incurred to generate the income within the same period. This can make financial results appear volatile from one period to the next, complicating long-term planning and performance assessment.

  • Difficulty in Obtaining Financing

Lenders and investors often prefer financial statements prepared on an accrual basis because they provide a clearer picture of a company’s ongoing financial status. Businesses using cash basis accounting might find it more challenging to secure finance due to the lack of detail and assurance about future cash flows and obligations.

  • Tax Disadvantages in Some Cases

While the cash basis can offer tax advantages by deferring tax payments until cash is received, it can also result in higher taxable income in periods of growth when cash receipts are high. Additionally, businesses lose the ability to deduct certain expenses until the cash is actually paid, which could impact cash flow.

  • No Record of Accounts Receivable and Payable

Businesses operating on a cash basis do not maintain records of outstanding debtor and creditors. This can make it difficult to track who owes the business money or how much the business owes to its suppliers, potentially leading to missed revenue opportunities or overlooked debts.

  • Ineligibility for Reporting Standards

The cash basis of accounting is not compliant with Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) or International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS). This makes it unsuitable for larger businesses or those looking to expand internationally.

  • Scaling Challenges
Author, Amanda Cooper
Senior Manager, Accounts and Business Services

As businesses grow, the simplicity of the cash basis can become a hindrance. Larger businesses typically need the detailed financial tracking and reporting that accrual accounting offers, especially when managing multiple contracts and long-term projects.

The cash basis of accounting can be advantageous for very small, cash-focused businesses with simple operations. However, its limitations in terms of financial reporting depth and accuracy might pose challenges for business owners looking to expand or requiring precise financial management. Businesses should carefully weigh these disadvantages against the benefits and consider their long-term goals and financial needs when deciding on their accounting basis.

Photo by Amina Filkins, Pexels

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