The consultative document published by the department yesterday offers two approaches to reform - complete exemption from the audit requirement for companies with annual turnover below the VAT registration threshold or replacement of this by a 'compilation report' that would confirm that the annual accounts have been prepared in accordance with the 1985 Companies Act.
This would not require the same sort of investigation as an audit, and would therefore be cheaper.
The increasing cost of audits as a result of tighter regulations introduced last year is partly behind the move. But the initiative also fits into a general government drive to reduce the burden on business. The DTI expects 250,000 to 300,000 'very small companies' to benefit.
Many accountants and business groups have pressed for a much wider exemption, including companies with annual turnover of less than pounds 2m or all those not quoted on the Stock Exchange. But Neil Hamilton, corporate affairs minister, said the threshold was a convenient figure that could be increased in line with the VAT threshold without special legislation. If it proved successful it could be extended.
Mr Hamilton said the department would decide on the option to be taken soon after the 30 June closing date for comments.