Chartered Accountants Ireland (CAI) has written to the Tánaiste asking for a facility to be put in place by the Companies Registration Office (CRO) to accommodate some accountancy firms and companies under extreme pressure to meet the November 25 annual return filing deadline due to Covid-19 disruption.

The institute told Leo Varadkar that these are primarily small practitioners where either they or their client have either contracted Covid-19 themselves or are close contacts and therefore cannot attend at the office.

"This, coupled with poor broadband in some rural areas has made it very difficult for a small proportion of firms to file the annual returns by the final date," it wrote.

CAI pointed to a facility put in place by Revenue for accountants and taxpayers to seek to arrange to file income tax returns due by November 17 after the deadline and asked that a similar arrangement be put in place.

It cited recent comments by Minister for Finance, Paschal Donohoe, who said while no further extension was being envisaged, Revenue was taking a pragmatic approach if Covid-19 had created the difficulty.

"Therefore, we are asking that a similar procedure would be put in place with the CRO for the filing of annual returns whereby members who are in extreme difficulty can seek to put an arrangement in place with CRO on a case-by-case basis," it said.

"Otherwise, the loss of audit exemption is a very harsh punishment particularly when the advice from the Government is again to work from home wherever possible and not to attend offices with covid-19 symptoms."

CAI says it is its understanding that the view of the CRO Registrar is that companies do not appear to be experiencing the same difficulties this year with over half of the companies due to file on 25 November having filed already.

It also says that the CRO claims the Companies Act does not afford any discretion and the Registrar is advising companies to apply to the District Court if the return date is not going to be met.

A spokesman for the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment said the CRO has shown considerable flexibility throughout the pandemic in relation to the arrangements for filing annual returns.

"These include extending the filing deadlines in respect of annual returns due earlier this year at the end of February and May, in addition to suspending prosecutions and involuntary strike offs for failure to file annual returns," they said.

But the spokesman added that the level of business activity is increasing and the need to have a "transparent and up-to-date companies register continues notwithstanding the challenges being experienced by a small number of accountancy firms."

They added that in relation to the November filing deadline, the CRO Registrar has been keeping the situation under review and has implemented a queueing system on the CORE system to manage the expected heavy volumes of filing between now and the November deadline.

"There has been a significant level of filing with the CRO in advance of the November deadline with filing numbers at well over 1,000 returns per day," the spokesman said.