Inspection of accounts

If you are a local elector, you have certain legal rights which allow you to:

  • inspect your council’s accounts
  • challenge the accounts
  • ask the external auditors questions about the accounts.

Your rights to inspect the council’s accounts

When the council has finalised the accounts for the previous financial year it must publish a statement, called a Notice of Public Inspection, on its website, declaring that they are available to look at.

The notice provides details of the 30 working days during which you may look the accounts and certain related documents.

Is the public inspection period the appropriate route for me?

The public inspection period is for inspecting the records that support the financial information in the accounts and relate to the 2020/21 published draft Statement of Accounts. Requests that do not fall into this category should not be raised via the public inspection process. Queries that are not related to the public inspection can be raised via a freedom of information request.

Examples of requests that will not be responded to under the public inspection process are:

  • requests from someone who is not an elector in the county, connected to the area, or a journalist from a publication that is not recognised
  • requests that are for documents that do not underpin the financial information in the 2020 to 2021 draft published accounts, or that do not relate to them
  • requests that would exceed reasonable timescales for response
  • requests that are vexatious or repeat freedom of information queries already raised during the year
  • requests for personal data or commercially confidential information.

Read examples of requests that fall within the public inspection remit and those that do not.

Your right to object to the accounts

If you have concerns about something in the accounts, you may wish to make an objection. An example of a concern that might be appropriate would be if you think that the council has spent money unlawfully. You can object to the accounts by sending the auditor a formal written 'Notice Page of Objection'. You may also object if you think that there is something in the accounts which the auditor should formally tell the public in a public interest report.

If you decide to make an objection to an item in the council's accounts, the notice must include:

  • confirmation that you are an elector in the council’s area
  • why you are objecting to the accounts and the facts on which you rely
  • details of any item in the accounts that you think is unlawful
  • details of any matter you think the external auditor should make a public interest report about
  • what you would like the external auditor to do.

Other than it must be in writing, there is no set format for objecting. You can ask someone to represent you and deal with your objection. This person does not have to live in the area covered by your council.

Objections should be sent directly to the auditor, no later than the end of the period for the exercise of public rights - the ‘Inspection Notice’ gives details. You must also send a copy of your written objection to the council.

Councils and local taxpayers must meet the costs of dealing with questions and objections. When the auditor decides whether to take your objection further, they must consider the costs that will be involved. They will only continue with the objection if it is in the public interest to do so. If you appeal to the courts, you must undertake the cost of this.

Asking the external auditor question about the accounts

You can ask the council's external auditor questions about the accounts for the year that they are auditing. The period allowed to exercise these rights is detailed in the ‘Inspection Notice’. However, the auditor does not have to answer questions about anything that is not relevant to the accounts. The ‘Inspection Notice’ explains how you can do this.

Further information

You can read the National Audit Office's ‘Local authority accounts: A guide to your rights’.

Examples of requests

Query Public inspectionComment
Provide a transaction report to back up a disclosure in the Statement of Accounts Yes Valid via Public Inspection
Provide a reasonable sample of invoices to support transactions in the accounts Yes Valid via Public Inspection
Provide contract information to support a transaction in the accounts Yes Valid via Public Inspection
Provide a breakdown of asset financial information or movements in the accounts Yes Valid via Public Inspection
Queries relating to accounting information in a prior year No Not relevant to Public Inspection
Queries relating to processes followed such as governance, procurement, or risk assessments etc No Not relevant to Public Inspection – queries can be raised via freedom of information process
Queries that relate to personal information or information by which a person may be identified, for example, addresses of properties, payslips of individuals No Where a response is possible, information that contains these details will be redacted before being provided
Commercially confidential information including litigations, funds set aside for legal purposes, and commercially sensitive elements of contract, for example, where the council may have negotiated favourable sum from a contractor No Where it is still possible to provide information, this will be sent out with sensitive data redacted. Sensitive data includes areas where there is a risk of fraud such as purchase order numbers and bank account details
Queries asking for a high volume of invoices or contracts No It is likely that this may be rejected as unreasonable due to the time it would take to respond. Where possible officers will liaise with the elector to select an appropriate sample size
Information that is already publicly available, for example, invoices above £250, foreign travel, senior officer expenses No Where information is already available on the council’s website the elector will be provided with a link to the information