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Last updated: 19 May 2021
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How does rethinking your office space impact financial reporting?

With many businesses currently renegotiating office leases with their landlords, there are numerous commercial, financial reporting and tax considerations to be aware of. We outline the key considerations - from the adequacy of dilapidations provisions to the impact on cashflow.

Over the last year we have witnessed unprecedented and wholescale changes to life in the city, some of which may be permanent. Not since the financial crash of 2008 have businesses had to consider to this extent how they will operate in the future, where and how people will work and, importantly, what type of and how much office space they will need to remain competitive.

For many years already, more progressive businesses have been evolving their use of office space from the more traditional 9-5 occupancy to an emphasis on flexibility, agility and creativity, aimed at maximising the use of space, reducing cost per employee and reflecting the change in working practices. COVID-19 has accelerated this trend for businesses more widely causing them to consider:

  • How many people will be working in the office and how often
  • How much space they need and how many desks or work stations
  • How to create a working environment that is fit for the modern day; and
  • Where they need to be located

As well as creating an opportunity for businesses to work and think differently, it has also offered them the chance to evaluate their current real estate portfolios. More attention is being paid to reviewing existing lease arrangements, and new or revised terms are being negotiated with landlords. This has numerous consequences that businesses need to consider from a commercial, financial reporting, audit and tax perspective:

About the author

Phil Westerman

+44 (0)20 7556 1299
westermanp@buzzacott.co.uk

Over the last year we have witnessed unprecedented and wholescale changes to life in the city, some of which may be permanent. Not since the financial crash of 2008 have businesses had to consider to this extent how they will operate in the future, where and how people will work and, importantly, what type of and how much office space they will need to remain competitive.

For many years already, more progressive businesses have been evolving their use of office space from the more traditional 9-5 occupancy to an emphasis on flexibility, agility and creativity, aimed at maximising the use of space, reducing cost per employee and reflecting the change in working practices. COVID-19 has accelerated this trend for businesses more widely causing them to consider:

  • How many people will be working in the office and how often
  • How much space they need and how many desks or work stations
  • How to create a working environment that is fit for the modern day; and
  • Where they need to be located

As well as creating an opportunity for businesses to work and think differently, it has also offered them the chance to evaluate their current real estate portfolios. More attention is being paid to reviewing existing lease arrangements, and new or revised terms are being negotiated with landlords. This has numerous consequences that businesses need to consider from a commercial, financial reporting, audit and tax perspective:

Adequacy of dilapidations provisions

Adequacy of dilapidations provisions 

As businesses review their existing lease agreements, we have seen multiple instances where they’ve identified dilapidation clauses that haven't previously been reflected properly in financial statements. This is leading to revised accounting estimates, and in many cases prior year adjustments to previously reported results. As well as impacting financial reporting, there are also potential tax and cash flow consequences of additional dilapidations exposure that businesses need to consider. By nature, the calculation of dilapidations requires careful judgement, and often specialist involvement is needed to ensure that the provision can be explained and supported.

Lease terms

Office lease terms

With the shifting demand for office space, lease terms are being negotiated differently, with more negotiating  “power” residing with tenants as landlords seek to keep occupancy levels at a sustainable rate. This has given rise to a shortening in average lease terms, preferable rent levels for tenants, improved lease incentives, and changes to break clauses. There are some financial reporting concessions available where these renegotiations are directly attributable to COVID-19, but where they are not, they need to be considered under the existing accounting frameworks. The nature and terms of lease agreements can materially affect how these are accounted for, in terms of reported financial results, the ability of a company to meet investor expectations and compliance with existing lender covenants.

Own or rent decision

Own or rent decision

The decision taken by businesses to either rent or buy property is changing, due in part to the matters outlined above. This has tax, cash flow and gearing implications, for example stamp duty land tax and structuring considerations; and how the property purchase and any refurbishment costs will be funded, be that through existing reserves or new borrowings. 

A word for the landlords

And a word for the landlords...   

It is perhaps easy to forget the corresponding impact on landlords who have seen significant rent roll reductions, increased exposure to tenant default and voids, and a knock-on impact on property valuations. Certain sectors such as retail and hospitality have inevitably been hit harder than others. The combination of these factors have implications for future cash flows and the ability of landlords to comply with their own financial covenants, to meet their shareholder and investor expectations, and will also influence decision making over when to dispose of or acquire assets. How landlords address these challenges has inevitable consequences for tenants, particularly those looking to revise or exit their lease agreements as they reconsider their office space requirements. 

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