What is Accrual Accounting?

Accrual accounting is a fundamental accounting method used by businesses to recognize revenues and expenses when they are incurred, regardless of when cash transactions occur. For a UK audience, understanding accrual accounting is crucial for accurate financial reporting and compliance with accounting standards such as the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS).


Key Aspects of Accrual Accounting:

  1. Definition:
    • Accrual accounting is a method where transactions are recorded when they occur, rather than when cash is exchanged. This approach provides a more accurate picture of a company’s financial position and performance over time.
  2. Principles of Accrual Accounting:
    • Revenue Recognition Principle: Revenues are recognized when earned, even if the cash has not yet been received. For example, if a service is provided in December but the payment is received in January, the revenue is recorded in December.
    • Matching Principle: Expenses are matched with the revenues they help generate and are recorded in the same period as the related revenues. For example, if inventory is sold in June, the cost of the inventory is recorded as an expense in June, even if the supplier is paid in July.
  3. Advantages:
    • Accurate Financial Picture: Provides a more accurate representation of a company’s financial health by matching revenues with expenses.
    • Better Decision Making: Helps management make informed decisions based on a true reflection of financial performance.
    • Regulatory Compliance: Ensures compliance with UK accounting standards and regulations, such as IFRS and UK GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Practice).
  4. Key Components:
    • Accrued Revenues: Revenues that have been earned but not yet received in cash. These are recorded as assets.
    • Accrued Expenses: Expenses that have been incurred but not yet paid. These are recorded as liabilities.
    • Prepaid Expenses: Payments made in advance for goods or services to be received in the future. These are initially recorded as assets and expensed when the benefit is received.
    • Unearned Revenues: Payments received in advance for goods or services to be provided in the future. These are initially recorded as liabilities and recognized as revenue when the service is performed.
  5. Examples:
    • Accrued Revenues: A consulting firm completes a project in December but invoices the client in January. The revenue is recorded in December.
    • Accrued Expenses: A company receives utility services in December but pays the bill in January. The expense is recorded in December.
    • Prepaid Expenses: A business pays for a one-year insurance policy upfront in January. The expense is allocated over the 12 months of the policy period.
    • Unearned Revenues: A software company receives an annual subscription fee from a customer in advance. The revenue is recognized monthly over the subscription period.
  6. Financial Statements:
    • Accrual accounting affects how financial statements are prepared. The income statement, balance sheet, and cash flow statement all reflect transactions when they occur rather than when cash changes hands.


Consider a UK-based marketing agency that provides services to a client in December but receives payment in January.

  • Accrued Revenue: The agency records the revenue in December when the service is performed, not in January when the payment is received.
  • Journal Entry in December:
    • Debit Accounts Receivable: £5,000
    • Credit Service Revenue: £5,000

When the payment is received in January:

  • Journal Entry in January:
    • Debit Cash: £5,000
    • Credit Accounts Receivable: £5,000


Accrual accounting is a vital method for UK businesses, ensuring that financial transactions are recorded when they occur, providing a more accurate and comprehensive view of financial performance and position. By adhering to the principles of accrual accounting, businesses can ensure compliance with regulatory standards and make better-informed financial decisions. Understanding accrual accounting helps businesses maintain transparency and reliability in their financial reporting.