Auditors of the Imprest, 1560 to 1785
The origins of these offices appear to lie in the withdrawal during the reign of Henry VI from the ordinary routine of the Exchequer of certain kinds of account, to be dealt with by more direct methods; and later in the creation of two auditors of the prests and foreign accounts in the Court of Augmentations. These offices were abolished when that court was dissolved in 1554, but letters patent of 19 January 1560 established two auditors of the prests, from which time the declaring of accounts before the Lord Treasurer dates as a regular practice.
The accounts taken by the auditors of the imprest were those of all persons, save the Cofferer of the Household, to whom money was issued by imprest and upon account for the services of crown and public. In addition they took the accounts of an important group of revenue accountants, such as those handling the duties of customs, stamps, postage and salt. In the reign of James I (1603-1625) the audit of the accounts of customs was entrusted jointly to one of the auditors of the imprest and one of the auditors of the land revenue, an arrangement which ended during the Civil War. The auditors of the imprest did not audit the accounts of excise, for which there were statutory auditors outside the Exchequer, or of the colonial customs, which were the province of the Auditor for America.
Commissioners of Audit, 1785 to 1866
The auditors of the imprest were abolished by an act of 1785, which vested all their powers and duties in five commissioners for auditing the public accounts, or more briefly commissioners of audit, and added new powers, such as that to summon before them any accountant or other person whom they saw fit to examine, and to call for any vouchers in his possession. Two of the commissioners were to be the comptrollers of army accounts.
The act did not transfer to the commissioners the audit of accounts taken by the auditors of land revenue or any other auditors. An act of 1799 laid down that on the deaths of the present auditors of the land revenue their offices should cease and that the future enrolment of all leases and grants within their respective audits should pass to the commissioners. No steps were taken to carry out these provisions until by an act of 1832 the one remaining office of auditor was abolished and the duties of auditing the accounts of land revenue were transferred to the audit commissioners.
In 1806 the number of commissioners was raised to ten, and they were empowered to form three subdivision boards which performed separate duties. The first examined current accounts of ordinary and extraordinary services, the second examined ordinary accounts in arrear, and the third, also known as the New Office for Auditing the Public Accounts, dealt with extraordinary accounts in arrear.
In 1813, when the arrears were subdued, the first and second subdivisions were amalgamated as the first, and the third became the second subdivision, or the Audit Office, Adelphi. This was removed to Whitehall in 1814, and ceased to exist in 1822.
Between the years 1822 and 1835 the duties and establishments of both Colonial and Irish Audit Offices were absorbed. When the Lord Treasurer's Remembrancer's Office and the Pipe Office were abolished in 1833 the audit of sheriffs' accounts was transferred to the commissioners of audit; this function ceased in 1859.
The duties of comptrollers of army accounts were also transferred to the commissioners in 1835, and the duties of the Auditor of the Excise were transferred in 1849, when the Comptroller and Auditor of the Excise was added to the board as an extra commissioner. In 1865 the Chairman of the Board of Audit was made Comptroller General of the Exchequer.
In 1830 the first appropriation audit was set up and applied to the Admiralty, the novel feature being that the auditors had to ascertain not merely that payments conformed to proper official authority but that they were in accordance with the purposes of the parliamentary votes to which they were chargeable and that the total of those votes was not exceeded. The system was extended to the Army and the Ordnance in 1846 and to all civil departments by the Exchequer and Audit Departments Act 1866.
Exchequer and Audit Department, 1867 to 1983
The 1866 Exchequer and Audit Departments Act merged the offices of the Audit Board, which had existed in various forms since the setting-up of the Auditors of Imprests Office in 1559, and the post originally termed Auditor of the Exchequer, which had existed from 1314 until the Office of Receipt of Exchequer Act, 1834, under which the Auditor had been replaced by the Comptroller-General of the Exchequer.
In 1865 the then Chairman of the Board of Audit had been made Comptroller General of the Exchequer, and by the 1867 act the establishments and functions of the two offices were merged. Between the years 1822 and 1835 the then Audit Board had assimilated the duties and establishments of both Colonial and Irish Audit Offices. The duties of Comptrollers of Army Accounts were also transferred to the Audit Board in 1835, and in 1849 by The Inland Revenue Board Act, section 9, duties of the Auditor of Excise (a post created in 1643) were similarly transferred.
By the Exchequer and Audit Departments Act, section 10, all public monies payable to the Consolidated Fund, originally set up in 1787, were to be paid into accounts at the Bank of England and Bank of Ireland, each to be termed"The Account of Her Majesty's Exchequer." Payments into this account included revenues from Customs and Excise, Inland Revenue, and Post Office (this continued until 1961).
Under section 11 of the act the two banks were to treat all monies paid into these accounts as forming one general fund from which all Treasury orders for payment should be made. The act also stipulated that both Comptroller and Auditor-General and the Assistant Comptroller and Auditor-General be appointed by the Crown and their salaries charged directly on the Consolidated Fund.
The Comptroller and Auditor-General has overall charge of and accountability for the running of the Exchequer and Audit Department, and also reports to, and acts as a permanent attending witness at meetings of the Public Accounts Committee of the House of Commons, a select committee under the chairmanship of a member of the Opposition, appointed sessionally by standing order since 1862 for the examination of the audited accounts of the public expenditure.
The formal annual report of this Comptroller and Auditor-General forms the basis of the deliberations of this committee which has the power to call as a witness the accounting officer of any department mentioned in the report. These reports are based on two annual statutory statements of Exchequer Accounts, namely the Public Income and Expenditure Account whose form is prescribed by the Sinking Fund Act of 1875, and which has to be certified by the Comptroller and Auditor-General, and the Consolidated Fund Abstract Account the rendering of which is laid down by section 21 of the Exchequer and Audit Departments Act, and which is audited by the Comptroller and Auditor-General.
National Audit Office, from 1984
On 1 January 1984, under the National Audit Act 1983, the Exchequer and Audit Departments became the National Audit Office, charged with replacing and continuing the work of the Exchequer and Audit Department.