How to register a company name

Ready to start business? Follow these 8 steps to set up a limited company

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Registering a business name is often the first step you’ll take when you’ve decided to start a business, giving you concrete proof of turning your business idea into reality.

If you’re setting up a business as a sole trader, registering a business name isn’t actually compulsory (though you’ll need to register yourself for self-assessment with HMRC within three months of trading – read more here about registering as a sole trader). However, if you register as a sole trader not only are your profits taxed as income, but you are also personally liable for any and all debt the business owes if it fails.

Many people choose to set up a limited company and go through Companies House registration (you can read more here about the different business structures). In fact, as limited company names have to be unique, it can be worth setting up a limited company simply to secure your business name (you can set up a dormant company if you’re not ready to trade yet).

Decided to go down this route?

Here's how to register a company:

1. Check that the company name you want isn’t already taken

Company formation company name availability checker

Got an idea of what to name your business? Start by using the Company Name Availability Checker to do a company name search at Companies House to make sure your ideal name isn’t taken or too similar to an existing company’s name. Then click the link to register a ‘private limited company online'.

Remember that you should be wary of punctuation, special characters or words commonly used in UK company names, as well as of using sensitive words or terms that could be deemed offensive or suggest a connection with government or local authorities: for example in order to use “Accredited” in your name you need permission from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).

NB your registered company name does not have to be the same as the name you trade with: this latter is known as your ‘business name’. The same naming rules apply, except you must not include the words Ltd, Limited, limited liability partnership, LLP, plc or public limited company if none of those is true! If you want the name to be exclusive to your business (read more about here to assess if that's important), you will need to apply to register your name as a trade mark.

2. Decide on an official company address

Great – the company name you want is available (for now!). You now need to register your company name to a UK postal address in order to have somewhere for official notifications to be sent. This address must be in the same country you registered your business in, e.g. if you registered in Wales, your address should be somewhere in Wales.

Company formation registered company address

Your company address will be publicly available, so if you want to keep your home address somewhat private/separate you may want to register your company with whoever will handle your company accounts and company tax (i.e. your accountant). Some company formation agents offer mail forwarding to companies who would like to give the impression they are operating from an office space or non-residential area.

Take a look here for some of the key considerations when selecting your company's registered office.

NB If you're registering a company with Companies House, you'll first need to create an account (email address, name and password) and then you'll be prompted to enter your chosen company name and address.

3. Choose a SIC code for your company

Next, you'll need to choose a ‘business activity' – that is, you'll need to state what your business does by assigning a standard industrial classification of economic activities (SIC) code. You'll get a dropdown first of group headings (in which you can select, for example, 11xxx Manufacture of beverages), and then get a subsequent dropdown of trade descriptions, for example 11050 Manufacture of beer. You can add up to four SIC codes per company, and you can change them at a later date. Read more about what is a SIC code here.

4. Appoint a company director or directors

You'll then need to appoint at least one director. The director is the person who is legally responsible for running the business and ensuring that reports and company accounts are prepared (you can read more here about company director responsibilities – you may also want to appoint a company secretary, though this is not compulsory). The director must be over 16 and can’t be disqualified from being a director.

You will also have to provide two addresses for each director: firstly, a publicly available official service address, and secondly a residential address which will not appear on the public record. In total, you need to provide two addresses, so if the service address is the same as the company address, you'll need to add an alternative residential address.

Finally you'll need to confirm that the person named has consented to act as a director!

5. Outline your proposed company share structure

Limited companies are made up of shares and you will need to provide information about these shares when registering your company; this is known as a ‘statement of capital’.

Company formation share capital

Within this you should include the number of shares of each type the company has (there are nine types, or class, of share to choose from) and their total value (and in what currency). For example, if your company is made up of 100 ordinary shares and you've decided their nominal value is £1, then the aggregate nominal value will be £100.

There is no maximum amount of shares and you can apply any value to an individual share, as well as noting the specific rights each share has (e.g. full rights in the company with respect to voting, dividends and distributions).

Once you've determined the aggregate nominal value i.e the initial value of the company), you'll have to confirm if there is any money left unpaid to the company for this nominal value (if no amount is left unpaid, enter zero).

6. Choose your company shareholders or Persons of Significant Control

Since limited companies are made up of shares, you must have at least one shareholder, or ‘subscriber'. If you are the only one who owns shares in the company, then you own 100% of the company.

Company formation persons of significant control

You will need to add an address for each subscriber that appears on the public record, plus any three from the following seven security details to act as an online signature: first three letters of town of birth, first three letters of mother’s maiden name, first three letters of eye colour, last three digits of phone number, last three digits of father’s forename, last three characters of National Insurance number or last three characters of passport number.

If a subscriber holds more than 25% of the shares in the company, they must also (since 2016) be listed as a Person with Significant Control (you'll need to fill out their name and service address again). Most companies will have at least one person with significant control or influence over the company, and you'll need to select the nature of that control, for example ownership of shares, voting rights and/or the right to appoint or remove the majority of the board of directors.

As with step four, you'll need to confirm that each subscriber knows that their details are being supplied as part of this company formation.

7. Sign a statement of compliance

As company formation is a legal exercise, you will need to select that you confirm the requirements of the Companies Act as to registration have been adhered to, and that you have viewed and accepted the Memorandum of Association relating to the rules of running a business.

8. Pay a company formation fee

How much does it cost to form a company? Companies House charges £12 to register a company online if you're confident with the steps above or you could use a company formation agent to help you with the process.

Don't forget that once you've completed your company registration, you'll also need to:

  • Choose and set up a business bank account.
  • Go through the steps of registering a company for corporation tax within three months of trading

Rebekah Bonaparte

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