Guidance

Incorporation and names

Updated 28 April 2017

This guidance is available in alternative formats, which include Braille, large print and audio tape. For further details on alternative formats email or telephone our contact centre on 0303 1234 500.

This guide will be relevant if you:

  • want to incorporate a company
  • want to check which names are acceptable for a company

This guide provides information on completing the most commonly used filings relating to this area. The guide is not drafted with unusual or complex transactions in mind. Specialist professional advice may be needed in those circumstances.

This guide sets out the main requirements for incorporating a company in the United Kingdom i.e. England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. It includes information and advice about:

  • how to incorporate a limited company
  • the type of company you wish to incorporate
  • the company’s officers;
  • choosing a company name including controls and restrictions
  • disclosure of company name and other information

1. Incorporating a new company

1.1 Incorporation

Incorporation is the process by which a new or existing business registers as a limited company. A company is a legal entity with a separate identity from those who own or run it. The vast majority of companies are limited liability companies where the liability of the members is limited by shares or by guarantee.

A business cannot operate as a limited company until it has been incorporated at Companies House under the Companies Act 2006. Establishing your business as a company means the directors are required to file certain documents every year such as annual accounts and a confirmation statement. They must also inform Companies House about any changes, such as the appointment or resignation of directors or a change to the company’s registered office.

It may be worthwhile seeking professional advice from a solicitor or accountant before deciding whether an incorporated company is the best way for you to run your business.

1.2 Who can incorporate a company

One or more persons can form a company for any lawful purpose by subscribing their names to a memorandum of association. In law, ‘person’ includes individuals, companies and other bodies. By completing the memorandum, the subscribers are confirming their agreement to form a company.

1.3 Types of company

There are four types of company:

  1. Private company limited by shares: This company has a share capital and the liability of each member is limited to the amount, if any, unpaid on their shares. A private company cannot offer its shares for sale to the general public.
  2. Private company limited by guarantee: This company does not have a share capital and its members are guarantors rather than shareholders. The members’ liability is limited to the amount they agree to contribute to the company’s assets if it is wound up.
  3. Private unlimited company: An unlimited company may or may not have a share capital but there is no limit to the members’ liability.
  4. Public limited company: A public company has a share capital and limits the liability of each member to the amount unpaid on their shares. It may offer its shares for sale to the general public and may be quoted on the stock exchange. There is further information about public companies

1.4 Method and fees

There are three ways to incorporate a company.

Electronic Software Filing

Electronic incorporations can be submitted electronically through suitably enabled software. However, many incorporation agents and software providers have developed their systems to the point where they are able to offer customers a webbased electronic service (this is chargeable). This means that occasional as well as regular customers can apply for incorporation.

Many of the businesses shown on our list of software suppliers provide web-based services and depending on the volume of filings you anticipate making, it may be more practical for you to use their services. More information about software filing and a list of providers.

The standard fee for electronic filing is £10 (or £30 for the ‘same day’ service for applications received by 3pm Monday to Friday). Straightforward applications are normally processed within 24 hours.

Web Incorporation Service

Web Incorporation is the safe and reliable way to file online, enabling you to quickly and easily incorporate your company. The standard fee for Web Incorporation is £12. There is no same day service and currently only applications for a private company limited by shares adopting model articles in their entirety with a proposed nonsensitive name can use this service.

It is also possible using Web Incorporation to register your incorporation documents in Welsh and English as long as the company to be incorporated is situated in Wales. This means that the registered office address also has to be in Wales. The Web Filing screens will take you through the process.

We have lots of guidance on starting a company available.

Paper filing

Paper documents, which must be sent to the appropriate office, take longer to process than electronic documents. The standard registration fee is £40 (or £100 for the ‘same day’ service for applications received by 3pm Monday to Friday).The fee is £20 (or £100 for the ‘same day’ service) if your:

  • company’s registered office is stated as being situated in Wales (“Welsh company”) and you file documents in the Welsh language. (you can use the Web Incorporation Service for a private limited company adopting model articles in their entirety)
  • company is a Community Interest Company (the total fee will be £35 including the CIC Regulator fee and there is no same day service)
  • company is an unlimited company

Cheques should be made payable to Companies House. Straightforward applications are normally processed within 5 days of receipt. When filing ‘same day’ applications by post, courier or by hand ensure you clearly mark the envelope ‘same day incorporation’.

1.5 Documents required to incorporate a company

To incorporate your company you must file the following documents:

  1. Application to register a company (form IN01) and the fee
  2. Memorandum of association
  3. Articles of association (unless you adopt model articles in their entirety)
  4. Additional information if your application includes a sensitive word or expression

You may not be able to incorporate your chosen company name if it is the ‘same as’ another name appearing on the registrar’s index of company names. There is an exception to this if an existing company (or LLP or other body on the index) is part of the same group as your company and consents to the use of your proposed name. This is explained more fully in choosing a company name

1.6 Proposed name

You can’t reserve a proposed name. We can’t guarantee to process applications in strict order of the time or date of their receipt and in general, electronic documents are processed more quickly than paper documents.

1.7 The application to register a company (form IN01)

This form requires:

  • the proposed company name
  • the situation of the company’s registered office (RO) i.e. whether it is in England and Wales, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland
  • the address of the RO (which must be the same as the situation of the RO)
  • whether the company will be private, public or unlimited
  • details of the company’s intended business activities by reference to a standard industrial classification code (SIC)
  • choice of articles of association
  • details of the proposed director(s), and the secretary if it has one
  • details of People with Significant Control (PSC), or other legally required statements such as a statement that the company doesn’t have any PSC (further guidance)
  • directors’ service and residential addresses
  • a statement of capital and initial shareholdings or a statement of guarantee
  • whether a company limited by guarantee wishes to apply to be exempt from needing to use ‘limited’ or ‘cyfyngedig’ in its name
  • if the proposed name contains a sensitive word and a section requiring confirmation that you have requested the views of a government department or other body.
  • a statement of compliance or guarantee

1.8 Service address and usual residential address

A service address is one that can be used by a director to receive communications from third parties about the company. The service address can be the same as the person’s residential address, or the registered office address of the company, or it can be somewhere different.

A usual residential address is the usual home address of the director concerned. It still has to be filed with the Registrar but it will not be available on the public record for everyone to see and will be held on a private register only available to predetermined organisations.

1.9 Memorandum of association

The memorandum of association confirms the subscribers’ intention to form a company and become members of that company on formation. In the case of a company that is to be limited by shares, the memorandum will also provide evidence of the members’ agreement to take at least one share each in the company.

Under the Companies Act 2006, the memorandum is a much shorter document because all the constitutional rules of the company are contained in the articles of association. Consequently, the memorandum serves a more limited purpose and once the company has been incorporated, it cannot be amended.

Information on capital and shareholdings is no longer part of the memorandum as it is contained in the application to register (form IN01) as a ‘statement of capital and shareholdings’ or for a company limited by guarantee, a ‘statement of guarantee’, The required memorandum wording is included in the The Companies (Registration) Regulations 2008 (2008/3014) and you should use this format when preparing your memorandum. You can also download a proforma memorandum from our website. The wording of the memorandum is prescribed and it cannot be amended in any way. If you add or change the wording, your application will not be accepted.

1.10 Articles of association

A company’s articles of association are its internal rulebook, chosen by its members. Every company is required to have articles, which are legally binding on the company and all of its members. The articles help to ensure the company’s business runs as smoothly and efficiently as possible and will set out how decisions are taken by the members and directors as well as various matters connected with the shares.

The articles cannot contain rules that are against the law. Provided the members observe this general principle they have complete freedom to choose which rules are included in the company’s articles, although they may find it convenient to rely on model articles as a default position. If the members decide to draw up their own rules as bespoke articles they may wish to obtain professional advice before proceeding.

On incorporation your company can adopt model articles in entirety, model articles with amendments or it can draft its own bespoke articles.

1.11 Model articles

Although the members can determine their own articles, they can also choose to adopt standard model articles set out in legislation. You aren’t obliged to adopt the provisions of model articles, but they are suitable for most standard companies, provide useful guidance and in some cases provide a safety net. They are available for private companies limited by shares, private companies limited by guarantee and public companies.

The model articles are set out in schedules 1-3 of The Companies (Model Articles) Regulations 2008 (SI No. 3229).

When you complete the ‘application to register a company (form IN01)’, you need to specify if the proposed company is adopting:

  • model articles in their entirety (they should not be filed with application form IN01)
  • model articles with amendments (only the amended articles should be filed with the form IN01)
  • bespoke articles (copy of the articles must be filed with the form IN01)

If you don’t indicate which articles you are adopting, we’ll automatically apply the model articles appropriate to your company type.

1.12 Unlimited companies

There aren’t any model articles provided for unlimited companies. However, an unlimited company can choose to use model articles as the basis of its own articles of association. The articles must not include the provision for the liability of the members to be limited and the members should consider including an article containing power for an unlimited company by special resolution to increase or consolidate share capital, subdivide or cancel shares or reduce share capital and any share premium account. If you are thinking of incorporating an unlimited company you may wish to obtain professional advice.

1.13 Notifying us when you change your articles

Once your company is incorporated, you must notify Companies House every time your company makes changes to its articles. You and your company may commit an offence if you do not do so. You can amend your articles by special resolution and deliver a copy to Companies House within 15 days of the date it is passed. You must also deliver a copy of the amended articles within 15 days of the date the amendment takes effect. It will help us if you file both at the same time.

Further information about what you need to do if you amend your company’s articles can be found in Life of a Company – Event Driven Filings

1.14 Entrenched or restricted articles

Your company may choose to adopt articles, which include restricted provisions, which can only be repealed or amended if certain conditions are met. For example, a rule which can only be changed with the support of a higher majority of shareholders than the 75% that would be required to pass a special resolution.

If your company’s articles include any entrenched provisions you must complete the appropriate section of the application to register a company (Form IN01). The articles themselves must make it clear what conditions need to be satisfied in order to change the entrenched provisions in question.

1.15 Appropriate articles

We can’t supply bespoke articles of association but you can buy them from a company law stationer or formation agent. Alternatively, you can use the model articles for your company.

1.16 Registered office

Every company must have a registered office. The registered office must be a physical location where notices, letters and reminders can be delivered to the company. The registered office does not need not be the place where the company carries on its day-to-day business so it could, for example, be your accountant’s address. If the address is not effective for delivering documents, the company could risk being struck off the register or wound up by a creditor.

If any person you deal with in the course of your business requests in writing the address of your registered office, or the location where they can inspect your company records, or details of the records that you keep at your registered office, you must respond within 5 working days.

When you apply to incorporate your company you must state whether your company’s registered office is to be situated in England and Wales, in Wales (a “Welsh” company), in Scotland or in Northern Ireland. The address of your registered office must also be in the same country as its situation.

If you decide to change your registered office address, you must file a ‘Change of registered office address’ (AD01). The change is not effective until we register the form, which can be filed electronically as well as on paper. You can change the address of your registered office but you cannot change its jurisdiction. For example, if your registered office is in Northern Ireland you cannot change it to an address in Scotland.

1.17 Election to keep certain statutory register information at Companies House on incorporation

Private companies can elect to keep any or all of the information in certain statutory registers at Companies House rather than hold their own registers.

When an election is in place private companies can send the information that would usually be kept in their registers to the registrar of companies for placing on the public register at Companies House.

An election can be made by the subscribers on incorporation of the company. This is voluntary, and a company can hold its own registers, if it wishes.

The election only applies to the registers of:

  • members
  • people with significant control
  • directors
  • director’s usual residential address
  • register of secretaries

More detailed information on exercising the election and the implications of doing so can be found in our guide to the registers regime.

1.18 What happens to incorporation documents sent to us

We will carry out a number of examination checks including one necessary to ensure proposed officers are not on the ‘Disqualified Directors Register’.

If the documents satisfy all the appropriate examination checks, we will incorporate the company, issue a certificate of incorporation and place the documents on the company record for public inspection. The incorporation does not take effect until Companies House has issued the certificate of incorporation. You should bear this in mind before obtaining company stationery or creating bank accounts.

1.19 Certificate of incorporation

The certificate of incorporation is conclusive evidence that the requirements of the Companies Act 2006 as to registration have been complied with and that the company is duly registered under this Act. The certificate will state:

  • the name and registered number of the company
  • the date of its incorporation
  • whether it is a limited or unlimited company, and if it is limited whether it is limited by shares or limited by guarantee
  • whether it is a private or a public company
  • whether the company’s registered office is situated in England and Wales, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland

The certificate must be signed by the registrar or authenticated by the registrar’s official seal.

2. Directors and secretaries

Additional information about the role and responsibilities of directors’ and secretaries can be found in our Life of a Company Part 2 – Event Driven Filings’ guide.

2.1 Minimum number of officers

Private companies: The Companies Act 2006 requires a private company to have at least one director. However, a company’s articles of association could impose a higher minimum requirement. At least one director must be an individual. A private company does not need to have a secretary unless the company’s articles of association require it.

Public companies: A public company must have at least two directors and a secretary. At least one director must be an individual. The secretary of a public company must be qualified.

2.2 Company directors

It’s up to the members to appoint the directors who will run the company on their behalf. You can’t be a director if you are:

  • disqualified from acting as a company director (unless the court has given you permission to act for a particular company)
  • an undischarged bankrupt (unless you have been given permission by the court to act for a particular company)
  • under the age of 16

Company secretary

A private company secretary doesn’t need any qualifications. A secretary of a public company must have one or more of the qualifications described in public companies

3. Public companies

3.1 Public company requirements

A public company must have:

  • at least 2 directors (who may also be members of the company)
  • at least one director who is an individual
  • all individual directors aged 16 or over
  • at least one secretary
  • a secretary qualified to act as a secretary

A qualified secretary is someone who:

  • has held the office of secretary of a public company for at least 3 of the 5 years before their appointment
  • is a barrister, advocate or solicitor called or admitted in any part of the United Kingdom
  • is a person who, by virtue of his or her previous experience or membership of another body, appears to the directors to be capable of discharging the functions of secretary
  • is a member of one of the following professional bodies:
    • Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales
    • Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland
    • Institute of Chartered Accountants in Ireland
    • Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators
    • Association of Chartered Certified Accountants
    • Chartered Institute of Management Accountants
    • Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy

3.2 When a public company starts business

A public limited company cannot conduct business or exercise borrowing powers unless it has obtained a trading certificate from Companies House confirming that it has the minimum allotted share capital. You will need to apply for the certificate by filing the ‘Application for a trading certificate for a public company’ (Form SH50). It is an offence to trade without a trading certificate and the directors are liable, on conviction, to a fine.

Different rules apply if a company wishes to re-register from a private company limited by shares or a private unlimited company to a public company. This is explained in Life of a Company – Part 2 Event Driven Filings

4. Community interest companies (CIC)

A Community Interest Company (CIC) is a limited company designed for people who want to carry out activities that are intended to benefit the community. CICs are registered as companies under the Companies Act after the CIC Regulator has approved the application to form a CIC. The regulator also has a continuing monitoring and enforcement role.

Further information including details of the relevant legislation, forms to download and sample articles of association can be found on the Community Interest Companies website.

4.1 Apply to incorporate as a CIC

To incorporate a CIC you’ll need to file:

  • application to register a company (Form IN01) making sure you do not complete section A3 and you do complete option 3 of A7)
  • memorandum of association
  • articles of association
  • application to form a community Interest company (form CIC 36 and continuation sheets if needed) inclusive of declarations
  • a cheque for £35, made payable to Companies House
  • additional information if your application includes a sensitive word or expression

As stated in The Companies (Audit, Investigations and Community Enterprise) Act 2004, if your community interest company is a private company its name must end with ‘community interest company’, or ‘c.i.c.’ Alternatively, if your company’s registered office is stated as being situated in Wales (“Welsh” company) its name may instead end with ‘cwmni buddiant cymunedol’ or ‘c.b.c.’.

If your community interest company is a public company its name must end with ‘community interest public limited company’, or ‘community interest p.l.c.’. Alternatively, if your company’s registered office is stated as being situated in Wales (“Welsh” company) its name may instead end with ‘cwmni buddiant cymunedol cyhoeddus cyfyngedig’, or ‘cwmni buddiant cymunedol c.c.c.’

Currently, you can only file your application documents in paper format and there isn’t a same day service available.

4.2 CIC fees

Companies House collects fees on behalf of the Regulator of Community Interest Companies. The fees shown are combined Community Interest Company Regulator and Companies House fees:

Incorporate a CIC £35
Convert a company to a CIC £25
Convert and re-register a company to a CIC public company (PLC) (and vice versa) £35
Convert an existing CIC to a CIC PLC £20
Convert an Industrial and Provident Society to a CIC £35
Change the name of a CIC £10

5. Flat management companies, right to manage (RTM) companies and commonhold associations

5.1 Flat management companies

A flat management company is a company that has been formed to manage a property divided into a number of separate flats. Each flat owner usually has a lease of their own flat, but they may also be a member of a management company that owns the freehold (or lease) of the entire building. As members of the company, the flat owners have their say in running the building.

If the members own shares in the company, it is common practice in the company’s articles of association that shareholders who sell their flats must also transfer their shares to the new owners. This ensures that, at any given time, the limited company represents the interests of all the current flat owners, and it remains a separate legal entity regardless of who holds its shares.

Leaseholders can also exercise their right to manage the building they live in. To obtain the right to manage the leaseholders must set up a ‘right to manage’ (RTM) limited company.

A limited company could also be formed to own and manage the common parts of a development made up of separate units under ‘commonhold’. This type of company is called a ‘commonhold association’.

5.2 Documents needed to incorporate a flat management company

To incorporate a Flat Management company you need to file the documents set out in ‘Incorporating a new company’. When you complete the application to register a company (form IN01) you will need to tick option 3 (bespoke articles) of section A7 and include the articles with the other documents.

The Leasehold Advisory Service (LEASE) provides free advice on the law affecting residential leasehold property in England and Wales. Their website includes advice and contact information.

5.3 Right to manage (RTM) companies

RTM companies were introduced under the Commonhold and Leasehold Reform Act 2002. These are private companies limited by guarantee enabling long leaseholders in blocks of flats to take over the management of their building.

Leaseholders must form a limited by guarantee company to exercise the management functions. The constitutional rules of an English RTM company are prescribed in articles of association included in The RTM Companies (Model Articles) (England) Regulations 2009’ (SI 2009/2767). These regulations apply to all existing and proposed RTM companies.

5.4 Documents needed to incorporate an RTM company

To incorporate an RTM you need to file the documents set out in ‘incorporating a new company’. When you complete the ‘application to register a company (form IN01)’ you’ll need to tick option 3 (bespoke articles) of section A7 and include the articles with the other documents. The name of your company must end with RTM Company Limited or the Welsh equivalent.

The Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) is responsible for RTM companies in England. Further information and guidance can be found on the DCLG website.

The Welsh Government is seeking to introduce amended regulations for Welsh RTM companies in Wales as soon as possible. Further information can be obtained by emailing alyn.williams@wales.gsi.gov.uk or you can telephone 01685 729191.

RTM companies don’t exist in Scotland or Northern Ireland.

5.5 Commonhold associations

Commonhold Associations were introduced under the Commonhold and Leasehold Reform Act 2002. Commonhold is a form of freehold land ownership which is an alternative to long leasehold ownership of flats and other interdependent properties.

It combines freehold ownership of a single property (a unit) in a larger development with membership of a limited company that owns and manages the common parts of the development, for example a block of flats where each flat is a unit and all the other parts, such as the hallway are commonhold.

The constitutional rules of commonhold associations registered in England and Wales are prescribed in the articles of association included in The Commonhold Regulations 2009 (SI 2009/2363).

5.6 Documents needed to incorporate a commonhold association company

To incorporate your commonhold association you need to file the documents set out in ‘incorporating a new company. When you complete the application to register a company (form IN01) you will need to tick option 3 (bespoke articles) of section A7 and include the articles with the other documents. The name of your company must end with ‘commonhold association limited’ or the Welsh equivalents.

The Ministry of Justice is the responsible for commonhold associations. The Leasehold Advisory Service (LEASE) provides free advice on the law affecting residential leasehold property in England and Wales.

Commonhold Associations don’t exist in Scotland or Northern Ireland.

6. Choosing a company name

Before choosing a name you should use our WebCHeck service to ensure your chosen name is not the ‘same as’ an existing name on the index of company names. You should also check the Trade Marks Register of the UK Intellectual Property Office to ensure that the proposed name does not infringe an existing trade mark. You can also seek advice from the Institute of Trade Mark Attorneys.

6.1 Choose a name for your proposed company

Although the vast majority of applicants register their chosen name there are some restrictions that may affect a choice of name. These restrictions are set out in the Companies Act 2006, the Company, Limited Liability Partnership and Business (Names and Trading Disclosures) Regulations 2015 (SI 2015/17) and the Company, Limited Liability Partnership and Business (Sensitive Words and Expressions) Regulations 2014 (SI 2014/3140).

These include:

  1. The name of a private company limited by shares or guarantee must end with ‘limited’ or ‘Ltd’. However, if the registered office is stated as being situated in Wales (a “Welsh” company), its name may instead end with ‘cyfyngedig’ or ‘cyf’.
  2. The name of a public company must end with ‘public limited company’ or ‘p.l.c.’. However, if the registered office is stated as being situated in Wales (a ‘Welsh’ company), its name may instead end with ‘Cwmni Cyfyngedig Cyhoeddus’ or ‘CCC’.
  3. Certain expressions and abbreviations which describe a particular form of company (including Welsh equivalents), can only be used at the end of a name, such as ‘Limited Liability Partnership’ or ‘Community Interest Company’.
  4. A name that could suggest a connection with the UK government, a devolved administration, a local authority or a specified public authority.
  5. A name that includes sensitive words or expressions included in regulations.
  6. A name that includes words that would constitute an offence.
  7. An offensive name.
  8. A name which is the ‘same as’ an existing name on the index.
  9. The use of certain characters, signs, symbols and punctuation in a company name.

6.2 Exemption from including ‘limited’ in a company name

A private company limited by guarantee can apply to be exempt from the requirement to include ‘limited’, ‘ltd’, ‘cyfyngedig’ or ‘cyf’ from its name so long as the articles of association:

  • state that the objects of the company are the promotion or regulation of commerce, art, science, education, religion, charity or any profession incidental or conducive to any of those objects
  • require its income to be applied in promoting its objects
  • prohibit the payment of dividends, or any return of capital, to its members
  • require all the assets that would otherwise be available to its members generally and transferred on its winding up – either to another body with similar objects or to another body with charitable objects.

If you wish to apply for the exemption upon incorporation you must complete section A3 of the application to register (form IN01).

6.3 ‘Same as’ names

If 2 company names are so similar they are likely to confuse the public as to which company is which, then they are the ‘same as’. The regulations set out the words and expressions that must be disregarded and the words, expressions, signs and symbols that are to be regarded as the same.

6.4 What’s disregarded

  1. The following are disregarded at the end of the name:
Limited; Unlimited; Public Limited Company; Community Interest Company; Right to Enfranchisement; Right to Manage; European Economic Interest Grouping; Investment Company with Variable Capital; Limited Partnership;
Limited Liability Partnership; Open-Ended Investment Company; Charitable Incorporated Organisation; Industrial and Provident Society; Co-Operative Society; Community Benefit Society.
Cyfyngedig; Anghyfyngedig; Cwmni Cyfyngedig Cyhoeddus; Cwmni Buddiant Cymunedol; Cwmni Buddiant Cymunedol Cyhoeddus Cyfyngedig;Hawl I Ryddfreiniad; Cwmni RTM Cyfyngedig; Cwmni Buddsoddi  Chyfalaf Newidiol; Partneriaeth Cyfyngedig; Partneriaeth Atebolrwydd Cyfyngedig; Cwmni Buddsoddiad Penagored; Sefydliad Elusennol Corfforedig.
LTD; PLC; CIC; RTE; RTM; EEIG; LP; LLP; CIO; CYF; CCC; CBC; Cwmni Buddiant Cymunedol CCC; PC; PAC; SEC.
  1. When preceded by a blank space, a full stop or ‘@’ the following:
& co; & company; and co; and company
biz
co; co uk; co.uk; com; company
eu
GB; Great Britain
net; NI; Northern Ireland
org; org uk; org.uk
UK; United Kingdom
Wales
& cwmni; a’r cwmni; cwmni; cym; Cymru
DU
PF; Prydain Fawr
Y Deyrnas Unedig
  1. Any of the above if preceded by and followed by brackets.
  2. The punctuation, signs and symbols ‘ ’ ‘ , ( ), [ ], { }, < >, !, « », “, ”, “, ?, . /, ?, \, /.
  3. “*”, “=”, “#”, “%” and “+” when used as one of the first three characters in a name.
  4. ”s” at the end of a name
  5. Any characters after the first 60 characters in a name.
  6. “the” and “www” at the beginning of a name.

6.5 What characters, words, expressions, signs and symbols are considered ’same as’ each other

Column 1 (permitted characters) Column 2 (to be treated the same as)
À Á Â Ã Ä Å Ā Ă Ą Ǻ A
Æ Ǽ AE
Ç Ć Ĉ Ċ Č C
Þ Ď Đ D
È É Ê Ë Ē Ĕ Ė Ę Ě E
Ĝ Ğ Ġ Ģ G
Ĥ Ħ H
Ì Í Î Ï Ĩ Ī Ĭ Į İ I
Ĵ J
Ķ K
Ĺ Ļ Ľ Ŀ Ł L
Ñ Ń Ņ Ň Ŋ N
Ò Ó Ô Õ Ö Ø Ō Ŏ Ő Ǿ O
ΠOE CE
Ŕ Ŗ Ř R
Ś Ŝ Ş Š S
Ţ Ť Ŧ T
Ù Ú Û Ü Ũ Ū Ŭ Ů Ű Ų U
Ŵ Ẁ Ẃ Ẅ W
Ỳ Ý Ŷ Ÿ Y
Ź Ż Ž Z
Column 1 (permitted characters, words and expressions) Column 2 (to be treated the same as)
AND &
PLUS +
0, ZERO O
1 ONE
2, TWO, TO and TOO TOO
3 THREE
4, FOUR FOR
5 FIVE
6 SIX
7 SEVEN
8 EIGHT
9 NINE
£ POUND
EURO
$ DOLLAR
¥ YEN
%, PER CENT, PERCENT, PER CENTUM PERCENTUM
@ AT

6.6 Examples of ‘same as’ names

‘ŘEAL COFFEE CAFÉ LTD’ is the same as the ‘REAL COFFEE CAFE LTD’. ‘PLUM TECHNOLOGY LTD’ is the same as ‘PLUM TECHNOLOGY & COMPANY LTD’

6.7 ‘Same as’ rules exceptions

The ‘same as’ rule doesn’t apply if:

  • the proposed company is intended to be part of the same group as an existing ‘same as’ company; and
  • the existing company consents to the registration of the proposed name; and
  • the application to register includes a letter from the existing company confirming that it consents to the registration of the proposed name and that it will form part of the same group

7. Sensitive words and expressions

The sensitive words and expressions set out in the Company, Limited Liability Partnership and Business Names (Sensitive Words and Expressions) Regulations 2014 SI 2009/3140) require approval by the Secretary of State to be in the name of a company or LLP name, or a business name.

The controls exist to ensure a name does not mislead or harm the public. It may not be appropriate to use a certain word if it:

  • suggests business pre-eminence, a particular status, or a specific function, for example, names that include ‘British’, ‘Institute’ or ‘Tribunal’
  • implies a connection with the UK government, a devolved administration or a local or specified public authority
  • includes a word that represents a regulated activity
  • includes a word whose use could be an offence

Annex A sets out the approval criteria to use a sensitive word or expression included in the regulations. Information intended to support a proposed name, such as a letter or email of non-objection from a specified body, must be included with the ‘application to register a company (IN01) or to use a business name.

7.1 Other restricted words

You will need approval if you want to use a name which:

  • could imply a connection with the UK government, a devolved administration or a local or specified public authority. Annex B includes a list of words and expression that require prior approval and includes details of contact bodies and approval criteria
  • is protected or regulated by other legislation. Annex C includes a list of protected words, contact bodies and approval criteria

8. Objections to company names

You could be required to change your registered name following a complaint if:

  • the name is ‘too like’ an existing name on the index
  • misleading information to support the use of a sensitive word or expression was provided at the time of registration
  • the name gives so misleading an indication of the company’s activities, it is likely to cause harm to the public
  • the company no longer justifies omitting ‘Limited’ from the end of its name
  • the name is the same as a name associated with the applicant (complainant) in which he has goodwill; or it is sufficiently similar and is likely to mislead by suggesting a connection between the company and the applicant This is called ‘opportunistic registration’.

8.1 ‘Too like’ names

A name may be ‘too like’ an existing name if it differs from another name on the index by only a few characters, signs symbols or punctuation or if it looks and sounds the same.

When considering a complaint on grounds of ‘too like’ we can’t take account of factors such as alleged trademark infringement, implied association, possible passing off, geographic location or similarity of activities. The Secretary of State must give any direction within twelve months of the company’s registration by the name in question.

The vast majority of names are available to register but to avoid the possibility of incurring additional costs of changing stationary, signage, website etc. we advise applicants to check the index of company names before proceeding with their application.

8.2 Misleading information

A company may need to change its name if, within 5 years of registration, it no longer justifies the use of a previously approved sensitive word because misleading information was provided when the name was registered or it is no longer fulfilling an undertaking or assurance given to support the name.

8.3 Misleading indication of activities

A company may need to change its name if it gives so misleading an indication of the nature of its activities it is likely to harm the public. There is no time limit for making a complaint.

8.4 When you’d need to re-instate ‘limited’ in a company name

A company limited by guarantee could be directed by the Secretary of State to reinstate ‘limited’ or ‘ltd’, ‘cyfyngedig’ or ‘cyf’ in its name if it no longer meets the requirements for exemption

8.5 Opportunistic registration

Opportunistic registration is the term applied to a company or LLP, which registers a name, which is the same as an existing name in which another person has goodwill; or if a name is so similar the public are unable to distinguish between one name and another.

The Company Names Tribunal (‘CNT’), a part of the Intellectual Property Office, considers complaints about opportunistic registration. This provision provides a remedy for parties who believe the registration of a company or LLP name in which they have a goodwill causes them harm. If the CNT upholds a complaint the Company Names Adjudicator may issue an Order requiring the company in question to change its name. If the company fails to comply by voluntarily changing its name the Adjudicator may give notice to the Registrar of Companies to change the name of the company to its company number, so that its number becomes its name.

Further information, including application forms and contact information is available on the Company Names Tribunal website.

9. Business names

A ‘business name’ is any name under which someone carries on business. In the case of a company or limited liability partnership, it means a name that is not its registered name. In the case of a sole trader, it means a name other than a surname with or without forenames or initials. In the case of a partnership, it means a name other than the partners’ names.

9.1 Which provisions of the Companies Act 2006 apply to business names

Business names are not registered under the Companies Act but some of the rules included in the Act do apply, principally:

  • restrictions on the use of certain words in the name and names that could imply a connection with a government department or public body
  • Inappropriate and misleading use of a name ending, for example ‘limited’ at the end of the name. If the company is trading, there are rules to prevent the use of names that could mislead the public
  • rules requiring the names of sole traders and partnerships using a business name to be displayed on stationery and signs at business premises

9.2 Obtaining approval to use a sensitive word in your business name

If your business name includes any of the words and expressions included in Annexes A to C, where appropriate, you must obtain the written views of a relevant body and send it to Companies House with your letter seeking permission to use the name. If you use such a name without prior approval, you will be committing an offence and may be subject to a fine. You should also ensure your business name does not infringe an existing trademark.

9.3 Display your business name

If you’re a sole trader or partnership that uses a different trading name, you must display your own name (sole trader) or all the partners’ names (partnership) in a prominent position at all your business premises.

9.4 Business stationery

If you use a business name, you must include your own or the partners’ names in legible characters on:

  • business letters
  • written orders for goods or services to be supplied to the business
  • business emails
  • invoices and receipts issued in the course of the business
  • written demands for payment of debts arising in the course of the business

You must also include an address in the UK to enable business documents served on the sole trader or any partner shown on business stationery.

10. Disclosure of company name and specified other information (‘trading disclosures’)

Regulations made under the Companies Act 2006 require a company to display its name at its registered office and other places of business, on business documents and on websites. The purpose of the regulations is that the legal identity of every company should be revealed to anyone who have, or may wish to have, dealings with it.

The requirements are included in the ‘Company, Limited Liability Partnership and Business (Names and Trading Disclosures) Regulations 2015 (SI2015/17).

10.1 Display your company name

Every company, unless it has been continuously dormant since incorporation, must display a sign with its registered name at:

  • its registered office
  • any inspection place
  • at any location at which it carries on business (unless it is primarily used for living accommodation

It must also include its registered name in all business communications (hard copy and electronic).

10.2 Company name sign

You must display a sign with your company name:

  • in characters that can be read with the naked eye
  • in such a way that visitors to that office, place or location may easily see it
  • continuously, but if the location is shared by 6 or more companies, each such company must either display its registered name for at least 15 continuous seconds at least once in every 3 minutes, or make its registered name available for inspection on a register by any visitor.

10.3 Company name in communications

You must include your company’s registered name in all forms of business correspondence and documentation, whether in hard copy or electronic, including:

  • business letters, notices and other official publications
  • business emails
  • bills of exchange, promissory notes, endorsements and order forms
  • cheques purporting to be signed by or on behalf of the company
  • orders for money, goods or services purporting to be signed by or on behalf of the company bills of parcels, invoices and other demands for payment, receipts and letters of credit

10.4 Company name on websites

Every company must disclose its registered name on its websites. You don’t need to include the company name on every page but it must be visible and easily read.

10.5 Exceptions to needing to display a company’s name

There are 2 exceptions:

  • an insolvent company, such as a company in respect of which a liquidator, administrator, or administrative receiver has been appointed is not required to display its registered name at any premises which are also the place of business of those insolvency specialists
  • if every director of the company is one whose residential address cannot be disclosed by the registrar to a credit reference agency, then the company does not have to display its registered name at any place at which it carries on business (but this exception does not extend to the company’s registered office or inspection place for the company’s records)

10.6 Additional information you must disclose

The company must display the following on all its business letters, business emails, order forms and websites:

  • the part of the United Kingdom in which the company is registered (i.e. England and Wales, or Wales, or Scotland, or Northern Ireland)
  • the company’s registered number
  • the address of the company’s registered office
  • if a company is exempt from the requirement to use ‘limited’ in its name, the fact that it is a limited company
  • if the company is a community interest company which is not a public company, the fact that it is a limited company
  • if it is an investment company as defined by section 833 of the Companies Act 2006, the fact that it is this type of company
  • if it is a company which has chosen to display its share capital, it must display the amount of paid up share capital

10.7 Information the company must provide on request

If anyone with whom the company deals in the course of business makes a written request for:

  • the address of its registered office
  • the address of any place of inspection
  • the type of company records kept at the registered office or inspection place

The company must provide this information, in writing, within 5 working days.

10.8 Displaying directors’ names

A company doesn’t have to state the directors’ names on its business letters unless it chooses to do so. However, if it does decide to include the names then it must state the names of all its directors. In other words, a company cannot be selective about which directors’ names it shows. It must show all of them or none of them.

10.9 Charitable companies

Section 68 of the Charities Act 2011 provides that a charitable company whose name does not include the word ‘charity’ or ‘charitable’ must state that it is a charity on company documents, including business letters, notices, invoices, bills of exchange, promissory notes and on any conveyances it executes. The relevant legislation in Scotland is the Charities and Trustee Investment (Scotland) Act 2005.

11. Background information

11.1 Delivery of documents to Companies House

Most paper documents sent to Companies House must state the registered name and number of the company in a prominent position. There are a few exceptions to this rule, which are set out in the Registrar’s Rules and Powers Guide.

Paper documents should be on A4 size, plain white paper with a matt finish. All text and numbers should be black, clear, legible, and of uniform density.

It’s important the original document delivered is legible so that a clear copy of the document can be produced for the public record. The document or form may be rejected (returned to the company) if it’s not delivered in an acceptable format.

More information about the quality and delivery of documents is available in the Registrar’s Rules and Powers Guide.