This fact sheet summarises the key issues when forming a company in the UK.
FORMING A COMPANY
This information sheet summarises the key issues when forming a company in
The factors covered are:
2. Definition of a UK registered company
3. Setting up a UK registered company
4. Alternative business structures for foreign investors
5. Choosing a company name
6. Further information
The UK has an open, transparent and business-friendly system to encourage
the formation of new businesses. There are approximately 2.6 million
registered companies in the UK, with over 330,000 new registrations each
year. No permission is required to establish a business presence in the UK,
although there are regulations on the use of business names and certain
business sectors which may require licences or authorisation (such as finance,
defence and oil exploration).
Companies House is the key government organisation that co-ordinates the
administration of businesses in the UK. Detailed guidance on the requirements
for forming a company in the UK is available at: www.companieshouse.gov.uk
Independent professional advice on forming a company in the UK can also be
obtained from accountants, solicitors and company formation agents (see
Appendix A for further information).
2. DEFINITION OF A UK REGISTERED COMPANY
The majority of foreign investors will establish a ?Registered Company? when
setting up in the UK. There are four different types of UK registered company:
? Private company limited by shares (?Ltd?) ? the members? liability is
limited to the amount unpaid on shares they hold.
? Private company limited by guarantee ? the members? liability is limited
to the amount they have agreed to contribute to the company?s assets
if it is wound up.
? Private unlimited company ? there is no limit to the members? liability.
? Public company limited by shares (?plc?) ? the company?s shares are
offered for sale to the general public through a stock exchange and the
members? liability is limited to the amount unpaid on shares held by
The vast majority of foreign businesses are established as a company limited
by shares, either as a private limited company or as a public limited company.
Most foreign companies set up a private limited company that is a subsidiary of
the overseas company (for a formal definition of a subsidiary, please see:
3. SETTING UP A UK REGISTERED COMPANY
It is a straightforward process to establish a company in the UK and there are
no separate rules for foreign nationals. To register a company, mandatory
documents such as the ?Memorandum of Association? and ?Articles of
Association? must be filed with Companies House.
The documentation can be prepared and the company registered in a day,
provided that standard Memorandum of Association and Articles of Association
are adopted (it can take considerably longer if tailor-made Memorandum of
Association and Articles of Association are required). ?Ready-made? companies
are available from company formation agents throughout the UK. For further
information about setting up a UK registered company, please see:
4. ALTERNATIVE BUSINESS STRUCTURES FOR FOREIGN INVESTORS
Instead of registering a UK company, foreign businesses can establish a
business presence in the UK through the following:
a) A UK establishment
b) A partnership
c) A limited partnership
d) A limited liability partnership
e) A joint venture
f) A European public limited company (SE)
a) A UK establishment
A UK establishment is part of an overseas limited company organised to
conduct business in the UK. After opening a UK establishment, the
following documents must be submitted to Companies House within a
? a completed IN01 form,
? a certified copy of the company?s constitutional documents,
? a copy of the latest set of disclosed accounts published in the
company?s home country, and
? the registration fee (currently £20 for paper applications or £15 for
Constitutional documents and accounts must be in the home country
language of the overseas company, with (if not in English) a certified
translation made in the country where the company was incorporated.
For further information, please see:
Individuals, including overseas investors, can set up as a partnership in
the UK. The partners have ??joint and several? liability for all debts. This
means that if a partner or a number of partners cannot pay (or be made
to pay) their share of any debts, then the other partners become liable
(in addition to their own share of debt).
c) Limited partnerships
A limited partnership consists of:
? one or more persons called ?general partners? who are liable for all
debts and obligations of the firm, and
? one or more persons called ?limited partners? who contribute a sum
or sums of money as capital, or property valued at a stated
amount. Limited partners are not liable for the debts and
obligations of the firm beyond the amount contributed.
A limited partnership must be registered under the Limited Partnership
Act of 1907. To register, all partners must sign and submit Form LP5
(including details of the business name, nature of the business,
commencement date and the sum contributed by each limited partner)
to Companies House.
An overseas limited partnership cannot usually register in the UK
because the main place of business of a limited partnership has to be in
d) Limited liability partnerships (LLP)
An LLP is an alternative corporate business structure providing the
benefits of limited liability but allowing its members the flexibility of
organising their internal structure and tax arrangements as a traditional
Any new or existing firm of two or more ?persons? (in law a ?person? can
be an individual or a company) can incorporate as an LLP. An LLP is
incorporated by registration at Companies House (following a similar
process to that required for registering a company).
LLPs have similar disclosure requirements to a company, including the
filing of accounts. They are also required to:
? file an annual return, and
? notify Companies House of any changes to the LLP?s membership,
any changes to members? names and residential addresses and any
changes to the Registered Office address.
For further detailed information on LLPs, please see:
e) Joint ventures
An overseas company can form a base in the UK by joining with a UK
company. Such joint ventures (JVs) are usually made with limited
companies or established as a partnership.
Information on possible JV partners is available from the relevant UK
trade association. For further information, please contact the Trade
Association Forum at: www.taforum.org
f) European public limited company
European Union legislation allows overseas companies to establish a
European public limited company (also known as a ?Societas Europaea?
or ?SE?) in the UK. An SE can be registered in any country within the
European Economic Area although the registered office and head office
must be in the same country.
There are several ways of forming an SE:
? By merger
? As a holding company
? As a subsidiary
? By a plc transforming into an SE
An SE must have share capital and shareholders whose liability is limited
in a similar manner to that of a plc. As with a plc, an SE registered in the
UK may denominate its share capital in any currency it chooses,
provided that at least £50,000 is denominated in sterling.
The major benefit of an SE is that the registered office can be
transferred to another European country without a loss of legal status
(avoiding, for example, the requirement to deregister the company in
one country and reregister in another).
For further detailed information on the procedures to establish an SE,
please see: www.companieshouse.gov.uk/about/gbhtml/gpo6.shtml
5. CHOOSING A COMPANY NAME
Regulations restrict the choice of a company name. A company name cannot
be chosen if it is the same as an existing registered company or uses certain
words regarded as sensitive (please see:
www.companieshouse.gov.uk/about/gbhtml/gp1.shtml#appA for a list of
Before applying to set up a company, or doing anything to change its name, it
is recommended that a search of the company name index is undertaken at
6. FURTHER INFORMATION
This information sheet was updated in March 2010.
As information changes from time to time, please contact the organisations
listed or UK Trade & Investment to confirm any item that you intend to rely on.
This information sheet was produced by the Marketing Group of:
UK Trade & Investment
66-74 Victoria Street
London SW1E 6SW
Tel: +44 (0)20 7215 4957
Contact details for solicitors and accountancy firms
England and Wales:
The Institute of Chartered The Law Society
Accountants in England & 113 Chancery Lane
Chartered Accountants Hall WC2A 1PL
London EC2R 6EA Tel: +44 (0)20 7242 1222
Tel: +44 (0)20 7920 8100
Association of Chartered Certified
29 Lincoln's Inn Fields
London WC2A 3EE
Tel: +44 (0)20 7059 5000
The Institute of Chartered The Law Society of Scotland
Accountants of Scotland 26 Drumsheugh Gardens
CA House Edinburgh EH3 7YR
21 Haymarket Yards
Edinburgh EH12 5BH Tel: +44 (0)131 226 7411
Tel: +44 (0)131 347 0100
The Institute of Chartered Accountants The Law Society of Northern
in Ireland Ireland
The Linenhall 96 Victoria Street
32-38 Linenhall Street Belfast
Belfast BT2 8BG BT1 3GN
Tel: +44 (0)289 043 5840 Tel: +44 (0) 289 023 1614
Website: www.icai.ie Website: www.lawsoc-ni.org/