There are over four million companies registered in the UK – could your business be the next one? If so, you’re probably wondering how to register a limited company in the UK. 

This can seem like a daunting process to new businesses as you want to make sure you get all the information correct first time to avoid prolonged waiting. However, registering your company is one of the first and most important steps in your business journey. It’s also a legal requirement and you can’t start trading before doing so. 

Registering your business has other benefits too, such as protecting you from financial liabilities which would ultimately fall upon you if the company incurred any debts. We’ll cover even more benefits throughout this guide. 

This five step, easy to follow guide will walk you through how to register a limited company so you can quickly get your business up and running, as well as some other key information that will ensure a successful launch to your new venture. 

What is a limited company? 

Before going into our guide on how to register a limited company, it’s essential that you determine if registering as a limited company is right for you. 

A limited company is a business ‘limited by shares’ or ‘limited by guarantee’, which means that the business owners are only legally responsible for the shares they own in the company. 

These categories are known as company formations, and the main differences between these company types are: 

  • Companies limited by shares have shareholders.
  • Companies limited by guarantee have guarantors.
  • Companies registered as limited by shares are allowed to keep profits they make after tax.
  • Companies limited by guarantee must reinvest all their earnings back into the company in some way (that’s why these businesses are sometimes referred to as ‘not-for-profit’). 

Depending on your business type, this will determine if a limited by shares or limited by guarantee company is best for you. 

A final element to consider is if you want to register as a public or private limited company. The only difference between these two types is a matter of ownership: 

  • A private limited company is owned by a small group of people, such as family members or investors.
  • A public limited company has unlimited shareholders and shares can be traded on a stock exchange. 

Keep the above information in mind when it comes to registering your company. 

For the rest of this article, we’ll provide steps for how to register a limited by shares company (ones that can retain profit after taxes) as they are the most common type of limited company. If you would instead like to register as a company by limited guarantee, more information about the key differences is available here.  

One of the biggest advantages of limited companies is that they are considered legally and financially separate from the people who own them. This is known as limited liability which is a type of legal structure which limits the financial loss of assets or investment by a shareholder. 

This is beneficial to you as a business as it gives investors security when investing into your company, removing any reluctancy or hesitation as they know their share is safe. Therefore, if businesses struggle to finance their debts, owners are not considered liable. However, there is more of an administrative burden placed on companies as they operate.  

That’s a brief summary on the essential information you may need to know about limited companies before registering your company. But if you’d like to find out more about business structure options, read our article Sole Trader or Limited Company for further guidance and support. 

How to register a limited company 

To set up your limited company, you should follow the five steps below:

Step 1: Choose a name 

Choosing a business name (if you haven’t already got an idea for one) can be a fun step in the registering process. Once you have chosen your name, you’ll need to visit the Companies House website where they can let you know if the name is already taken or not. Companies House is a government agency which registers all UK companies. Third party services can also be used to register your limited company, but as Companies House is the official government agency, we’d highly recommend registering with them. 

But remember, there are some guidelines to follow when choosing your company name, such as: names of companies must be unique, end in ‘Ltd.’ or ‘Limited’ and cannot include offensive or sensitive terms. 

Unique names 

Your company’s name can’t be one that’s taken already. Check if the name you want for your company’s name is taken already using our company name search tool below.

Finding an available name might take some time, so make sure you have some back-ups and apply quickly to make sure you get the one you want and avoid disappointment. 

Offensive and sensitive terms 

‘No offensive words’ is self-explanatory, but ‘sensitive terms’ can be confusing at first as the meaning is a bit vague. Companies House won’t allow names of businesses to include protected terms like ‘Accredited’ or suggest relationships with governments unless you have permission. 

An example of this could be the following: ‘Accredited Government Accountants Ltd.’, this company name wouldn’t be accepted by Companies House.

Step 2: Choose a company formation

Next on the ‘how to register a limited company’ checklist is choosing a company formation. As previously mentioned in our ‘What is a limited company’ section, there are a few different types of company formations to pick from depending on your business type. 

For a limited company, these options include: 

  • Public limited company
  • Private limited by shares
  • Private limited by guarantee
  • Limited liability partnership 

Remember, the company formation you choose will determine how your business is run, so making sure to pick the right formation for your business is very important.

Step 3: Choose the people involved 

Not only do you need to know how to register a limited company, but you also need to know who to involve and why. 

Once you have chosen a company name and formation, it’s time to choose all those who will be involved with your company. Limited companies must choose a director and register any additional shareholders involved in the business.  

Choosing a director 

Limited companies must appoint a director who is responsible for the company’s operations and legal compliance. Make sure you’re aware of the full responsibilities and requirements of company directors before you declare them. 

If you’re setting up your business on your own, you can be both the director and only shareholder disclosed. 

As companies grow, some appoint a company secretary whose role is to help the director manage their responsibilities. Company secretaries also have to meet requirements, however, it’s important to note that private limited companies don’t need a secretary. However, the company’s director is still legally responsible regardless of who performs the company’s duties. 

Listing shareholders 

If you’ve registered yourself as the company’s director, you can also be its sole shareholder. As you expand the company, any additional shareholders must be declared. 

No matter how many shareholders there are, you must declare the structure of your company’s shares and their values. There are different types of shares and each company will have different arrangements with their investors, which is why it’s essential to clarify what your company has arranged. 

Similarly, companies must disclose people with significant control (PSC). These are people who own or control the company via either owning more than 25% of company shares or voting rights within a company. Because of this, companies have more than one PSC. 

Step 4: Preparing registration documents 

In order to register a company, you’ll need to draft two important documents before you register: a ‘memorandum of association’ and ‘articles of association’. 

A ‘memorandum of association’ is signed by all company shareholders, indicating they agree to form the company. If you register your company via Companies House online, your company’s memorandum of association will be automatically generated from the details you provide. 

However, if you would like to register by post, a template can be found here

A company’s ‘articles of association’ are the rules, agreed upon by the director, secretary and shareholders, that indicate how the company is to be run. You can write your own or use templates available online. 

Think of articles of association as a user’s manual for your company, it will include details such as your company’s purpose, share structure and supply information regarding shareholder meetings. You can either write your own and upload them to Companies House or use a standard template known as ‘model articles’. 

Importantly, different articles of association are required for a community interest company (CIC or ‘social enterprises’), so make sure not to use model articles if you plan on setting up a CIC. 

Keeping trading records to be compliant 

Once your company has officially been registered, you’ll also need to keep your company documents safe, sometimes for as long as six years in order to stay compliant with government legislation. 

This will include: 

  • Records about the company, e.g. people, debts, loans, votes and resolutions, transactions and assets.
  • Register of the PSC.
  • Accounting records, e.g. financial records, money spent and received, assets owned, debts, stock, stock takings and who you bought and sold to and from (unless you’re a retail business). 

Every receipt, invoice, contract and delivery note matters, so make sure to keep all company documents safe and secure as you could be fined £3,000 by HMRC if you don’t keep your documents in order ready for your Corporation Tax. 

Corporation Tax, also known as company tax, is simply the tax you pay annually on your company’s income. 

If your company documents happen to be stolen or lost and they are irreplaceable, you must either recreate them or tell your Corporation of Tax office immediately and include this incident in your Company Tax Return. And always tell Companies House if your documents are kept at a different address to your registered office address.

Legal documents will also need to be kept safe and up to date, such as the legally required statutory books in compliance with the Company Act 2006. Statutory books contain information relating to who the directors, secretaries, PSCs and shareholders. These documents need to be made public and readily available as they act as evidence of your company’s set up and history. 

Countingup has years of experience in helping limited companies manage their finances, which you can find out more about here

Your registered office 

As well as knowing how to register a limited company and what company documents to keep, you’ll also need to have a registered office address, also known as a RO. 

You’ll need a registered office address when you come to register your limited company as this is where all written communication will be sent. You can have your mail sent to a third party agent who can offer a mail forwarding service for an agreed fee, but they must send you all your mail, if not, or if you choose not to receive certain letters, you may be breaking the law. 

There are lots of benefits to having a registered office address, these include: 

  • Distinction between home and work – if you register your home address as your business address, you’ll be receiving both personal and business mail. Keep a work-life balance by keeping the two separate.
  • More privacy – people often check Google Maps to see where a business is located, therefore, you may not want people being able to look up where you live.
  • Better Business Image – it’ll look more corporate and professional to have a registered office address as it highlights the business’ success, which in turn could lead to more sales. 

Step 5: Register your company 

This is the final step of our ‘how to register a limited company’ guide. As previously mentioned, you’ll need to use Companies House registration service and you’ll also be registered for Corporation Tax at the same time. 

When your limited company is successfully registered, you’ll receive a certificate of incorporation to confirm that the company legally exists. The certificate of incorporation will be set to your registered office address, so make sure all details are correct. 

To start this final step and receive your certificate of incorporation, you’ll need to register yourself and/or the people involved with your company, you’ll need to confirm three of the following details for each person: 

  • Town of birth 
  • Mother’s maiden name 
  • Father’s first name 
  • Telephone number 
  • National Insurance number 
  • Passport number 

When learning how to register a limited company, business owners will often ask: ‘How much money is required to register a company in the UK?’

If you choose to register your company with Companies House, this online service will cost no more than £12 and can be paid quickly by direct or credit card.  

You may think that once you send off your application to register your business this will be a really long and convoluted process. Whilst it’s true that most government processes are still suffering from the COVID-19 pandemic and this impacts wait times, registering a company is one of the few processes to be unaffected. Typically, it can take as little as 24 hours for your company to become fully registered and ready to start trading. 

When you come to registering your company, you’ll need is a Government Gateway ID and password. A Government Gateway ID is a 12 digit code that along with a password allows you to access the UK Government’s digital services, such as registering a company. You can visit the Government Gateway portal here to set up your ID and password here – it’s as simple as that. 

Remember, even if you have a personal Government Gateway ID and password, you can’t use this, and you’ll need to set up a company account. 

You can also register you company via post by filling out an IN01 form. However, expect a longer wait time of around eight to ten days and cost £40 which needs to be paid by cheque to Companies House. 

And there you have it, that’s how to register a limited company, but the journey doesn’t stop there. 

Make business admin simple from the start 

As you can see from this guide, establishing a business is a process from the start; it’s an exciting time, but the challenges you face along the way can be intimidating if you’ve never encountered them before. But Countingup can help. 

What is Countingup? 

Since its formation in 2017, Countingup has helped over 50,000 UK businesses save time and money through improved and simplified accounting processes. Countingup is an award-winning business current account (e-money) that’s built with small limited companies and sole traders in mind. The two-in-one app Countingup has created simplifies bookkeeping and taxes, providing you with a helping hand to keep on top of your business’ financial records. 

The app works by automating expense categorisation and prompts you to take photos of receipts to store as records when you make a purchase.  

Here’s some other features your business could benefit from when you download the Countingup app today: 

  • Account opening in minutes 
  • Receive a contactless card, account number and sort code 
  • Invoicing and billing 
  • Real-time profit and loss 
  • Tax estimate 
  • Easily share with your accountant 
  • First-class, UK-based, helpful support team 

Simply enter your mobile number on our website and we’ll send you the link to the app, quick and simple. 

This takes the weight off your shoulders, and you can be safe in the knowledge that your company’s sensitive financial data is securely managed with Countingup. Take a look at what our customers have to say on Trustpilot about our business account and app. 

Start your business on the right track. Find out more about how Countingup can help here and download the Countingup app today.