Trading standards leaflets

Ref: 204102

Company and business names

The legislation that deals with the requirements of company and business names comes from the Companies Act 2006 and the Companies (Trading Disclosures) Regulations 2008.

The Companies Act 2006 lays down the requirements relating to the name a business chooses to trade under and the rules prevent the use of names that could mislead the public. The provisions apply to individuals who trade under a name that is not their own, partnerships who do not operate under the names of the individual partners, and companies or limited liability partnerships. The Act also sets out how business names must be displayed on stationery and at business premises.

The Companies (Trading Disclosures) Regulations 2008 lay down the requirements for companies only and specifically relates to where company information must be displayed.

In the guide
Who do the business names provisions apply to?
Rules on names
Displaying your business name
Displaying your company information
Penalties
Other requirements

Who do the business names provisions apply to?
Where someone trades under a name other than their own they are using a 'business name'.

The provisions of the Companies Act 2006 in relation to business names apply to the following types of business:

  • companies where the trading name is different from the registered name - for example, ABC Limited trading as Hens R Us
  • individuals (sole traders) who trade under a name other than their own, such as Mr Jones trading as Cottage Builder. An individual who also use his forename and/or initials will not be caught by the provisions - for example, Mr John Jones
  • partnerships that use a trading name that is not the names of all the partners

Rules on names
The Companies Act 2006 (Part 5, Chapters 1-5) deals with permitted names and also the use of certain words and expressions in the name of a company, name changes, and powers of the Secretary of State.

Certain words or expressions are either prohibited from being used in business names or require approval from the Secretary of State before they can be used.

A few examples of these are:

  • 'association'
  • 'royal'
  • 'English'
  • 'council'

If you use such a name you could be committing an offence.

A full list of the names that are prohibited or require approval can be found in the incorporation and names guidance on the Companies House website. Please note that following government consultation the list of words has been reduced. These changes will come into effect during 2014.

Care should be taken to ensure that the business name you use does not infringe a registered trade mark.

Displaying your business name
Your customers and suppliers are entitled to know who they are doing business with and therefore need to know an address for your business where they can contact you and where documents can be served.

If you use a business name this information must be displayed in any premises your customers or suppliers have access to in the form of a sign that is prominently displayed. It must state your name (and that of any partners if relevant), the business you are trading under and your business address. This address can be an address in the United Kingdom at which documents in relation to the business can be served.

If you use a business name you must also display this information on your stationery. This includes:

  • business letters
  • written orders for goods or services to be supplied to your business
  • business emails
  • invoices and receipts
  • written demands for payment of debts arising in the course of your business
  • business website (a requirement under the Electronic Commerce (EC Directive) Regulations 2002)

You must also give immediately, by written notice, your business name information to anyone who has requested it.

Displaying your company information
The provisions of the Companies (Trading Disclosures) Regulations 2008 only relate to companies. Companies are those businesses that are registered with (and that therefore have a company number from) Companies House; most companies have 'Limited' or 'Ltd' after their name.

If you are a registered company you are required to do the following.

Display your registered name at its registered office, inspection place and any other business location at which you carry on your business

Position your registered name so that it can be easily seen by any visitor to that location

Disclose your registered name on the following (this list is not exhaustive):

  • business letters, notices and official publications
  • order forms
  • invoices and receipts
  • written demands for payment of debts arising in the course of your business
  • all other business correspondence and documentation
  • website

Disclose the part of the United Kingdom in which the company is registered, the company’s registered number and address on:

  • business letters
  • order forms
  • website

A company shall disclose the address of its registered office, any inspection place and the type of company records that are kept at that office or place to any person it deals with in the course of a business that makes a written request to the company for that information. The company must send a written response to that person within five working days of receipt of that request.

Penalties
If a person or company fails to comply with these requirements they commit an offence and are liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 3 (£1,000) on the standard scale and, for continued contravention, a daily default fine not exceeding one-tenth of level 3 (£100) on the standard scale.

Other requirements
Also applicable to any business that trades through advertisements or online are the provisions of the Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013. These Regulations require a supplier to provide a prospective buyer with details about themselves. Before a consumer concludes an online transaction or responds to an advert etc the supplier must provide details of the postal address of their business, so that a consumer may address complaints in a durable written format.

The Electronic Commerce (EC Directive) Regulations 2002 require a business selling or advertising online to provide certain information on its website, some of which overlaps with the above requirements, such as the company or business name, a UK geographic address and detailed information on pricing, delivery charges, etc.

See our leaflet 'Selling at a distance (via the internet, phone, etc) - from 13 June 2014' for more information

Please note
This leaflet is not an authoritative interpretation of the law and is intended only for guidance. Any legislation referred to, while still current, may have been amended from the form in which it was originally enacted. Please contact us for further information.

Relevant legislation
Insolvency Act 1986
Electronic Commerce (EC Directive) Regulations 2002
Companies Act 2006
Companies (Trading Disclosures) Regulations 2008
Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013

Last reviewed/updated: August 2014

© 2014 itsa Ltd on behalf of the Trading Standards Institute.

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Updated: 20 October 2009