In the guide
This guidance is for England, Scotland & Wales
Requirements for the use, display and disclosure of company, business and trading names are detailed in three pieces of legislation:
There are requirements relating to the name a business chooses to trade under and rules to prevent the use of names that could mislead the public.
This legislation gives detailed requirements regarding names that businesses can choose to trade under and how particular details about businesses have to be disclosed to their customers. The provisions apply to:
Sole traders and partnerships that are not registered companies are required to display and disclose detailed information about their businesses when they use a business name that is not their surname (with or without forenames or initials), or one that uses the names of all the partners.
For example, if John Smith has a shop called Happy Family Bakers the disclosure requirements would apply to him; were he to call his business Mr Smith, John Smith, or J Smith, they would not. The same would apply to a partnership. If John Smith and David Jones have a business partnership called Happy Bakers the disclosure requirements would apply; were they to call their business J Smith and D Jones, or Smith and Jones, they would not.
As well as the above, the disclosure requirements do not apply when a business is continuing the trade of a former owner, and the new name includes both the former and current owners - for example, 'Mr Smith (formerly Mr Jones)'.
Where a sole trader or partnership carries on business under a name that is not that of the proprietor or partners their details must be fully disclosed to customers and suppliers in order to make it clear who they are doing business with.
The information that is required to be disclosed is:
The required information must be:
Partnerships of more than 20 persons are not required to disclose details all of the partners in business documents if:
Below is an example of a notice that could be displayed to comply with the business premises requirements for a sole trader. Partnerships need to include the full names of all of the partners in such a notice.
PARTICULARS OF OWNERSHIP OF
Happy Family Bakery as required by section 1204 of the Companies Act 2006
Full name of owner: John Smith
Address at which documents relating to the business may effectively be served:
The following requirements apply only to companies that are registered with Companies House.
There are specific rules in the legislation concerning incorporation and names that can be used and registered with Companies House, full guidance on which can be found on the GOV.UK website.
Briefly, the rules concerning company names include:
Active companies must display their full registered company name at:
This requirement does not apply to companies where every individual director is required to refrain from disclosing protected information to a credit reference agency.
Manner of display
Where business premises are shared by up to five companies the registered name must be:
Where business premises are shared by six or more companies each company must ensure that their registered name is either:
Registered name to appear in communications
Companies must disclose their registered name on:
Further particulars to be disclosed
Companies must disclose the following particulars on their business letters, order forms and websites:
If companies disclose the amount of share capital in those places the disclosure must be as to paid-up share capital.
Disclosure of names of directors
Where a company's business letters include the names of any individual or corporate director of the company, other than in the text or as a signatory, the letter must disclose the names of every director of the company.
Requests for company information
Within five working days of receiving a written request for company information from anyone it deals with in the course of business, companies must send a written reply disclosing:
Legibility of displays & disclosures
All information that is required to be displayed or disclosed must be clearly legible.
The following applies equally to sole traders, partnerships and companies.
It is an offence to fail to comply with these requirements. The maximum penalty is a £1,000 fine plus, for continued contravention, a maximum daily default fine of £100.
Trading names & trade marks
Whether you have a business, partnership or company, you may well wish to trade under a different name. If you do, you need to be aware that you cannot use another company's trade mark as your business name. You can search the trade mark register on the GOV.UK website to find out if a mark is already registered.
If someone else begins to trade using your trade name or your unregistered trade mark you may have to take an action for 'passing off' in the civil courts to stop them. Therefore, you may wish to register your trade name or unregistered trade mark for enhanced protection.
To be registered, trade marks must comply with the rules relating to trade mark registration and certain names or marks are not eligible for registration - for example, marks that include common trade terms, such as A1 Taxis, A1 Cleaners, etc. However, this does not prevent anyone carrying on a business under those names. To register a trade mark you can apply online to the Intellectual Property Office (IPO).
See 'Intellectual property' for more information.
Also applicable to any business that trades through advertisements or online are 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 businesses selling or advertising online to provide certain information on their 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 'Consumer contracts - distance sales' for more information.
Last reviewed / updated: June 2017
This information is intended for guidance; only the courts can give an authoritative interpretation of the law.
The guide's 'Key legislation' links may only show the original version of the legislation, although some amending legislation is linked to separately where it is directly related to the content of a guide. Information on amendments to UK legislation can be found on each link's 'More Resources' tab; amendments to EU legislation are usually incorporated into the text.
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