A guide to business registration

Featuring key insights to registering business in the UK

1 Overview

The challenge

You need to formally register your business in the most cost-effective and least time-consuming way possible.

Your aim

There are significant benefits only available to registered businesses. To reap these benefits, you need to opt for business registration. This will give your business a legal identity which empowers you to operate fully within the framework of the law. The aim is to formally register your business in order to get access to financial services provided by commercial banks. You want your employees to benefit from the welfare protections that business registration brings.

2 Registries, explained

A company registry records and updates information on new and existing companies in its jurisdiction. It allows registered companies to comply with their obligations under the current regulatory framework, including those related to company laws.1

The registry incorporates legal entities, providing them with a unique identification, and de-registers insolvent firms.

Other services provided by a registry include:

  • Conducting company name searches
  • Reserving company names
  • Processing applications for business licenses

Registries enable the government to:

  • Measure tax compliance or avoidance in the formal sector
  • Gain business statistics by sector
  • Determine which entities are eligible to participate in public tenders and bids
  • Promote consumer protection in “high risk” industries such as pharmaceuticals and food preparation by ensuring they meet the required health, safety, and environmental standards

What makes a business registry efficient?

A registry is considered to be efficient if it is either a comprehensive electronic database, a one-stop shop, or an increasingly popular online registration platform.

An electronic database

An effective electronic database maintains up-to-date information and documents on newly registered and existing companies. Electronic databases make information easier to access online or on-site at a registry’s office.

Historically registry records were kept in a paper-based format, but increasingly registries are stored and maintained electronically. This has reduced errors in updating business information and sped up searches. Electronic record keeping also makes it easier to access statistics.

A one-stop shop

A one-stop shop provides a single service point for completing several business registration processes. It might be a series of offices occupied by representatives from different government agencies that start-up owners visit one after the other. Some one-stop shops give a single point of interaction between a business owner and all the government agencies involved in business registration. Here, the business owner gives all the documents necessary for registration to one contact, who will distribute the documents to the appropriate agencies for processing and approval.

One-stop shops are becoming more popular, with over 100 economies launching one-stop shops. Of this figure, 64 are located in low-or middle-income economies.

3 Online registration platforms

Registering your business online is the most efficient way of registering. It lets you file incorporation documents electronically and sometimes even lets you complete the entire business registration process online.

The most common online registration features include:

  • Online company name search
  • Electronic submission of documents and applications
  • Online filing of annual accounts
  • Exchange of data between different agencies

For example, in Singapore and New Zealand owners of start-ups can complete the entire business registration process online. Thanks to the connections between different agencies’ systems, they can register their business with tax and social security authorities at the same time that they complete their registration process.

The benefits of using online registration

Using online services to register your business has several advantages. It is faster than going to a one-stop shop. It is less expensive than paper-based registration processes, with minimal costs, if any. Another advantage is that economies which allow start-up businesses to register online are less likely to have bribery or corruption, as the opportunity for interacting with officials is non-existent.

4 The United Kingdom, simplifying start-ups

If you are starting your business in the UK you must register with the national business registry, Companies House. The 2006 Companies Act and its 1985 predecessor have made it a legal requirement that all new limited liability companies registered with Companies House to do business.

Companies House introduced electronic filing in 2001 to make the registration process as simple as possible. Electronic filing has made incorporation faster, more convenient, and less expensive than the old method of registering in person at Companies House. Electronic filing has become almost universal among start-ups in the UK. In 2013 over 98% of new companies registered electronically2.

When you register you new business online you simply file your incorporation documents. The whole process takes just a few hours. All the incorporation forms are available at no cost on the Companies House website, and come with detailed instructions.

You can register online or at the Companies House office, where computers are available to let you register electronically.

5 How Companies House has simplified registering

Companies House has simplified the registration process by offering online registration. It has also simplified pre-registration.

Companies House did this by increasing the accessibility of the registry data. This has made the initial research a start-up business does much easier. In 1996 Companies House made basic information on existing companies available for free, which allowed business founders to easily conduct name searches online and at the Companies House office.

Today Companies House processes 235 million free basic company information searches online or through its mobile application every year.

In 2016 Companies House expanded its company information to include:

  1. Company number
  2. Address
  3. Status
  4. Incorporation data
  5. Accounts
  6. Filing dates for annual returns

Since Companies House increased its data accessibility, electronic procedures, and free resources for business founders, the number of registered companies in the UK has doubled.

Source List:

  1. Motta, Oviedo and Santini 2010; Klapper and Love 2011

  2. UK Companies House 2013