Although you can register a limited company yourself, unless you’ve done it before you may need to engage the services of a solicitor, accountant, chartered secretary or a company formation agent.
Formation agents, such as the National Business Register, use their own software that works directly with the Companies House systems. If you want to register your company electronically (most are registered this way) you will need to have the specific Companies House electronic interface – hence the need for a formation agent. However, you can still deliver the physical documents directly to Companies House without the need of a formation agent or specific electronic interface.
A key advantage of using a formation agent is the advice they can give you on the compiling of the necessary documents and the right structure for your business. Companies House does not provide this service when registering, so if you are unfamiliar with the process it’s advisable to get help to avoid errors. Going through the registration process yourself can be time-consuming, especially if you make a mistake. In addition, Companies House staff will not advise you about specific matters, such as the content of the required memorandum and articles.
These days, many company formation agents operate online (see below). However, the level of support and personal service you will receive can vary greatly, so it’s worth spending some time assessing the options available.
Finally, you can buy an ‘off-the-shelf’ company, receiving a ready-made limited company that has designated company officers listed on the paperwork. You simply transfer your name, and the names of any other company directors, to the company once you receive your documentation. The process can be completed on the same day, and many accountancy firms have several ready-made limited companies that they can sell to you.
Recent developments in the registration process
It has never been easier to register a limited company due to recent key developments, according to Simon Harrison at Complete Formations, an online company registration agent. "While accountants and solicitors still play a role in registering companies, particularly for their corporate clients, their involvement in incorporations for individuals has undoubtedly reduced," he explains. "A typical modern scenario might be where a private individual uses an accountant for advice on what type of company to incorporate, based on an assessment of tax position and plans for the future. The individual might then go away to form the company themselves through a formation agent and save themselves money in the process."
The costs of incorporating a company have also reduced, due in part to greater competition between formation agents and their development of more efficient internal systems, which have automated some of the manual tasks. "Examples of this include batch printing of incorporation documents and providing more controls and guidance over what customers can and should enter on the online registration forms," says Harrison. "This, in turn, results in less support costs dealing with repetitive issues. It is now possible to purchase an electronic company formation for as little as £24.99 plus VAT."
Another significant change in the way in which companies are registered today is the manner in which the eventual directors, secretary (if the option is taken to have one) and the subscribers are appointed. "Previously, accountants, solicitors and company formation agents typically used nominees to act as the shareholder and company officers at the time a company was incorporated," says Harrison. "Once the company was successfully formed, the purchaser’s officers would be appointed and the nominees would resign. This practice often caused issues when the purchasers then went to open a company bank account and the nominees were still shown on the Companies House register, which might not have been updated to reflect the new ownership and management appointments.
"With the exception of ready-made companies, where the use of nominees is still commonplace, the expectation for most companies incorporated today is that the first appointees will be those which the purchaser requests. This does mean that more time must be spent by the purchaser at the pre-formation stage, entering details of their directors and shareholders. Once the company has been set up, however, there is not then the requirement for this task to be undertaken in order to take ownership of the business."
How to register your company
There are many company formation agents in the UK offering different packages and slightly different services. We've chosen to partner with Companies Made Simple, an approved e-filing partner of Companies House because they have successfully registered over 200,000 UK companies and we are impressed with their service, speed and value for money.