Trading standards information

© 2011 itsa Ltd on behalf of the Trading Standards Institute.

Company and business names

The Companies Act 2006 lays down the requirements relating to the name by which a business chooses to trade under. 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 your business name must be displayed on stationery and at your business premises.

In the guide
Who do the business names provisions apply to?
Rules on names
Displaying your business name
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) and your legal address. (If your business has more than 20 partners there is no requirement to list them all, you may state that a list is available at the premises.)

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

Other requirements
Also applicable to any business that trades through advertisements or online are the provisions of the Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000. 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 online to provide certain information on its website, such as a UK geographic address and detailed information on pricing, delivery charges, etc.

See our leaflet 'Selling at a distance (via the internet, telephone, post, etc)' 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
Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000
Electronic Commerce (EC Directive) Regulations 2002
Companies Act 2006
Companies (Registrar, Languages and Trading Disclosures) Regulations 2006
Companies (Trading Disclosures) (Insolvency) Regulations 2008
Company, Limited Liability Partnership and Business Names (Sensitive Words and Expressions) Regulations 2009
Company and Business Names (Miscellaneous Provisions) Regulations 2009

Last reviewed/updated: January 2014

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

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