July 28th, 2011
To put your business on a proper footing with HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) and other authorities, you need to make sure that it has the right legal structure. It’s worth thinking carefully about which structure best suits the way that you do business, as this will affect the tax and National Insurance that you pay, the records and accounts that you have to keep and your financial liability if the business runs into trouble.
There are several structures to choose from, depending on your situation.
To be a sole trader, a partner, or a member of a limited liability partnership as an individual rather than a company, you must be self-employed – and registered as such with HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC).
This does not mean that you can’t also do other work as an employee, but the work you do for your own business must be done on a self-employed basis.
If you are not sure whether your work counts as self-employment, ask yourself these questions:
- Do you present your clients with invoices for the work that you do for them?
- Do you carry out work for a number of clients?
- Are you responsible for the losses of your business as well as taking the profits?
- Can you hire other people on your own terms to do the work that you have taken on?
- Do you have control over what work has to be done, how the work has to be done and the time and place where the work has to be done?
- Have you invested your own money in your business or partnership?
- Do you provide any major items of equipment which are a fundamental requirement of the work you carry out?
- Do you have to correct unsatisfactory work in your own time and at your own expense?
If you can answer ‘yes’ to most of these questions then you are probably self-employed already, and should let HMRC know this immediately if you have not already done so.
You may be fined £100 if you fail to register within three months of becoming self-employed. There is no fee for registration.
If you answer ‘no’ to most of the questions above, you will normally be an employee.
Being a sole trader is the simplest way to run a business – it does not involve paying any registration fees, keeping records and accounts is straightforward, and you get to keep all the profits.
However, you are personally liable for any debts that your business runs up, which make this a risky option for businesses that need a lot of investment.
You need to register as self-employed with HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) and will probably have to notify HMRC that you will have to submit Self Assessment Tax Returns
- As you are self-employed, your profits are taxed as income.
- You also need to pay fixed-rate Class 2 and Class 4 National Insurance contributions on your profits.
Class 2 is normally paid by direct debit and is a fixed weekly amount. Class 4 is variable and a percentage based on profits.
In a partnership, two or more people share the risks, costs and responsibilities of being in business. Each partner is self-employed and takes a share of the profits. Usually, each partner shares in the decision-making and is personally responsible for any debts that the business runs up.
Unlike a limited company, a partnership has no legal existence distinct from the partners themselves. If one of the partners resigns, dies or goes bankrupt, the partnership must be dissolved – although the business can still continue.
A partnership is a relatively simple and flexible way for two or more people to own and run a business together. However, partners do not enjoy any protection if the business fails.
Each partner needs to register as self-employed and will be responsible for compiling Self Assessment Tax Return.
The partnership itself is also required to file a Self Assessment Tax return
It’s a good idea to draw up a written partnership agreement.
As partners are self-employed, they are taxed on their share of the profits. Each partner also needs to pay Class 2 and Class 4 National Insurance contributions.
Creditors can claim a partner’s personal assets to pay off any debts – even those debts caused by other partners. In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, partners are jointly liable for debts owed by the partnership and so are equally responsible for paying off the whole debt. They are not severally liable, which would mean each partner is responsible for paying off the entire debt.
Partners in Scotland are both jointly and severally liable.
However, if a partner leaves the partnership, the remaining partners may be liable for the entire debt of the partnership. Also, a creditor may choose to pursue any of the partners for the full debt owed in the case of insolvency.
Limited liability partnership
A limited liability partnership (LLP) is similar to an ordinary partnership – in that a number of individuals or limited companies share in the risks, costs, responsibilities and profits of the business.
The difference is that liability is limited to the amount of money they have invested in the business and to any personal guarantees they have given to raise finance. This means that members have some protection if the business runs into trouble.
Each member needs to register as self-employed
There must be a minimum of two designated members – the law places extra responsibilities on them. If the LLP reduces in number and there are fewer than two designated members then every member is deemed to be a designated member.
LLPs must register at Companies House.
It’s a good idea to draw up a written agreement between the members.
The LLP itself and each individual member must make annual self-assessment returns to HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC).
All LLPs must file accounts with Companies House.
Members of a partnership pay tax and National Insurance contributions on their share of the profits.
The profits of a member of an LLP are taxable as profits of a trade, profession or vocation and members remain self-employed and subject to Class 2 and Class 4 National Insurance contributions.
Limited liability companies
Limited companies exist in their own right. This means the company’s finances are separate from the personal finances of their owners.
Shareholders may be individuals or other companies. They are not responsible for the company’s debts unless they have given guarantees – for example, a bank loan. However, they may lose the money they have invested in the company if it fails.
Must be registered (incorporated) at Companies House.
Must have at least one director (two if it’s a plc) who may also be shareholders. Directors must be at least 16 years of age. At least one director must be an individual, rather than a company.
Private companies are not obliged to appoint a company secretary but if one is appointed this must be notified to Companies House. Plcs must have a qualified company secretary.
A director or board of directors make the management decisions.
Accounts must be filed with Companies House before the filing deadline to avoid a late filing penalty.
Accounts must be audited each year unless the company is exempt.
When you file your annual return for the first time a letter will be issued to the Registered Office containing the company’s authentication code and instructions for use of Companies House web filing services. You should follow the instructions in the letter.
Directors are responsible for notifying Companies House of changes in the structure and management of the business.
If a company has any taxable income or profits, it must tell HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) that it exists and is liable to corporation tax.
Companies liable to corporation tax must make an annual return to HMRC.
Company directors are an office holder of the company and therefore regarded as an employed earner for National Insurance. As such, company directors must pay both income tax and Class 1 National Insurance contributions on their director’s earnings. However, while regular employees’ Class 1 NICs are calculated on their monthly or weekly earnings separately, directors’ NICs are calculated on an annual cumulative basis.
Shareholders are not personally responsible for the company’s debts, but directors may be asked to give personal guarantees of loans to the company.
Overview of legal structures
independence, ease of set up and running, and all the profits go to you.
lack of support, unlimited liability and you are personally responsible for any debts your business runs up.
ease of set up and running, and the range of skills and experience different partners can bring to the business.
problems can occur when there are disagreements between partners, unlimited liability and you are personally responsible for any debts that the business runs up.
Limited liability partnership (LLP)
retain the flexibility of a partnership, personal liability is limited. At least two members must be ‘designated members’ – the law places extra responsibilities on them.
the formation is more complex and costly and problems can occur when there are disagreements between the members. If the number of partners is reduced, and there are fewer than two designated members, then every member is deemed to be a designated member.
Limited liability company
your personal financial risk is restricted by how much you invest and any guarantees you give in order to obtain financing.
this type of company brings a range of extra legal duties, including the maintenance of the company’s public records, eg for the purpose of the filing of accounts.