Companies in the United Kingdom

Companies in the United Kingdom
Enabling Legislation
Applicable jurisdictions
  • England and Wales
  • Ireland
  • Scotland


A company is a legal entity with a separate identity from those who own or run it. All companies are businesses but not all businesses, legally speaking, are companies. There are various registers, services, and databases which offer company information.

The Joint Stock Companies Act 1844 [1] required all companies formed under the act to be recorded on a public register. The act also created the Office of Registrar of Joint Stock Companies, which was to be responsible in maintaining the register.

Most company registers contain the following information:

  • company details, e.g. registered address and date of incorporation
  • company registration number or other unique number
  • current and resigned officers
  • document images
  • mortgage charge data
  • previous company names
  • insolvency information

Types of companies[edit]

A company can be registered as one of several, different types:

  • Public limited company (PLC)
  • Private company limited by shares (LTD; Limited)
  • Private company limited by guarantee (LTD; Limited)
  • Private unlimited company (UNLTD)
  • Limited liability partnership (LLP)
  • Limited partnership (LP)
  • Companies incorporated by Royal Charter (RC)
Royal Charters, granted by the monarch, were originally used to create public or private corporations, including towns and cities, as well as define their privileges and purpose. [2] New charters are nowadays given to organisations that work in the public interest. Many chartered companies and organisations still exist, such as the BBC, the Royal Opera House, the British Red Cross, and the British Council. Many older universities in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are also chartered bodies. The 1844 Act did not apply to chartered companies.
  • Companies incorporated by Act of Parliament
These companies, also known as statutory companies, were brought into existence via an Act. Some statutory companies still operate and exist today, such as the Port of London Authority, the Post Office, and the Independent Television Commission. The 1844 Act did not apply to statutory companies.
  • Community interest company (CIC)
  • Charitable incorporated organisation (CIO)

Registers in the United Kingdom[edit]

There are several registers available in the United Kingdom; most are free, whilst others are accessible via a paid service.

Companies House[edit]

Companies House
Headquarters Crown Way
CF14 3UZ
Parent government department Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS)
Current directors? Yes
Previous directors? Yes
Alerts? Yes

The 1844 Act established the UK’s first registrar of companies, known today as Companies House.

The main responsibilities of Companies House are to:

  • incorporate and dissolve limited companies
  • register, examine and store company information
  • make information available to the public

In October 1988, Companies House became an executive agency of the Department of Trade and Industry. It primarily deals with all filings relating to the Companies Act 1985 to the Companies Act 2006. In addition to registration, Companies House is also responsible for dissolving companies.

In 2015, Companies House launched a new public beta service, which made access to data via a web service as well as an application program interface (API). [3]

Companies House may also records for company registrations made under the Limited Partnership Act, 1907 and newspapers registered under the Newspaper Libel and Registration Act, 1881.

The Gazette[edit]

The Gazette is formally a combination of three official journals of record and publications: The London Gazette, The Belfast Gazette, and the Edinburgh Gazette. It is published each weekday, except for bank holidays.

The Gazette mainly consists of statutory notices, however, there are over 450 types of notices which are required by law that can be published. [4]

The Gazette holds both historical and current information on companies within the U.K., and is free to search, with a printed archive dating back to 1665. There is also a research service available.

The National Archives[edit]

The National Archives also holds various records regarding companies in the U.K. You can search the online catalogue by company name or company number (listed on the certificate of registration or certificate of incorporation).

The National Archives also holds various indexes of companies registered between 1856 and 1937. These can be viewed in their reading rooms. [5]

Trade directories[edit]

In addition to online sources, there are also various trade directories which have been digistised, or added to existing printed collections.

University of Leicester There is an extensive collection of digital and print local trade directories for England and Wales, covering the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries.

Ancestry collection of UK, City and County Directories There is an online database for city and county directories, between 1766 and 1946.

The Stock Exchange Official Year-Book This yearbook was an annual compilation of companies quoted on the London Exchange, including statutory and registered companies. There is an incomplete collection at the National Archives.


In the United Kingdom, companies can register in three jurisdictions: England and Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland.

England and Wales[edit]

Companies House (England & Wales)
Cardiff Office Companies House
Crown Way
CF14 3UZ (Google maps)
London Office Companies House
Ground Floor, 80 Petty France
SW1H 9EX (Google maps)
Company registration 8 digits registration numbers

Companies may register either in England or in Wales and must display which location, however, it is considered to be a single jurisdiction.

The main Companies House office is located in Cardiff and companies registered are subject to English law.

The London office, located on Petty France, is a facility to file and view documents, as well as undertake other registration services.

A Limited Liability Partnership (LLP) registered in England and Wales will begin with ‘OC’ followed by 6 numbers.

A Limited Partnership (LP) will begin with 'LP' and be followed by 6 numbers.


Companies House (Scotland)
Edinburgh Office Companies House
4th Floor Edinburgh Quay 2
139 Fountainbridge

Edinburgh EH3 9FF (Google maps)

Company registration SC prefix followed by 6 numbers

The Edinburgh office of Companies House manages companies registered and incorporated in Scotland. Companies registered in Scotland are subject to Scots law.

The company registration number for limited companies in Scotland begins with ‘SC’ followed by 6 numbers.

The format for Scottish LLPs begins ‘SO’ followed by 6 numbers.

A Limited Partnership (LP) will begin with 'SL' and be followed by 6 numbers.

Northern Ireland[edit]

Companies House (Northern Ireland)
Belfast Office Companies House
Second Floor
The Linenhall
32-38 Linenhall Street

Northern Ireland BT2 8BG (Google maps)

Company registration NI followed by 6 numbers; R followed by 7 digits (previous)

The Belfast office of Companies House manages companies registered and incorporated in Northern Ireland.

The Companies Act 2006 was fully implemented in Northern Ireland on 1 October 2009. Prior to this, all limited companies were registered with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment. [6]

Companies registered in Northern Ireland are subject to Northern Ireland law. The format for LLPs registered in Northern Ireland have references beginning ‘NC’ followed by 6 numbers.

A Limited Partnership (LP) will begin with 'NL' and be followed by 6 numbers.

Company finance and status[edit]


England and Wales

Information on individuals and companies (via their trading name) on bankruptcies or bankruptcy restrictions can be found on the Individual Insolvency Register (IIR).

There is also another bankruptcy and debt relief restrictions service, which offers a further list with additional insolvency restrictions.


England and Wales

Information on individuals and companies (via their trading name) can be found on the Individual Insolvency Register (IIR).


To search for an insolvent company, or individual, in Scotland, members of the public can search the Register of Insolvencies.

Northern Ireland

For Northern Ireland, there is the publicly available Individual Voluntary Arrangement Register.

Specialist libraries[edit]

There are several libraries in the UK which offer access to company information, are open to the public, and provide access to historical company records.


Northern Ireland[edit]



  1. 7 & 8 Vict. c.110
  2. Royal Charters, The Privy Council Office website < accessed 2 March 2020 >
  3. Launch of the new Companies House public beta service, published 22 June 2015, GOV.UK < accessed 23 February 2020 >
  4. About, The Gazette < accessed 2 March 2020 >
  5. 7.2 Searching our catalogue by company number, The National Archives < accessed 2 March 2020 >
  6. The department was renamed in 2016 to the Department for the Economy.