Business Names

Whether you are a sole trader or a company, there is legislation, which controls the use of a business name, failure to comply with the legislation results in a criminal offense, which can result in a fine and the possibility of being unable to enforce contracts due to the breach. The relevant legislation is the Business Names Act 1985 (the “Act”). On 1 October 2009 this Act will be replaced by the Companies Act 2006.

If you are a sole trader or a partnership and use your surname(s), or your surname(s) prefixed by your initials or forename(s) (in the case of a partnership all partners names) for your business and no other words, as long as the name is your own name it will not be classed as a business name and you will not have to comply with the obligations set out in the Act. If you use any other words you will be using a business name and you must then comply with all relevant legislation set out in the Act.

A sole trader or partnership whose business name falls inside of the Act must show on all business letters, written orders for good or services, invoices, receipts, demands for payments, the traders name and address in Great Britain for service of documents. The name and address must also be displayed at any premises that the business is carried out in, to which customers, and or suppliers have access to.

The Act controls the name you use for your business and sets out what you must tell others about the ownership of your business.

For instance you have to apply to Secretary of State for written permission to use the word British, in a company name. Some words and expressions are controlled by other laws and the use of a controlled word without permission could be a criminal offense.

You should always check to see whether the business name that you intend using is already being used, carrying out the checks listed below would help you in your investigation:-

Check your local phone book and trade journals or magazines
Check the company names index at Companies House.
Check with the trade mark registry of the UK Intellectual Property Office.
Check on the internet to see if the name comes up.

If you use a business name already used, whoever already uses the name could take legal action against you for using their name. Even if it is your own name, if your type of business is the same as another well known business with the same name the other business might say you have set up with the intention of taking business from them.

If you require further information on setting up a business please telephone this firm on +44 (0)208 539 0075 to discuss your needs.

This guide is intended as general information only and it does not seek to summarise the relevant legislation which is a complex and technical area of law. This guide should therefore not be relied upon and you should take specific professional legal advice relating to your personal circumstances prior to taking action.