Sole trader

If you start working for yourself, you’re classed as a self-employed sole trader - even if you’ve not yet told HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

As a sole trader, you run your own business as an individual. You can keep all your business’s profits after you’ve paid tax on them.

You can employ staff. ‘Sole trader’ means you’re responsible for the business, not that you have to work alone.

You’re personally responsible for any losses your business makes.

Tax responsibilities 

You must:

Sole traders must register with HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) and follow certain rules on running and naming their business.
If you’re a sole trader, you run your own business as an individual and are self-employed.
You can take on staff - being a sole trader means you’re responsible for the business, not that you have to work alone.

Your responsibilities 

You’re responsible for:

Naming your business
You can use your own name or trade under a business name - read the rules for naming your business -
You must include your own name and business name (if you have one) on any official paperwork, like invoices and letters.
As a sole trader or ordinary business partnership you don’t have to register with Companies House - but you still need to follow the rules for choosing a business name.

What you can and can’t use

Your name can’t be exactly the same as another registered company’s name - search the Companies House register to see if a name’s been taken.
Your registered company or LLP name can’t be similar to (‘too like’ or ‘same as’) another registered name.
You may be able to get permission from an existing registered company or LLP to use a name that’s the same or similar to theirs if your company or LLP is part of the same group.

Your name also can’t:
  • Contain a ‘sensitive’ word or expression unless you get permission 
  • Suggest a connection with government or local authorities 
  • Be offensive 
When registered, there are rules about how and where you must display your company name.

Similar names
Your name must be unique - it can’t be the ‘same as’ or ‘too like’ an existing name.

‘Same as’ names
‘Same as’ names are those where the only difference to an existing name is:
  • punctuation 
  • a special character, e.g. the ‘plus’ sign 
  • one or more words listed in the guidance on naming - 
‘Hands UK Ltd’ and ‘Hand’s Ltd’ are the same as ‘Hands Ltd’, and ‘ Ltd’ is too similar to ‘Box Ltd’. 

You can register a ‘same as’ name as long as:
  • Your company or LLP is part of the same group as the company or LLP with the existing name 
  • You have written confirmation that the company or LLP has no objection to your new name 
‘Too like’ names

You may have to change your name if someone complains and Companies House agrees it’s ‘too like’ a name registered before yours.

‘Dynamic Technology LLP’ is too like ‘Dinamix Technology LLP’.
Companies House will contact you if they think your name is too like another - and tell you what to do.

Names and trade marks 
Registering a company or partnership name or using a business name doesn’t mean it’s protected as a trade mark - you have to register trademarks separately -

You may still want to check the trade mark register before registering your name to make sure you can register it as a trade mark.

When you don’t have to use ‘limited’ in your name
The names of most private limited companies in the UK must end in either ‘Limited’ or ‘Ltd’ or the Welsh equivalents ‘Cyfyngedig’ and ‘Cyf’ if you registered the company in Wales.

You can apply to leave ‘limited’ out of your name, e.g. if you’re a charity or sports club, if your company is limited by guarantee and your articles of association say your company:
  • Has objects of promotion or regulation of commerce, art, science, education, religion, charity or any profession 
  • Must spend its income on promoting its objects 
  • Can’t pay its members, e.g. through dividends 
  • Requires each member to contribute to company assets if it’s wound up during their membership, or within a year of them stopping being a member

Business names
You can trade using a different name to your registered name. This is known as a ‘business name’.

Business names mustn’t:
  • Include ‘limited’, ‘Ltd’, ‘limited liability partnership, ‘LLP’, ‘public limited company’ or ‘plc’ 
  • Be the same as an existing trade mark
  • Contain a ‘sensitive’ word or expression unless you get permission
You can use the business name on your stationery and correspondence but depending on your legal structure you must include:
  • The names of your partners 
  • The company name 
  • Your personal name if you’re a sole trader


Last updated: 4 March 2015