23 May 2024 by Timothy Lucas

What’s in a name?

Companies House is not renowned for being the most fearsome or dynamic public body.  However, recent changes to UK company law have sought to change that.

Among various other changes, the new law has given Companies House greater powers in relation to company names.

Names intended to facilitate dishonesty or deception

Firstly, Companies House now has the power to reject an application to register a company if the company’s name is “intended to facilitate the commission of an offence involving dishonesty or deception”.  This power is presumably intended to catch fraudsters from setting up new companies that are confusingly similar in name to existing companies.

However, it remains to be seen how exactly Companies House will enforce this – hundreds of group companies are incorporated every day with names that are similar to other members of their group.  So it’s unclear how Companies House will differentiate between these perfectly innocent new companies and the fraudulent companies they’re trying to stop.

Names giving the impression of connection with a foreign state

Companies House will also now be able to reject an application for registration if the proposed name “would be likely to give the false impression that the company is connected with a foreign government agency or authority of a foreign government”.

This part of Companies House’s new powers will also put a stop to names that give a false impression of connection with an international organisation involving two or more countries.  This expands on existing rules which ban names implying a connection with the UK government department or public authority – i.e. the international element is new.

So, believe it or not, before 4th March 2024, you would have been free to call your new company “NATO Limited”.  Well, now you’ve missed your chance.  And, in any case, it appears someone got there first back in 2022 (more on this below).

Names containing computer code

Thirdly, there’s now a ban on company names that consist of or include computer code.  For a jovial explanation of why this is a thing, see here.

Power to direct a change of company name

Reinforcing all of the above, Companies House now also has the power to direct a company to change its name and even to change the company’s name itself if the company fails to comply with the direction.  Failure to comply with this type of direction from Companies House is a criminal offence.

It remains to be seen how, and to what extent, Companies House will trawl through the millions of existing company names to check whether they fall foul of the new rules.  Perhaps they’ll start with the obvious ones – and so the owners of NATO Limited may be bracing themselves to receive a disappointing letter from Companies House in the not-too-distant future…

If you want to set up a new company, or need advice on company names, please don’t hesitate to contact our expert Corporate & Commercial team.

9 May 2024 by Ransford Addo-Quaye

Disclosure and disposal of property interests

Civil proceedings in England and Wales rely on full and frank disclosure from all parties in order to run fairly […]

15 May 2024 by Susanna Spencer

Settlement agreement negotiation – 5 top tips

You may be offered a settlement agreement by your employer for a number of reasons, for example in a redundancy […]

Signup To Our Weekly e-News

"*" indicates required fields

We’ll never share your details with any third party in line with our privacy policy.