Sensitive words and expressions are those that require prior approval before they can be included in a company name, an LLP name, or a business name. Controls on these words and phrases exist due to their potential to mislead or cause harm to the public if used inappropriately.
Whether you are planning to set up a limited company or limited liability partnership (LLP), register as a sole trader, or form a traditional business partnership, you should familiarise yourself with the rules on sensitive words before settling on a name.
What are ‘sensitive’ words and expressions?
Various rules and restrictions apply to company and LLP names, as well as business names or ‘trading’ names, including the use of certain words and expressions deemed ‘sensitive’ in nature or meaning. It is important to bear this in mind when choosing a name for your business or organisation.
Broadly, sensitive words and expressions are particular words that may:
- suggest business pre-eminence, special status, or a specific function (e.g. ‘Association’, ‘British’, ‘Institute’, ‘Society’)
- imply a connection with the UK Government, a devolved parliament or administration, a local authority or specified public authority, or the Royal Family (for example, ‘Parliament’, ‘Council’, ‘Police’, ‘King’, ‘Queen’)
- represent a regulated activity (e.g. ‘Banking’, ‘Insurer’, ‘Capital’, ‘Fund’)
- could amount to a criminal offence if used in a company or business name (for example, ‘Apothecary’, ‘Architect’, ‘Druggist’, ‘Solicitor’, ‘Surgeon’)
The rules are essentially designed to prevent businesses from giving false or ambiguous impressions (deliberately or unintentionally) about what they do and who they are associated with. Their purpose is to ensure that the public is not likely to be misled or harmed by the inappropriate use of sensitive or restricted words in a name.
Where can I find a list of all sensitive words?
Sensitive words and expressions are set out in The Company, Limited Liability Partnership and Business Names (Sensitive Words and Expressions) Regulations 2014.
Schedule 1 of the regulations covers 134 sensitive words that require approval from the Secretary of State for use in the names of companies, limited liability partnerships, and businesses. Part 2 of the schedule sets out words and expressions that require prior approval only when used in the names of companies and LLPs.
Schedule 2 of the regulations contains the list of the Government departments and other specified bodies whose views must be sought on a case-by-case basis prior to the use of those words.
Part 2 of Schedule 2 identifies the Government department or public authority whose view must be sought in circumstances where the situation of a company’s or LLP’s registered office address is relevant.
Companies House also provides the full list of sensitive words and expressions in Annex A. Each regulated word is displayed alongside details of the approval criteria, as well as contact information for the specified body whose views must be sought.
Annex B sets out the list of sensitive words that could imply a connection with the UK government, a devolved administration, or a local or specified public authority. Details of the contact bodies and approval criteria are also included.
Annex C contains words that are protected or regulated by legislation other than the sensitive words regulations. Information on the approval criteria and specified contact bodies are also shown under each word or expression.
Including sensitive words in your company, LLP, or business name
If you propose to include any sensitive words in your company name, LLP name, or business name, you must contact the relevant body and provide your justification for the use of the word(s).
They can only respond with their view or comments (rather than their express approval), but they can object to the use of a sensitive word. Once they have given their written view, you must then seek approval from the Secretary of State at Companies House.
You will need to include a copy of the body’s response (such as a letter or an email of ‘non-objection’) as supporting documentation for Companies House. They will refer to this when making their decision.
How to obtain approval from the Secretary of State at Companies House
If you are proposing to use a sensitive or restricted word in the name of a new company or limited liability partnership, you must apply for approval as part of the incorporation process.
On the application to register your new company or LLP, enter the proposed name in full, and include a copy of the written response you received from the relevant Government department or other specified body.
Where you are seeking to change the name of an existing company or limited liability partnership, you must apply for approval on either Companies House form NM01 (change a company name) or form LL NM01 (change an LLP name).
Send the change of name form to Companies House, along with a copy of the documentation supporting the use of the sensitive word(s).
If Companies House is satisfied, your incorporation application or change of name request will be approved. You can start using the name as soon as you receive your Certificate of Incorporation or Certificate of Incorporation of Change of Name.
Use the online company name checker on our homepage to find out if your proposed name is available, and whether it contains any sensitive or restricted words.
Obtaining approval to use a sensitive word in a business name
Business names are not registered at Companies House. This requirement only applies to company names and limited liability partnership names. However, where a business (or trading) name includes any of the sensitive or restricted words or expressions set out in Annexes A to C, you must seek permission from the Secretary of State at Companies House.
To do so, you need to write to Companies House and include a copy of your supporting documentation to Companies House. If you use any sensitive words in your business name without first obtaining the required approval, you will be committing an offence and may have to pay a fine.
You may send your letter by post to any Companies House address, but it’s better to send it to the Companies House branch in the country where your business is based: Cardiff (businesses in England & Wales), Edinburgh, or Belfast. You can find these three Companies House addresses online.
How common are sensitive words and expressions in names?
Many names include sensitive words and expressions, so their use is not uncommon. The reason for doing so could be as simple as opening a bakery located on ‘King Street’ (of which there is an abundance throughout the UK) and wanting to call it ‘The King Street Bakery’. This would most likely be acceptable.
Similarly, if ‘King’ is your surname, ‘King’s Bakery’ would probably be fine as well. However, you’d have a tougher time justifying the name ‘The King’s Baker’, unless you just so happened to be the esteemed baker of King Charles himself.
Lots of businesses also like to include their nationality or location in their names. For example, perhaps you’re thinking about using ‘Scottish’ or ‘of Scotland’ in the name of your Scottish company. In most cases, this will be allowed, unless the name implies a connection with the Scottish Government where there is none.
Another commonly used sensitive word is ‘charity’ (and its derived forms of ‘charity’s’, ‘charities’, or ‘charitable’). To include any of these words in a name, you must seek approval from the Charity Commission, the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR), or the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland.
Normally, permission is only granted to official, registered charities, but there are certain exceptions. If you are thinking about setting up a charity, you must have the necessary approval from the relevant charity regulation before applying to register with Companies House.
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Feel free to leave a comment below if you have any questions or queries regarding the use of sensitive words and expressions. Our company formation team can also help you set up a company or LLP online, or change your company name.