The FCA has the powers to register the name of a society, and to decide whether a proposed name is ‘undesirable’. A name should be unique, memorable, reflect the character of the society, and not be offensive. The FCA says that a name should generally include a reference to the business activity, membership, community of benefit and/or the geographic location of the society. Languages other than English and Welsh cannot be used unless a translation is given to the FCA for approval.
The name must not be the same as, or very similar to, that of another existing society, company or charity, unless it is somehow connected or related to this other entity, and has its express permission. The same applies to defunct entities that have traded within the previous 10 years. Exceptions to this principle will only be made if the proposed business activity or the location is very different from that of the defunct entity, or if the defunct entity never actually traded.
The FCA provides guidance on sensitive words in names, which can only be used if there is supporting evidence to justify their use, or the society has obtained the permission of the relevant authority. There are three main categories of sensitive word: words implying the society trades nationally or internationally, words implying an authoritative or representative status, and words implying a specific object or function. Included in the latter category are the words ‘charity’ and ‘co-operative’, which the FCA will only allow the appropriate type of society to use in their registered name. For instance, a community benefit society cannot call itself a co-operative in its name. Other words, such as ‘company’, cannot normally be used by a society, if they give a misleading impression about the legal form of the society.
All societies must include the word ‘limited’ in its name, unless it is a charitable community benefit society or if its objects are wholly benevolent, in which case it can apply to not use the word in its name. Charitable community benefit societies registered as charities in Scotland must also comply with the requirements of Scottish charity law on ‘objectionable names’. These are similar in most respects to the FCA’s requirements (see www.oscr.org.uk/media/1591/changing-your-charity-name.pdf ).
A society, like other legal entities, can use a business name that is different to its registered name. However, the principle of sensitive names applies equally to business names as it does to registered names.
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