A limited company is an entity owned by individuals known as "members." These members are crucial in shaping the company's trajectory and decision-making processes. Within the realm of limited companies, two distinct types of members exist: shareholders and guarantors.


In a limited-by-shares company, members are called "shareholders." These individuals hold ownership in the company by their investment in shares. Shares represent a portion of the company's ownership and entitle shareholders to certain rights, including voting on company matters and receiving dividends when the company generates profits.


Members of a limited-by-guarantee company are known as "guarantors." Unlike shareholders, guarantors do not own shares in the company. Instead, they commit to contributing a specific amount of money to the company in the event of its liquidation. This commitment serves as a financial safeguard for the company and its creditors.

Subscribers: The Founding Pillars of Limited Companies

A limited company's first shareholders or guarantors hold a unique distinction – they are officially recognised as "subscribers." These founding members play a pivotal role in establishing the company by subscribing their names to the memorandum of association with Companies House during the company formation process.

The memorandum of association serves as a company's foundational document, outlining its purpose, objectives, and operational framework. It is a legal document required to form a registered company and notifies Companies House and HMRC of the core membership of a new company.

Companies House and HMRC collaborate closely to ensure the accuracy and integrity of information related to registered companies in the UK. They share essential company data, address potential tax non-compliance, combat economic crime, and maintain a joint filing system. This partnership promotes transparency, tax compliance, and financial integrity in the UK's business environment.

Individual or Corporate: Embracing Diversity in Membership

Shareholders and guarantors can be either individual people or corporate bodies. This flexibility allows companies to attract diverse investors, including other companies, firms, or investment institutions. Such diversity can contribute to the company's growth and success by introducing new perspectives, expertise, and financial resources.

How do you become a shareholder or guarantor?

To become a shareholder, you only need a single share in a company of your choice. You become a shareholder and an integral part of the company's journey with just one share. Depending on the number of shares issued, a company can have one, two, or many owners, each contributing their unique perspectives and expertise.

As a guarantor, you safeguard the company's financial well-being. By providing a formal guarantee, you commit to contributing a specific amount of money towards company debts if the business encounters financial difficulties. This commitment acts as a safety net, protecting the company and its creditors.

Your maximum liability

The nominal value of a share or guarantee, often just £1 per share or guarantee, represents the maximum financial liability for which you, as a shareholder or guarantor, are responsible. This concept, known as 'limited liability,' is a cornerstone of limited companies, shielding you from personal liability for company debts beyond the agreed-upon nominal value.

A private limited company must have at least one owner, allowing even a single individual to embark on their entrepreneurial journey. There's no need to worry about ownership restrictions; a company can have as many owners as it desires, fostering a diverse and dynamic team.

Are owners of a company also company directors?

In the business world, ownership and management aren't always intertwined. While it's common for owners to lead their companies, it's not a requirement. Savvy entrepreneurs often appoint external directors with expertise to handle the day-to-day operations, allowing them to focus on strategic growth.

This separation empowers owners to oversee the big picture while harnessing external expertise, fostering efficiency and expanding global reach.

What decisions do company owners make?

As the driving force behind a company's success, company owners bear the weight of making crucial decisions that shape the organisation's trajectory. These decisions extend beyond the day-to-day operations handled by directors and delve into strategic choices that steer the company towards long-term growth and prosperity.

Company owners step up to the helm when exceptional circumstances arise, requiring decisions that fall beyond the scope of directors' authority. These pivotal moments often involve:

  • Appointing and Removing Directors: Owners carefully select individuals with the necessary expertise and leadership qualities to guide the company towards its vision. They also can remove directors if their performance falls short of expectations.
  • Shaping the Company's Power Structure: Owners determine the powers granted to directors, ensuring they align with the company's strategic direction and overall governance framework.
  • Restructuring the Company's Financial Backbone: Owners oversee alterations to the company's share capital, whether expanding or contracting to accommodate changing market conditions or growth strategies.
  • Adapting the Company's Foundational Rules: Owners can modify the company's articles of association, which outline its fundamental principles and operational guidelines.

Consulting the Articles of Association

While directors typically handle the day-to-day decision-making, company owners should always consult the articles of association and any existing shareholders' agreement to understand the company's decision-making rules and procedures. These documents serve as the company's roadmap, ensuring all decisions align with its established framework and governance principles.

By actively participating in these critical decision-making processes, company owners play a pivotal role in shaping their company's destiny. Their strategic insights and commitment to the company's success pave the way for sustainable growth and long-term prosperity.

What is the financial liability of company owners?

In the business world, risks are ever-present, and sometimes, companies encounter financial difficulties. However, for owners of limited companies, there's a reassuring security blanket: limited liability. This company structure shields company owners from personal financial obligations beyond a predetermined amount, protecting their personal assets from business debts.

Shareholders, the primary owners of limited companies, have their liability limited to the nominal value of the shares they hold. This nominal value, often set at just £1 per share, represents their maximum financial commitment to the company. In essence, shareholders' personal assets are safeguarded as long as the company's debts don't exceed the value of their shares.

Guarantors, in a limited-by-guarantee company, play a crucial role in safeguarding the company's financial well-being. By providing formal guarantees, they commit to contributing a specific amount of money towards company debts if the business encounters financial difficulties. This commitment is an additional safety net, protecting the company and its creditors.

Flexibility in Setting Liability Limits

The members of a limited company, whether shareholders or guarantors have the power to determine the specific liability limits. This flexibility allows companies to tailor their liability structures to suit their individual circumstances and risk appetites.

Shareholders and guarantors are typically only liable to contribute the agreed-upon sums of money when they join the company or when the company explicitly requests the funds to repay its debts. This ensures their financial commitments align with the company's actual needs.

How do I find out who owns a limited company?

Companies House serves as a comprehensive repository of information on all UK limited companies. Through its user-friendly online portal , you can access many details, including the identities of all company members, directors, and their respective roles. This invaluable resource empowers you to make informed decisions and clearly understand the company's ownership structure.

Companies House offers free access to all registered details of UK limited companies. With a few simple clicks, you can uncover the names of all members and directors, gaining valuable insights into the company's ownership structure and decision-making dynamics.

This knowledge empowers you to make informed decisions, whether evaluating investment opportunities, assessing business partnerships, or simply staying abreast of the latest developments in the business world.

Are you ready to take your business seriously and form a registered company? Find out how easy it is to register your company with Your Company Formations.

Further recommended reading:

Are you about to start a new company? Read our helpful post, Navigating the Duties of a Company Director , for a better understanding of your new responsibilities.

Do you want to learn more about Companies House and what they do? Read our post, Companies House’s Role in Company Formations in the United Kingdom , to discover more.

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