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A form of organization for a business, with a legal personality distinct from the individuals taking part in it. This has been found essential in organizing large and complex businesses. The formation of companies is controlled by the state. At various times in the UK, companies have been formed by royal charter, act of Parliament, or registration with an official Registrar of Companies. A company is empowered to own assets, incur debts, and enter into contracts, and may be sued and taxed. It may or may not have limited liability for its shareholders: without limited liability shareholders are in the last resort responsible for meeting the company's debts; with it, they are liable only to the extent of any unpaid part of the book value of their shares. Under the UK Companies Acts there are three classes of company: private companies with unlimited liability, private companies with limited liability, and public limited companies (PLCs). Private companies can place restrictions on the transfer of their shares, and cannot offer them to the general public. All UK companies are required to provide financial information to their shareholders, the Registrar of Companies, and HM Revenue and Customs, the obligations of PLCs being the most stringent. Further obligations on disclosure are required to qualify for listing of company shares so that they can be traded on stock exchanges. A company is governed by a board of directors, elected at an annual general meeting of its ordinary shareholders. See also close company; holding company; joint-stock company; limited company; multinational; private company; quoted company; shell company; state-owned company.

Subjects: Social sciencesEconomics

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