CIC limited by SHARES or limited by GUARANTEE?

A Community Interest Company can be set up in either of two formats – “limited by shares” or “limited by guarantee”. You may not be familiar with these terms, so let’s see if we can help you choose.


For further help with your decision you are welcome to speak with us directly. Click for an online chat with an advisor (top right) or contact us by phone or email.

Which is best for you?
These guidance points are not absolute rules, but general pointers to help you with your choice.
Selling goods and/or services
Be seen as absolutely “not for profit”
Provide services free at the point of delivery
Have weighted voting powers based on number of shares held
Pay a reasonable dividend to shareholders/investors
Obtaining contributions from funding bodies
Pay reasonable salaries to the directors working in the company
Control the company on a strict “one person one vote” basis.

What are shares?

Shares are tokens of ownership and control and determine who is in charge of the company and how much share each person (shareholder) has in the value of the business. In a regular limited company (LTD) run as a business this means that the shareholder can receive a proportion of the profits (as “dividend”) and has the right to a proportion of the proceeds if the company is sold. The shareholders are the investors in the business.
In a CIC limited by shares the principles are much the same, but the CIC Regulator oversees the way the money is distributed to make sure it is reasonable for a Social Enterprise (they don’t define the word “reasonable”, but most of us know when people are being UNreasonable!). Shares do not have to be distributed evenly; each person may have a different number of shares representing a different proportion of ownership and control. The voting power of each shareholder is determined by the number of shares she or he holds.


What is a Guarantee?

A “Guarantee” company does not have Shareholders and nobody can take a “dividend”. Instead, the Directors (also called “Trustees”) each puts up a cash “guarantee” that would be lost if the company were to fail. The guarantee does not have to be a big commitment. The minimum is just £1 each. We normally recommend £10 each, because it looks a bit more serious. When it comes to voting power, every Trustee is equal. On the board of a CIC limited by guarantee it is strictly “one person one vote”.


What rules are there for CICs?

The CIC is subject to many of the same rules as any other “private limited company”. It must report changes to its registered details (including members names and addresses), it must complete a Confirmation Statement (formerly annual return) and it must file Accounts each year. In these matters, the same obligations apply whether the CIC is limited by shares or limited by guarantee.


What are the trading rules for a CIC?

Either type of CIC is allowed to sell products and/or services and to generate profit from those sales. In this respect CICs differ from Charities, which are not allowed to “permanently trade”.

Which format is best for selling goods and/or services?

Before answering that question, we should point out that there is nothing to stop a normal limited company from distributing part or even all of its profits to good causes. If the shareholders agree to it, any company can be charitable with its money. But a CIC will be recognised by the public and funding bodies specifically as a Social Enterprise company. Having said that, if the CIC brings in most of its money by selling goods and services it it probably best to be set up as a CIC limited by shares. The more it behaves like a business the more suited it is for the “limited by shares” format.


Which format is preferred by funding bodies?

Funding bodies each have their individual policies about what sort of organisation they will support; but many will be happy to support either kind of CIC if it offers the sort of services that the funding body approves. However, more funding bodies will support a CIC limited by guarantee than one limited by shares, because they know that the directors cannot take a dividend. As a rule of thumb, the more reliant your organisation is on external support (other than sales) to support its work the more suited it is for the “limited by guarantee” format.


What is a Trustee?

In a CIC limited by guarantee the Directors may also be called Trustees. They are the ones who run the company (on a “one person one vote” basis) and they are the ones who put up the “guarantee” (normally a nominal sum, such as £10). The words “Trustee” or “Director” may be used interchangeably… they are the same people.


Can a CIC pay salaries and dividends?

Yes and No! Either type of CIC can pay a salary to the people who work for it – and that includes the directors. But their salary is for the work they do, rather than just for holding the directorship. The CIC Regulator’s office will look at the annual accounts and check to ensure that the salaries that are “reasonable” (meaning that they are not excessive compared with salaries paid for an equivalent job elsewhere).
But only a CIC limited by shares can pay dividends (and they must also be “reasonable”).


Should my CIC be limited by Guarantee of Limited by Shares?

Either is allowable and sometimes it is a matter of personal preference. But one possible issues point to a specific answer:
If the CIC is to be a subsidiary of another company or charity then the new CIC has to be limited by shares. Allotting shares to the ‘parent’ body is the only way that ownership can be legally represented.
Other determining factors are:
If the majority of the income for the new CIC is going to come from official funding bodies it is likely that those funding bodies will prefer to support a CIC limited by guarantee.
If the majority of the income for the new CIC is going to come from sale or goods or services a “limited by shares” format it is likely to be most appropriate.


Can a CIC pay Dividends to Shareholders?

A CIC limited by guarantee has no shareholders, so this question applies only to a CIC limited by shares. When the CIC is limited by shares the default Articles of Association used by Ordered Management is in a “Schedule 3” format, which does allow payment of dividends. This, however, is subject to a cap imposed and monitored by the CIC Regulator (currently the lesser of 20% of paid up share capital, or 35% of distributable profits). Where the new CIC is required to be limited by shares but no dividend payment is intended (e.g. because it is to be the subsidiary of a charity) we can provide a “Schedule 2” format, which excludes dividend payments to any shareholder not specifically named in the Asset Lock.

Which is better – Shares or Guarantee?

There is no absolute rule that makes one format better than the other. It is a case of “fitness for purpose”. If the nature of your activities requires that you look absolutely “clean” from any suggestion of profit then your choice must be “guarantee”. If you intend running the CIC much like a business, but with Social Enterprise aims and an intention to contribute to the community out of your earnings then you will probably be best with the “shares” option.


For further help on making the choice, or for help in ordering your CIC, call 0117 370 2725 – or click for an online chat (top right).



Order Now

Still unsure?
Questions unanswered?

give us a call on
0117 370 2725

More info?
Ask us a question?
Email us now!

When you order a company formation we can help you apply for your business bank account…
Barclays bank account information