Every UK company must report at least one SIC code – which describes what the business does – to Companies House. This article, which explains what SIC codes are and how you can find the right code for your company, has been fully updated to cover changes to the reporting of SIC codes from 30 June 2016.
What is a SIC code?
A Standard Industrial Classification code or SIC code describes the main business activity of a company – each company selects one or more codes that express the nature of their business from an official list of SIC codes.
It’s a system used by Companies House and other bodies to identify what companies do and to sort them into a number of business categories. The classification of each company is available for anyone to view on the public record.
The Standard Industrial Classification codes themselves are grouped into trades or sections, which arrange together similar trade classifications. For example, within the ‘Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing’ group, there are 40 different SIC codes, ranging from the ‘growing of citrus fruits’ through ‘logging’ all the way to ‘marine aquaculture’!
Some of the trade classification categories are very specific – ‘Striking of coins’, for example. Others, such as ‘Other food services’, could cover quite a variety of (equally delicious) activities. While a business classification like ‘Cold drawing of wire’ might not mean much to the Inform Direct team, we assume that to someone who spends their days doing it that it makes perfect sense!
How many SIC codes does my company need?
The vast majority of companies select a single SIC code which they feel describes the nature of their business. However, you can choose up to four SIC codes, so if your business is particularly complex, varied or a single code just can’t on its own describe what the company does, you can choose to include more than one.
When do I need a SIC code?
From 30 June 2016, you need at least one SIC code when forming a company, to describe the company’s planned business activity. Unless one or more valid SIC codes are included, Companies House will reject the formation request. For companies formed before 30 June 2016, there’s no need to include a SIC code at the point of incorporation.
For companies formed on or after 30 June, SIC code(s) only need to be included in a company’s annual confirmation statement if they have changed during the year, since the last confirmation statement or incorporation of the company. This might occur, for instance, if the company expands or changes its operations during the year. It’ll perhaps be particularly common in the company’s first year, when the actual experience of trading might be different to the original intention.
If a company was formed before 30 June 2016 (and has not yet submitted an annual return or confirmation statement), SIC codes will need to be included in the first confirmation statement from 30 June but not in later returns.
If your company has already filed an annual return or confirmation statement, you’ll only have to report SIC codes again in a confirmation statement if they change. Changes to SIC codes only need to be reported at the company’s next confirmation statement – there’s no need to make an immediate submission to Companies House when the change occurs.
In the cases where a company still needs to file an annual return from 30 June 2016 – where the return relates to a period ending before that date – the SIC code will still need to be included and Companies House will reject the submission if it’s not present.
What is my SIC code?
We realise that most business owners do not consider their SIC codes on a daily basis! The fact that you need one – and, if you have already completed an annual return or confirmation statement, have already selected it – might well be news to you.
Existing companies may already have notified a SIC code in a previous filing to Companies House:
- Companies formed from 30 June 2016 will have included a SIC code on the IN01 form
- It will be on an annual return (AR01) filed for a period before 30 June 2016
- Any change to a SIC code is reported in the confirmation statement (CS01) from 30 June 2016. Companies formed before 30 June 2016 which have not filed an annual return will also include one or more SIC codes as part of their first confirmation statement
If you’ve submitted any of these forms, you can check what was included in it. If you don’t have a copy of the form to hand, you can obtain full details held about your company from Companies House via Inform Direct. Obtaining this information using Inform Direct is straightforward and completely free – you can have all the information to hand in minutes.
If you’ve not previously submitted a SIC code to Companies House or if the existing industrial classification no longer represents what your company does, you’ll need a way to find the right SIC code to use for your company. With approaching 100 often wordy categories, this can be a challenge. Within Inform Direct, we’ve put together a handy keyword search tool, so you can type in words that relate to what your company does and it will offer suggestions from the official SIC code list.
Some companies agonise over which SIC codes to select and fear the consequences of “getting it wrong”, although at Inform Direct we’ve never heard of Companies House taking action against companies that have selected their SIC codes in good faith. In many cases, there just won’t be one that’s absolutely spot on – so register for Inform Direct and experiment for free with keywords to find the code that best describe the activities of your company.
Where did UK SIC codes come from and what are they used for?
A system of codes was introduced in the USA in 1937. The UK SIC code system, originally introduced in 1948 and officially known as United Kingdom Standard Industrial Classification of Economic Activities, was then based on this. There have been quite a number of different lists of industry classifications in the UK, mainly to keep up to date with the changing structure of the UK economy, industry and employment. Since the original list, there have been revisions published in 1958, 1968, 1980, 1992, 1997, 2003, and 2007.
2007 SIC codes each have five digits where the 2003 industry codes each had just four. All companies are required to use the ‘new’ 2007 industry code list from 1 October 2011
The most recent update made UK SIC codes consistent with the United Nations’ ISIC standard and the European Union’s NACE system, although the most noticeable difference for most people is the fact that the 2007 SIC codes each have five digits where the 2003 industry codes each had just four. All companies are required to use the ‘new’ 2007 industry code list from 1 October 2011.
In attempting to describe and classify the wide range of activities undertaken by UK companies, there are now approaching 100 different SIC code categories to choose from. Alongside other government bodies, the Office for National Statistics gather and publish data based on the SIC classifications: as an example, it allows for comparison of earnings figures between different industries and occupations. The SIC codes of your company and others are publicly available, so can also be used for research purposes by any other third party.