What legal requirements must UK businesses meet when creating a public offering?

In the world of business and corporate finance, the initial public offering (IPO) is a significant milestone. It marks the transformation of a private company into a public limited company (PLC). However, this transitioning is not as simple as announcing the decision and selling shares. It necessitates meeting various legal requirements and adhering to stringent rules. For UK businesses considering an IPO, understanding and fulfilling these legal prerequisites is crucial. They not only ensure compliance but also contribute to the credibility and success of the offering. This article will break down the key legal requirements UK businesses must meet when creating a public offering.

Legal Structure and Listing Rules

Before embarking on the IPO journey, your companies must first examine their legal structure. This is because public offerings in the UK are only possible for companies that are limited by shares. This means the liability of the shareholders is limited to the value of the shares they own. If your business is not already a limited company, it must undergo a process of restructure and re-registration.

Furthermore, the company must adhere to the Financial Conduct Authority's (FCA) listing rules. These rules form the cornerstone of the UK's regulatory framework for public companies. Among other requirements, these rules require that the company must publish a prospectus, which provides detailed information about the company and the shares it proposes to sell. The prospectus must be approved by the FCA before it can be published.

Corporate Governance and Board Composition

Integral to the legal requirements of an IPO is the need for robust corporate governance. UK businesses going public must comply with the UK Corporate Governance Code. This code sets out standards of good practice in relation to board leadership and effectiveness, remuneration, accountability, and relations with shareholders.

Board composition is another important aspect of corporate governance. A public company is required to have at least two directors. Moreover, it is expected that the board of directors should include a balanced mix of executive and non-executive directors. This ensures the company has a wide range of skills and experience at its disposal.

Financial Reporting and Audit Requirements

Financial transparency is a key requirement for companies making a public offering. That's why there are stringent rules around financial reporting and auditing. An audited financial statement that provides a comprehensive account of the company’s financial performance must be presented to potential investors.

The financial reporting must be done in accordance with the Financial Reporting Council's (FRC) UK Generally Accepted Accounting Practice (UK GAAP). This includes the preparation of financial statements, the application of accounting policies, and the disclosure of financial information.

In addition to this, an independent auditor must carry out an audit of the company's financial statements. The auditor must be registered under the rules and regulations of the FRC. The audited financial statements, along with the auditor’s report, should be included in the prospectus.

Marketing and Promotion of the IPO

When it comes to promoting the IPO, companies must tread carefully. There are laws and regulations that govern what can be said and done during the IPO process. These rules are designed to ensure that potential investors are not misled and have access to accurate and complete information.

To begin with, any marketing activity must not conflict with the prospectus or the information disclosed to the market. Misleading marketing can have severe legal consequences and can even jeopardize the IPO process.

All advertisements related to the IPO must comply with the FCA’s Conduct of Business Rules. These rules stipulate that advertisements must be clearly identified as such and must not mislead or distort the truth.

When to Inform the Public and The Market

Finally, companies must know when to inform the public about their decision to go public. As per the FCA's rules, the intention to float (ITF) announcement must be made no more than six months before the publication of the prospectus.

Once the ITF is announced, the company enters into a 'closed period'. During this period, the company must refrain from any promotional activities.

Moreover, the company is required to keep the market informed about its operations and any inside information that could potentially impact the company’s share price.

Remember, embarking on an IPO is a significant step for any business. Meeting all the legal requirements is not just about compliance; it's about building trust with potential investors and setting the stage for a successful public offering.

Stock Exchange Listing and Admission Document

In the United Kingdom, the act of going public often implies that a company will be listed on a stock exchange. This could be the London Stock Exchange's Main Market, which is home to the largest and most established companies, or the Alternative Investment Market (AIM), which caters to smaller, growing businesses. Regardless of which exchange is chosen, the company must meet the exchange's particular listing requirements.

One critical prerequisite for a company to become publicly traded is the preparation and submission of an admission document. This document is essentially a comprehensive overview of the business, covering everything from its operations and financial condition to its management team and risk factors. It will be closely scrutinised by the exchange and the FCA, among others, and must be detailed and accurate.

The admission document is hugely important as it provides potential investors with the information they need to make informed decisions. If there are any inaccuracies or omissions, the company can face severe legal consequences. As such, it's crucial that the admission document is prepared meticulously and reviewed by legal professionals.

Legal Obligations of a Public Limited Company (PLC)

Once a company has successfully transitioned from a private limited company to a PLC, it must meet specific legal obligations. These obligations are in place to provide a level of protection for shareholders and to ensure the company operates transparently and ethically.

Firstly, the company must register with Companies House, the United Kingdom's registrar of companies. This involves filing confirmation statements, annual accounts, and other legal documents on a regular basis.

Limited companies are also subject to certain financial requirements. For instance, a PLC must have an issued share capital of at least £50,000, with at least a quarter of this (plus any share premium) paid up before it can start business.

Finally, PLCs are put through more rigorous checks and balances than private companies. For example, they are required to hold annual general meetings (AGMs), and details of significant shareholders must be disclosed.


Embarking on the IPO process is a significant move for any business. It's a complex process that requires a thorough understanding of the legal requirements of becoming a public company in the United Kingdom, from examining the company's legal structure to marketing the IPO and knowing when to inform the public.

Moreover, transitioning from a private company to a PLC entails a greater degree of scrutiny and increased legal obligations. These include more stringent financial reporting and auditing requirements, adherence to the UK Corporate Governance Code, and the need for strong corporate governance.

However, the potential benefits of going public - increased capital, enhanced credibility, and better visibility among others - often outweigh these challenges. By being fully prepared and ensuring compliance with all legal requirements, UK businesses can set the stage for a successful public offering. Remember, it's not just about meeting legal obligations; it's about building trust and setting your company up for future success.