Section 30 - Cap on distributions and interest
207.This section provides for limits to be placed on the ability of CICs to make distributions to members and interest payments on debentures and debts. It also provides for the role of the Regulator in setting these limits. It therefore forms an important part of the ‘asset lock’, which is one of the distinguishing features of the CIC (see ‘Summary and Background’ to Part 2, above).
208.Subsection (1) prohibits CICs from distributing assets to their members, unless regulations allow such a distribution. The prohibition covers every description of distribution of the company’s assets to its members, made in their capacity as members, such as dividends, issues of bonus shares, and payments on the purchase or redemption of shares or on the reduction of share capital. Subsection (2) allows such regulations to place limits on any distributions that regulations do permit. Subsection (4) allows the regulations to provide for the limits to be set by the Regulator.
209.It is intended that regulations will allow a CIC limited by shares that issues dividend-bearing shares to make limited distributions by way of dividends to the members of the company holding those shares. It is also intended that regulations will allow unlimited distributions to be made to members which are themselves CICs or charities, since such members will themselves be subject to an asset lock.
210.Subsection (3) provides for limits on the payment of interest on debts or debentures. It is not intended that regulations under this subsection will be used to set limits on conventional interest payments – that is, payments at a level fixed for the term of the debt. Regulations will be targeted at payments that are related in some way to the performance of the CIC – for instance, payments that rise or fall according to the turnover or profit of the CIC. The intention of this provision is to prevent such instruments – sometimes known as ‘debt with equity characteristics’ – being used to avoid the restrictions that are to be imposed on dividend-bearing shares under subsection (2).
211.The provisions in subsections (4) to (8) set out the role that the Regulator will have in setting the limits to be imposed under subsections (2) and (3). Subsection (5) sets out various ways in which the Regulator may set those limits. Subsection (5)(a), in providing for a limit to be set by reference to a rate determined by someone else, will allow the Regulator to set a limit which is linked to, and may rise and fall with, an index such as the Bank of England base lending rate. Subsection (5)(b) gives the Regulator scope to set a number of different limits applying to different categories of CICs. For instance, it may be considered desirable to set a less restrictive limit on dividends payable to shareholders investing in CICs carrying on certain types of activity, or those operating in certain geographical areas so as to encourage investment in such activities or such areas.
212.In considering how to set the limits, the Regulator is bound by subsection (6), which refers back to the statutory objectives set out in section 27, and requires the Regulator to apply these in a particular way when exercising this function. The requirement in subsection (6)(b) to “have regard to [a limit’s] likely impact on community interest companies” is intended to point the Regulator toward considering both the beneficial effect which a less restrictive limit may have on the availability of investment in CICs, and the need to maintain public confidence in CICs as primarily non-profit-distributing organisations.
213.There is provision in subsection (7) for regulations to give a power to the Secretary of State to require the Regulator to review limits. It is intended that the Secretary of State might use this power to ask the Regulator to consider using the flexibility in setting limits provided by subsection (5) in particular ways. The power is limited to the ability to request a review, so as not to prejudice the independence of the Regulator.
Section 31 - Distribution of assets on winding up
214.This section provides for regulations to impose restrictions on the distribution of a CIC’s assets on winding up, so that the Regulator can ensure that such assets are preserved for the community benefit. The restrictions will only apply to any assets which remain after the company’s liabilities to creditors have been satisfied. It is intended that regulations will provide that any such assets may only be transferred to other CICs or charities, as these organisations have an asset lock. Regulations may in due course allow the transfer of such assets to an industrial and provident society (“IPS”) with an asset lock, once regulations establishing such an asset lock for IPSs have been made under the Co-operatives and Community Benefit Societies Act 2003.
Section 32 - Memorandum and articles
215.Like other companies, CICs will have a "constitution" set out in a memorandum and articles of association. Section 32 sets out requirements relating to the memorandum and articles of CICs.
216.Subsection (3) provides for regulations to set out provisions which must be included in the constitution of each CIC, and provisions which cannot be included in the constitution. Subject to such regulations and the requirements of company law, a CIC is free to include any other provisions it wishes in its memorandum and articles. However, if a CIC’s constitution contains any provision which is inconsistent with regulations made under this clause, that provision will have no effect (subsection (5)). Subsection (4) expands on this by indicating particular provisions which regulations may require CICs to include in their constitution:
provisions about the transfer and distribution of assets (subsection (4)(a) and (b)). These will establish the ‘asset lock’ on distributions to members in each CIC’s constitution (see also the note on section 30), and will also set out the terms on which CICs may transfer assets to third parties. CICs will not be allowed to transfer assets to other bodies or individuals for less than the value of the asset, except in pursuit of their community interest aims. However, where a CIC wishes to transfer assets to another organisation with community interest aims and an asset lock (i.e. a CIC or charity), regulations will allow it to do so, subject to certain safeguards; and
provisions intended to limit the ability of investors to control a CIC with a view to maximising the return on their investment, at the expense of the CIC’s community interest purposes (subsection (4)(c) to (f)).
217.Regulations may also restrict a CIC’s ability to amend its objects as stated in its memorandum (subsection (6)). It is intended that a CIC will need to seek the Regulator’s approval if it wishes to change its objects. This is so that the Regulator can ensure that:
the altered objects are consistent with the requirement that CICs carry on activities in the community interest, and
the CIC has made reasonable efforts to notify those affected by its activities (its "stakeholders") of the proposed change.
Section 33 - Names; and Schedule 6 - Community interest companies: names
218.This section imposes requirements and restrictions on the names CICs are permitted to use. It also gives effect to Schedule 6. Schedule 6 amends the Companies Act 1985 (c.6) so as to apply that Act's restrictions on the use of company names and trading names to the use of the name "community interest company" and specified variants. It:
amends section 26 of the Companies Act 1985 so that:
companies may not be registered with names that include, otherwise than at the end of the name, the expressions "community interest company" or "community interest public limited company", or their abbreviations or Welsh equivalents (paragraph 2(2));
in determining whether one name is the same as another (in which case it cannot be registered), the terms "community interest company", "community interest public limited company" and their abbreviations and Welsh equivalents are to be disregarded when they appear at the end of a name (paragraph 2(3));
amends section 27 of the Companies Act 1985 so as to add alternative statutory designations for CICs (paragraph 3);
amends section 30 of the Companies Act 1985 to ensure that CICs cannot benefit from the exemptions available under this section (paragraph 4);
amends section 33 of the Companies Act 1985 so that a private limited CIC must not trade under a name that indicates in English or Welsh that it is a public limited company (paragraph 5);
inserts into the Companies Act 1985 a new section 34A which
makes it an offence for companies to trade under a name which includes at the end of the name, or anywhere else in the name, the expressions "community interest company" or "community interest public limited company" or their abbreviations or their Welsh equivalents, unless they are a CIC; and
makes it an offence for anyone other than a company to trade under a name which includes at the end of the name the expressions "community interest company" or "community interest public limited company", or their abbreviations or their Welsh equivalents (paragraph 6).
New section 34A(5) introduces penalties for the improper use in a trading name of the words "community interest company" or "community interest public limited company" or their abbreviations or Welsh equivalents. These restrictions on trading names do not apply to anyone who was trading with such a name at any time during the period from 1 September 2003 up to and including 4 December 2003, the date of publication of the Companies (Audit, Investigations and Community Enterprise) Bill. Nor do they apply to trade marks which are registered as at 4 December 2003, regardless of whether they have ever been used.
219.The Schedule also:
amends section 43(2)(b) of the Companies Act 1985. A private limited CIC may re-register as a public limited company and vice versa. In each case its name must still comply with section 33 (paragraph 7);
amends section 351(1)(d) of the Companies Act 1985. The name of a private limited CIC will not contain the word "limited" in its name. The effect of this amendment is that such a CIC should mention in legible characters in all its business letters and order forms the fact that it is a limited company (paragraph 8); and
amends paragraph 8(2) of the Schedule to the Limited Liability Partnerships Act 2000. A limited liability partnership may not be registered with the same name as a registered company. For the purposes of determining whether one name is the same as another, there is to be disregarded "community interest company" or "community interest public limited company" or their Welsh equivalents or abbreviations at the end of the name (paragraph 10).
Section 34 - Community interest company reports
220.This section introduces a requirement for the directors of CICs to provide an annual community interest company report to the registrar of companies, who will forward a copy of it to the Regulator (subsections (1) and (4)). A copy of the report will be placed on the companies register. The time limits for compliance with the requirement, and the penalties for non-compliance, will be the same as those applying to the filing of annual accounts under section 242(1) of the Companies Act 1985 (subsection (2)). The relevant time limits and penalties are set out in sections 244 and 242A of that Act.
221.Subsection (3) provides for regulations to set out what information is to be included in the report. Subsection (3)(a) requires the regulations to provide that the report must include information about the remuneration of directors of the CIC. Subsection (3)(b) allows regulations to provide for the inclusion of other information. It is intended that the content of the report will include statements of:
what the CIC has done during the year to benefit the community;
the steps, if any, that the company has taken to involve in its activities those affected by the activities (its "stakeholders"); and
the dividends paid on any dividend-bearing shares issued by the CIC, and equivalent information in respect of other financial instruments the return on which is capped under the provisions of section 30.
222.Regulations may apply to the report the same procedural requirements as apply to directors’ reports (subsection (3)(c)). These requirements are set out in Part 7 of the Companies Act 1985, and include provisions as to the approval of the report, the laying of the report before any general meeting of the company, the revision of the report and the distribution of the report to members.
Section 35 - Community interest test and excluded companies
223.This section makes provisions about the community interest test, which is used in determining the eligibility of a company to be formed as a CIC (section 36(5)(b)) or to become a CIC if already incorporated (section 38(4)(b)). The Regulator can also exercise certain supervisory powers if a CIC ceases to satisfy the community interest test (section 41(3)(c)). All CICs will be expected to carry on their activities for the benefit of the community for as long as they remain CICs.
224.The section describes the community interest test (subsection (2)), and clarifies the meaning of the term “community” for the purposes of this test (subsection (5)), so that a community can be a section of a larger community (either geographic or a community of interest) and can be overseas. The test is that a reasonable person might consider that the activities being carried on by the CIC are being carried on for the benefit of the community. Therefore, if a reasonable person can conclude that the activities of the company are being done for the benefit of the community, those activities will pass the test, unless those activities are prescribed by regulations under subsection (4) as not satisfying the test.
225.Subsection (3) sets out the circumstances in which an object in the memorandum of a company is to be treated as a community interest object. The question of whether a given object is a community interest object is relevant for the purpose of section 41(3)(d) (conditions for exercise of supervisory powers), and is discussed in the note on that section below.
226.The section also provides for regulations to:
establish that certain activities are, or are not, to be considered as satisfying the community interest test (subsection (4)), and
specify what constitutes a section of the community (subsection (5)).
227.For instance, it is intended that regulations will identify a group consisting of employees of a single employer (e.g. in a company sports association) as capable of comprising a sufficient section of the community for the purpose of the community interest test. These powers to make regulations are intended to make it possible to clarify the breadth of the community interest test over time.
228.Regulations may also provide that certain descriptions of company are excluded companies (subsection (6)). Excluded companies are not eligible to be formed as a CIC or to become a CIC (sections 36 (5)(b) and 38 (4)(b)). It is intended that initially political parties and companies owned by them, and political campaigning organisations, will be classed as excluded companies. If a CIC becomes an excluded company, the Regulator may order the transfer of shares or membership in that CIC under section 49. It is intended that the Regulator would use this power to remove a CIC that became owned by a political party from the control of that party.