Setting up a social enterprise – different structures

A social enterprise is a business set up for the greater good – to benefit society, disadvantaged people, the environment etc. There are various different structures that you can use.

Here’s the best document we’ve found for helping people work out the structure that’s best for them. It’s called ‘The Structures for Social Enterprise’ and it has a flow chart to help people think about which legal structure is right for them, the pros and cons of various legal structures and a glossary to help people with the legal jargon.

Here is the government’s advice on setting up a social enterprise, but it doesn’t mention all the options open to you.

For example, it mentions co-operatives and community-interest companies (CICs), but doesn’t mention companies limited by guarantee or a community benefit industrial and provident society. This can all sound complicated, but there are slight differences in what various types of company can or can’t do.

For example, the surplus generated by a CIC has to be used for the public good. A CIC can have shares or it can be limited by guarantee.

Companies can always convert to a different structure if circumstances change.

There is a government business helpline. See here.

Plus there are some very useful organisations that can help you choose, for example:

1. UnLtd (Support for Social Entrepreneurs)

Useful Free UnLtd Resources for Social Entrepreneurs

Legal Help Guides (structures, contracts, employment) –

They provide the Structures for Social Enterprises pdf (above)

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Telephone: 0845 850 1122


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2. Inspire2Enterprise

A social enterprise and partnership between the University of Northampton and Exemplas, providing free-to-access social enterprise support, information and advice service, from start-up through to initial growth and beyond.  The service is delivered by qualified advisers and specialists, by phone, e-mail or online via webcam.

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