Legal compliance is an essential component of operating a start-up in the UK. Start-ups face different legal challenges that, if not tackled properly, can have severe repercussions for their success and sustainability.
From creating the appropriate legal structure to safeguarding intellectual property, adhering to data protection regulations, and ensuring compliance with employment laws, new businesses must navigate a complex legal landscape.
In this article, we will explore common legal errors made by new businesses in the UK, shedding light on important factors while offering insights on how to avoid these mistakes.
Table of content
5 Common legal mistakes start-ups make
1. Failure to establish an appropriate legal structure
Selecting the right legal structure is essential for new businesses in the UK as it affects various aspects of the company, such as liability, taxation, governance, and fundraising. Here are some essential considerations:
● Personal liability
By failing to establish a suitable legal structure like a limited liability company (Ltd) or limited liability partnership (LLP), entrepreneurs risk personal liability for company debts.
Lenders can pursue the founders’ assets if the company faces financial challenges or legal issues to meet those obligations. Selecting a limited liability structure assists in safeguarding personal assets and restricts liability to the company’s assets.
However, creating a limited company can offer tax advantages, like retaining profits within the business and benefiting from lower corporate tax rates. Start-ups should consult with accountant or tax professionals to determine the most tax-efficient framework for their business.
● Governance and control
The legal structure impacts the governance and decision-making within the new company. For example, forming a business with directors and shareholders sets a clear framework for decision-making and ownership rights.
Establishing the roles, duties, and voting rights of founders and investors through the appropriate legal structure prevents conflicts and ensures a smooth operation of the company.
2. Inadequate contracts and agreements
Start-ups often need to pay more attention to the significance of broad contracts and agreements, which can result into disputes, miscommunication, and financial losses. Here are some key factors:
● Partnership and shareholder agreements
When starting a company with partners, it is essential to have a partnership agreement or an ownership agreement based on the legal structure chosen.
These agreements outline the roles, duties, ownership stakes, decision-making processes, and ways of dispute resolution among the founders or investors.
A well-drafted agreement facilitates a clear understanding and safeguards the interests of all parties required.
● Employment contracts
Start-ups should ensure they have suitable job contracts set up for their employees.
Employment contracts specify employment terms, such as job responsibilities, remuneration, working hours, advantages, and termination clauses. Neglecting to have proper agreements can result in disagreements over terms and conditions, benefits, or post-employment obligations.
● Client and supplier agreements
Start-ups often need formal agreements to participate with customers and vendors, depending on verbal or informal arrangements. However, this can result in miscommunication, non-payment, or violation of obligations.
Having written agreements with customers and vendors explains the scope of work, payment terms, intellectual property possession, responsibility, and dispute resolution mechanisms. These agreements safeguard the objectives of the start-up while laying the basis for a robust company relationship.
3. Intellectual property (IP) infringement
Protecting intellectual property is essential for new businesses, as it protects their innovations, advertising, and competitive advantage. Here are some key factors:
● Trademark protection
New companies should conduct meticulous trademark searches and register their trademarks to safeguard their brand names, logos, and slogans. Failing to safeguard trademark protection can end up in violation by competitors, resulting in consumer confusion and dilution of brand value.
● Copyright protection
New companies should be aware of copyright protection, especially when dealing with creative works like software code, website content, graphics, or written content. Copyright automatically exists upon creation, but new businesses can think about registering their works with the respective organisations to create a clear record of ownership for easier enforcement against infringement.
● Patent protection
Start-ups involved with creating creative goods or procedures should explore the potential of patent protection.
Patents grant exclusive rights to the creator for a limited period, preventing others from utilising, marketing, or manufacturing the invention without authorisation.
Consulting with patent attorneys specialised in the subject area will assist you in detecting patentable inventions and navigating the complicated patent application process.
4. Data protection and privacy compliance
Start-ups must comply with data protection laws, especially the UK’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Here are important factors about data protection and privacy compliance:
● Data collection and consent
Start-ups must get appropriate authorisation when gathering and storing personal data. This includes offering clear information on how the data will be utilised, getting explicit consent where required, and giving people the right to access, accurate, and delete their data.
● Data security
Start-ups should implement effective safety measures to safeguard personal data from unauthorised use, loss, or theft. It involves encryption, secure storage, access controls, and typical vulnerability assessments.
In the event of a data breach, new businesses must have processes in place to notify affected individuals and the respected organisation within the specified period.
● Privacy policies
New companies should have clear privacy policies explaining how personal data is gathered, handled, and protected. The policies should be readily available to individuals with information on their rights, data retention periods, and how to utilise their privacy rights.
5. Employment law non-compliance
Start-ups often neglect employment law obligations, resulting in potential legal liabilities. Ignoring laws associated with hiring practices, employment contracts, wage requirements, working time regulations, and safety and health regulations can result in costly employment tribunal claims or inquiries by regulatory bodies.
New businesses must stay updated on employment laws, seek legal advice when required and implement appropriate HR policies and procedures to ensure compliance.
New companies in the UK must prioritise legal compliance to prevent common errors that can have adverse effects.
Selecting an appropriate legal structure protects personal assets and guarantees tax efficiency. Comprehensive agreements and contracts establish clear terms and protect intellectual property while avoiding disputes.
Safeguarding intellectual property rights via trademark, copyright, and patent protection is crucial for maintaining competitive advantage.