Can a foreign company operate a branch in the UK without forming a separate legal entity?

11 June 2024

In today's global economy, businesses are seeking overseas opportunities to expand their reach and strengthen their market presence. One approach to this expansion is forming a branch in foreign countries such as the UK. But the question often arises: Can a foreign company operate a branch in the UK without forming a separate legal entity? In this article, we delve into this topic, exploring the complexities of operating branches, the legal requirements, and the considerations for a foreign company contemplating such a strategic move.

Establishing a Branch in the UK: The Legal Considerations

Before a foreign company can commence operations on British soil, it must navigate the UK's legal landscape. To operate a branch in the UK, the first step is registration with Companies House, the UK's business register. The foreign parent company must provide certain documents, including a certified copy of the company's constitutional documents, a list of directors, and details of the appointed person to accept service in the UK.

While establishing a branch does not necessitate the creation of a new legal entity, the branch is required to comply with specific rules and regulations. For instance, the overseas company must disclose its name, originating country, and legal form in any business documentation and correspondence. The branch must also provide annual financial statements and maintain a register of charges, if applicable.

The Role of the Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA)

The Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA), an arm of the Bank of England, oversees the financial services industry in the UK. One of its primary functions is to supervise international companies that have establishments in the country.

Any foreign firm considering operating a branch in the UK may have to comply with PRA rules. These rules are designed to ensure financial stability and encourage the safety and soundness of firms. If a foreign company offers banking or investment services, for instance, it will be subject to PRA supervision. This supervision does not mean the creation of a separate legal entity, but it does necessitate specific reporting and compliance activities.

Branch vs Subsidiary: Weighing the Taxes

Tax considerations play a significant role when choosing between operating as a branch or a wholly-owned subsidiary in the UK. The taxation of branches and subsidiaries differs substantially.

A branch's activity is treated as the parent company's income, which could potentially expose the overseas entity to tax liabilities in the UK. The branch's profits, whether remitted or not to the parent company, will be subject to Corporation Tax. In contrast, a subsidiary, being a separate legal entity, only pays tax on its own profits and not on those of the foreign parent.

Before deciding to operate a branch in the UK, companies should carefully consider these tax implications and consult with tax advisors or legal professionals.

The Impact of Insolvency on Branch Operations

While a branch doesn't constitute a separate legal entity, insolvency can complicate matters. If the foreign parent company becomes insolvent, the branch's assets could be seized to repay creditors.

In the UK, foreign companies that have a branch but no legal establishment are subject to the Insolvency Act 1986. Under this Act, the branch's assets are considered part of the parent company's assets. Therefore, in the event of insolvency, these assets may be used to pay off the parent company's debts.


While it is viable for a foreign company to operate a branch in the UK without forming a separate legal entity, doing so comes with its own set of complexities and regulatory obligations. From registration and complying with the PRA to understanding tax implications and insolvency rules, companies must carefully consider all these aspects before setting up a branch.

This exploration of the feasibility and requirements of operating a branch in the UK without forming a separate legal entity should serve as a starting point for foreign businesses contemplating this route. It is advisable to seek legal counsel to navigate the UK's intricate regulatory landscape and ensure compliance with local regulations. Ultimately, the decision will hinge on the company's strategic objectives, risk tolerance, and operational capabilities.

The Intricacies of Threshold Conditions and State Regulator's Role

As part of the registration process with Companies House, a foreign entity aiming to set up a branch in the UK must satisfy what are known as "threshold conditions". Threshold conditions are basic requirements that an overseas company must meet to operate legally in the UK. These stipulate that the company must be fit and proper to carry on the regulated activities for which it has applied.

The branch office must demonstrate that its head office is capable of supervising its operations, including the ability to comply with UK regulations and guidelines. It is essential for the company to have a robust governance framework in place that can effectively manage risks and safeguard the interests of customers.

On top of the threshold conditions, the state regulator plays a crucial role in overseeing the branch's operations. The Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA) will consider a range of factors when deciding whether to permit a foreign company to operate a branch in the UK. These factors might include the nature of the company's business, its home state supervision, and the degree of equivalence between UK and parent law.

Navigating the Complexities of Insolvency Proceedings

When it comes to branches, insolvency proceedings can become quite complex. In the event of insolvency, the branch's assets are considered part of the parent company's assets. If the parent company becomes insolvent, creditors may make claims on the assets of the UK branch under the Insolvency Act 1986.

This can be a significant risk for overseas companies operating a branch in the UK, particularly if the parent company's home country does not have reciprocal insolvency arrangements with the UK. In some cases, the assets of the branch may be ring-fenced to satisfy UK creditors before any surplus is remitted to the parent company.

It is therefore critical for companies to understand the implications of insolvency proceedings before deciding to operate a branch in the UK. Legal advice should be sought to ensure the company is adequately prepared for such scenarios.


Establishing a branch in the UK without setting up a separate legal entity is certainly possible for overseas companies. However, it is not a decision to be taken lightly. It requires a comprehensive understanding of the UK's regulatory landscape, from meeting threshold conditions to complying with the PRA and navigating complex insolvency proceedings.

This article serves as an introductory guide for any overseas entity considering the establishment of a branch in the UK. It is advisable to seek professional advice to ensure a thorough understanding of potential tax liabilities, regulatory requirements, and insolvency risks.

Ultimately, the decision to operate a branch or a subsidiary will depend on numerous factors. These include the company's strategic objectives, risk tolerance, operational capabilities, and the nature of the business it plans to conduct in the UK. As the global business landscape continues to evolve, overseas companies must carefully consider their options and make informed decisions that will contribute to their long-term growth and success.

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