What are the requirements for appointing a company secretary in a UK PLC?

As a company director or board member, you may be looking to appoint a company secretary in your Public Limited Company (PLC). The role of a company secretary is crucial in the smooth running of a business' corporate affairs. From ensuring compliance with legal procedures to supporting the board with guidance on their duties and obligations, the secretary plays a pivotal role. However, appointing a company secretary requires careful consideration of various legal requirements and qualifications in the United Kingdom.

The Role and Importance of a Company Secretary

Before diving into the requirements for appointing a company secretary, it's essential to understand their role and importance in a corporate setting. A company secretary is often perceived as the backbone of a company's administrative function. They help streamline the decision-making process, making sure that your business stays on the right side of the law.

A company secretary's duties range from maintaining the company's statutory registers to ensuring that the company complies with all relevant legislation. They also play an instrumental role in communicating with shareholders and keeping them updated about significant company-related matters.

In a Public Limited Company, the secretary also has the responsibility of ensuring that the company adheres to the Financial Conduct Authority’s (FCA) rules and regulations. This includes, among other tasks, managing regulatory filings and updating the board about any changes in legal requirements.

Legal Requirements for Appointing a Company Secretary

The UK law has outlined a set of legal requirements for a company secretary in a PLC. According to the Companies Act 2006, all Public Limited Companies must have a formally appointed company secretary. The Act further stipulates that the person appointed must have the necessary skills and experience to discharge the duties of a company secretary effectively.

The individual appointed as company secretary must not be disqualified under the Company Directors Disqualification Act 1986. They should also not be the company's auditor or be responsible for the company's audit under the provisions of section 1134.

The law also necessitates that a company secretary should not have been convicted of an offence involving deception or dishonesty, unless the conviction is spent under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974.

The Professional Competence and Qualifications of a Company Secretary

When appointing a company secretary for your PLC, it is critical to consider their professional competence and qualifications. According to the Companies Act, a secretary should be capable of carrying out the duties associated with the role.

In practical terms, this means that the person should have held the position of a secretary of a company of a similar size or scale for at least three of the five years preceding their appointment. Alternatively, the person could have been a barrister, advocate or solicitor called or admitted in any part of the United Kingdom. Membership in professional bodies such as the Institute of Chartered Accountants, the Chartered Association of Certified Accountants, or the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators could also qualify a person to be a company secretary.

Company Secretary Services: An Alternative to Appointing an Individual

While it's common to appoint an individual as company secretary, companies also have the option to appoint a corporate service provider. Company secretary services are firms that offer secretarial services to businesses. This option can be particularly beneficial for businesses that do not have the resources or the need for a full-time secretary.

When appointing a company secretary service, the same legal requirements apply. The service provider needs to have the necessary qualifications and experience to fulfill the role effectively. The advantage of such services is their team of experts, which enables them to handle a vast array of administrative tasks efficiently and professionally.

The Appointment Process of a Company Secretary

Once you've identified a suitable candidate or service provider that meets the above requirements, the next step is the formal appointment. This involves a decision by the board of directors. The appointment of a company secretary should be documented in the company's minutes and the individual or service provider should be informed in writing about their appointment.

The Companies House must be notified of the appointment within 14 days. This is usually done by filing form AP03 or AP04. The notification should include the secretary's full name, address, and details of any changes in the secretary's details.

While this process may seem relatively straightforward, it is essential to remember that the role of a company secretary in a PLC is not just administrative. It's a significant position that requires a thorough understanding of the company's business and the legal environment. Therefore, careful consideration should be given to the appointment process.

Why Is the Role of a Company Secretary Vital in Corporate Governance?

To manage a Public Limited Company (PLC) effectively, a competent company secretary is crucial. This role constitutes a linchpin in the company's corporate governance structure. As a conduit between the board and the company's shareholders, the company secretary ensures seamless communication and maintains an open dialogue on significant matters.

The company secretary also plays an instrumental role in overseeing the company's legal and ethical compliance. This includes ensuring the company's constitution or articles of association are strictly followed and that all decisions taken by the board are in compliance with the law. They also oversee the arrangement and administration of general meetings, taking minutes, and ensuring all actions agreed are implemented.

Another essential aspect is the company secretary's duty to ensure the registered office is maintained correctly. They should ensure all statutory and legal paperwork is correctly filed and that all official mails and correspondences are promptly dealt with. The company secretary also coordinates the company's formal decision-making and reporting process, ensuring that the board receives accurate and timely information.

In essence, the company secretary's role in a PLC is not just administrative. It is strategic and pivotal to the effective governance and smooth operation of the company at every level.

The Consequences of Failing to Appoint A Company Secretary in a Timely Manner

Failure to appoint a company secretary in a PLC within the stipulated timeline can have severe implications. If the Companies House finds out that a public limited company does not have a company secretary, the directors can be held liable for breaching the Companies Act 2006. The company and every officer in default can be subject to a fine.

Additionally, failure to appoint a competent company secretary can hinder the smooth running of your company's administrative functions. This can lead to non-compliance with various legal requirements and can potentially damage your company's reputation with shareholders and the wider public.

When a company secretary is not in place, the duties of the position fall to the directors. This can create an additional strain on the directors, thus potentially affecting their ability to run the company effectively.

In conclusion, appointing a competent company secretary is crucial for every PLC. The role of a company secretary is not merely administrative. It is a strategic role that serves as the backbone of the company's corporate governance structure. Therefore, careful consideration should be given to the appointment process. While companies have the option to appoint a corporate service provider as the company secretary, it is essential to ensure they have the necessary qualifications and experience. In any case, non-compliance with the requirement can lead to penalties and other adverse effects. Thus, it is crucial to handle the process with due diligence and efficiency.