A limited liability partnership (LLP) is similar to an ordinary partnership in that a number of people or limited companies join together and share the costs, risks, and responsibilities of the business. They also take a share of the profits and pay income tax and NICs on their share of the partnership profits.
However, an LLP differs from an ordinary partnership in that its debt is usually limited to the amount of money each partner invested in the business and to any personal guarantees given to raise business finance. Therefore, members have some protection if the business runs into difficulties because their liability is restricted in general terms to the level of their investment.
So, what other advantages can an LLP as a trading vehicle offer?
Along similar lines to a company, an LLP is a separate legal person, meaning that the members are not personally or jointly liable for the LLP’s debts, and all contracts are between the LLP and its clients or third parties. If the LLP becomes insolvent, a member’s personal liability is normally limited to the amount of their agreed capital contribution plus the value of any personal guarantee. However, where negligence is involved, members may be personally liable to the full extent of their assets if they have assumed personal responsibility for the advice or work.
The separate legal entity status also means that there is no need, for example, to transfer legal title to property on a change of membership. LLPs also have unlimited capacity and can enter into contracts and hold property in the same way as an individual.
Members of the LLP are usually taxed as if they were partners and not employees or directors. They are therefore not liable to pay PAYE or Class 1 NICs.
Businesses often find it easier to recruit new members to an LLP than to an ordinary partnership, where the prospect of unlimited liability can be a major disincentive to potential partners.
The benefits of limited liability combined with a favourable tax treatment should not be underestimated, but they do come at a price, most notably the associated disclosure obligations.
Where the LLP’s profit before members’ remuneration exceeds £200,000, there is a requirement to report the amount of profit attributable to the highest paid member (but not their name). Other disclosure includes total members’ remuneration, total members, average members’ remuneration and related party transactions.
There will be costs to set up the LLP and ongoing filing fees. The administrative costs in notifying clients and suppliers and transferring bank accounts, leases and agreements will need to be considered.
Corporate-type accounts have to be prepared, circulated to each member and filed on a public register within nine months of its year end. LLP accounts must comply with UK generally accepted accounting principles and other specific regulations.
Loans and debts due to members (the equivalent of partnership current accounts), are required to be shown as liabilities rather than as part of capital alongside the partnership capital accounts. This in turn reduces the LLP’s net worth and may affect its credit rating and borrowing capacity.
In relation to tax matters, the following areas will need careful thought:
- tax relief for losses in trading LLPs is restricted
- there will be no scope for tax-efficient share incentives for staff as there are with a company
- anti-avoidance provisions may apply to ‘disguised employment’ situations
Weighing up the pros and cons, in many cases, an LLP is likely to be more attractive to those who would have formed a partnership rather than a limited company, but who ultimately seek the benefit of limited liability.