You’ve locked down the privacy settings on your social media accounts, secured your phone and bank account, and you’d never share your personal information with someone you didn’t know. Right?
But if you’re the director of a limited company and your home address is the business’s registered address, it’s available for anyone to see on the internet.
Here we explain how using a virtual office address keeps your home address private, as well as other advantages of using a business address service.
What is a virtual business address?
For a subscription fee, a virtual address service gives you a business address you can use for receiving mail and as the registered address for your own business.
In the UK, the virtual address is a real office in London or another city. Official mail which arrives there for you – such as paperwork from Companies House or HMRC – will be forwarded to an address you specify, or scanned and emailed to you. The exact details of the service vary depending on the provider.
If you’re looking for a business address where you can also rent a desk, then you need a provider that also offers co-working.
Anyone can use a virtual address
People who buy a virtual address service are sole traders, limited companies, with or without a business premises, or people who need mail forwarding while they’re away or temporarily without a home address.
Using a virtual office address as your registered business address is completely legal and for some small businesses, it can be a better option than using your home address.
Why use a virtual address?
Keep your home address private
Many new companies use their home address when they register, but if you’re a limited company, your address becomes publicly available. Someone only needs to know your name or your business name to find your business address, free of charge, at the Companies House website.
When you’re setting up your company, registering your home address might not be a concern. But further down the line, you might be pleased your home address is kept private. For example, would you want a particularly disgruntled customer to know where you live?
Comply with your tenancy agreement or home insurance
Another situation where you might need to register an alternative to your home address is if you’re renting your home, or own it leasehold.
A clause forbidding tenants to use their property for ‘business purposes’ is designed to stop people setting up businesses which might be dangerous or annoying for neighbours, such as a micro-brewery or having lots of clients coming and going. Or to stop you doing something that will create more wear and tear than normal. Clauses about ‘business purposes’ are less about people quietly working from home, or running a small business from their laptop.
If you’re in any doubt, check with your landlord or lease-holder, discuss how your business operates, and obtain permission from them in writing. You might also want to check your home insurance to check you’re covered.
Add prestige and professionalism
For some businesses, having a registered address in central London could add an air of professionalism which you might not achieve with your home address. For example, if you run an IT consultancy, having your limited company’s address as Shoreditch, London might suggest you’re more plugged into the latest technology than if you registered your home address of Hedgehog Cottage, Oak Lane, Little Snoring…
Get your post, anywhere in the world
Although many companies prefer to correspond by email these days, official letters, notices and demands from Companies House and HMRC still arrive by snail-mail. If you go on holiday or decide to work as a digital nomad, you might miss an important letter if there’s no one to pick up your post.
Virtual office services offer to forward your post, or scan and email it to you so you can keep up with your correspondence wherever you are.
Save on admin if you move home or premises
If you register your home or work premises as your business address, every time you move you’ll need to update the authorities. Using a virtual address cuts out this admin and makes sure you never miss official mail because it’s sitting in the mailbox at your old place.
You can’t use a virtual address on Google Maps
The terms of your agreement with a virtual office address provider will state what you can and can’t do with the virtual address you’re buying from them.
One important way you can’t use a virtual address as your business address is in your listing on Google Maps. The guidelines for Google My Business state:
‘If your business rents a physical mailing address but doesn’t operate out of that location, also known as a virtual office, that location is not eligible for a Business Profile on Google’.
Instead, you can put your home address, set a ‘service area’ and then hide your address from the public.
A virtual address isn’t a PO box
A virtual office address isn’t the same as a post office box (PO box). A virtual office address is a real physical place where your mail arrives and is sorted by your service provider. A PO box is a rented mailbox at a post office.
Some address providers offer PO boxes as well as physical addresses, and it can seem cheaper if you’re only paying for the post you receive. But it’s important to know that although you can use a PO box when you register your business, it must include the physical address including the building name or number and postcode. Check what the address provider is offering before you opt for a PO box.
How to choose a virtual office provider
Like buying any service, it’s worth thinking carefully about what you need and then looking at what’s on offer from different providers. Here are some things to consider:
- What services do you need? List your ‘must haves’ and check providers offer these. Other services might be ‘nice to have’, but check you’re not paying for things you don’t need.
- What’s the address? Make sure you’re happy with the address – some providers offer a choice of locations around the UK, others only have one address.
- Is there a discount for paying for a year upfront? Usually, you can pay monthly for a virtual office address but some providers give a discount if you buy a year upfront. If you know you’ll want the service long term and you can afford the larger fee in one go, this could be worth the outlay.
- Are there other fees? Check if there are hidden fees. What might appear to be the cheapest virtual office service might be displaying their prices without including the VAT, or add on a one-off set-up fee when you’re at the check-out.
- What do existing customers say? To find out how reliable a provider is, and the standard of their customer service, read recent customer comments on independent review websites.
Image source: Getty Images
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