Can I use a business address in London that is not my trading address or my registered office address for the purposes of customer contact and increasing local SEO? Can I use a PO Box?

There are a number of regulations that talk about the disclosing of business addresses. I discuss these in this blog post here

In the various regulations, there are two addresses that you legally need to disclose – your registered address and your geographical address.

A geographical address has been deemed to be interpreted (by virtue of guidance within the EU) as the place at which the trader’s activities under the contract are carried out whereas the “place of business” of the trader is to be interpreted, in accordance with the case law, as the place where the essential decisions concerning the general management of the trader’s business are taken and where the functions of its central administration are exercised. However, I don’t believe the UK regulators have opined on this issue. 

One of the regulations that includes a requirement to disclose your geographical address is the Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013. This provides that if you are selling to consumers at a distance (ie online, by email or over the telephone), then you need to display at the point of online check out or otherwise directly before the consumer places the order:

“the geographical address at which the trader is established and, where available, the trader’s telephone number, fax number and e-mail address, to enable the consumer to contact the trader quickly and communicate efficiently”.

So according to that legislation and the guidance referred to above about the interpretation of the words ‘geographical address’, if you are trading from home, this would be your home address. 

The EU Commission’s Guidance on the Consumer Rights Directive (the Directive from which the Consumer Contracts Regulations as mentioned above are derived) also states that the information about the “geographical” address should refer to a physical location. For example, it is not sufficient to merely provide the PO Box number as the trader's address.

Another such regulation that requires disclosure of a geographical address is the E-commerce Regulations that apply to any business that sells online or carries out online advertising. 

So can you have an address for your customers that is not your geographical address (eg for SEO purposes)?

There is nothing legally to say that you can’t display an extra address for people to contact you in addition to the geographical address. So if you are very risk averse, you could include your geographical address (your trading address) in your terms of business but make the other address (for SEO purposes) more prominent on your website. 

Or, if you trade from home and have concerns about security, then as I say in my blog post, my view is that the risk of any adverse consequence if you fail to put your home address on your website is exceptionally low. The risk of this being in any way investigated by authorities will in all likelihood depend on complaints being made by customers who can’t contact you. So if you look after your customers and provide alternative ways for them to contact you and you are responsive (eg by email or a service office address), then you are unlikely to have any complaints about this. 

I have never heard of any case of adverse consequences for any small business owner who hasn't put their home address on their website. And I think, certainly, if you had a good reason not to do so, because you were concerned about your security, then I personally would likely make the decision to not disclose my home address for all to see on my website but would instead use a service office. 

Looking at the PO Box side of things, if we go with the interpretation of ‘geographical address’ as set out above, then a PO Box would not suffice for a geographical address. 

But what about for a registered office address for a limited company? Would a PO Box suffice for that?

Companies House say that a registered office address must be a physical address and not a PO Box. You can only use a PO Box address if you also provide the full address of the physical building, including postcode.

On the subject of registered office addresses, if you have any security concerns about sharing your home address, don’t make the same mistake many people make when choosing a first registered office address and use your home address, as Companies House cannot remove addresses that have been used as a company’s registered address. That address will stay there for the company’s life and for 20 years after it has been dissolved!

In addition, you might want to register an address other than your home address for your correspondence address as a director. This address also appears on the public register. You can complete a form SR01 to change this after the event, but it costs £32 for each form! That can mount up to a lot of money…  So you may want to choose the address of your accountants as your correspondence address (and indeed your registered office address). 

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