The Definitive Guide to Understanding Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) Codes

When incorporating your company in the UK, you will need to provide one or more Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) codes. SIC codes provide a way for Companies House to classify your business activities in the UK. By using a standard set of codes, Companies House can ensure the consistency of the information they hold on all UK companies. It also makes it possible for Companies House and other agencies to track and report on the different types of UK businesses. SIC codes contain five digits representing every type of business activity in the UK. For example, the first code on the list is “01110” for “Growing of cereals (except rice), leguminous crops and oil seeds”. In this article, we will explain more about what SIC codes are used for, how SIC codes are grouped, when SIC codes are used, and the requirements for SIC codes.

What are Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) Codes?

Standard Industrial Classification codes (SIC codes) are 5-digit numbers used to classify the business activity of companies in the UK. The SIC codes provided for each registered company are placed on public record by Companies House.

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), “A Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) was first introduced into the UK in 1948 for use in classifying business establishments and other statistical units by the type of economic activity in which they are engaged. The classification provides a framework for the collection, tabulation, presentation and analysis of data, and its use promotes uniformity. In addition, it can be used for administrative purposes and by non-government bodies as a convenient way of classifying industrial activities into a common structure”.

Without SIC codes, it would be impossible for agencies to keep track of and report on the types of businesses in the UK. As such, the use of SIC codes allows the government to gain a picture of the business landscape in the UK. It also allows them to understand any emerging trends in the UK’s business sector, e.g. which business activities are increasing in volume and which are decreasing?

There are currently over 700 SIC codes in use representing every type of business activity, from 01110 to 99999. For ease of reference, the SIC code list is grouped by industrial sector as follows:

  • Section A: Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing
  • Section B: Mining and Quarrying
  • Section C: Manufacturing
  • Section D: Electricity, gas, steam and air conditioning supply
  • Section E: Water supply, sewerage, waste management and remediation activities
  • Section F: Construction
  • Section G: Wholesale and retail trade; repair of motor vehicles and motorcycles
  • Section H: Transportation and storage
  • Section I: Accommodation and food service activities
  • Section J: Information and communication
  • Section K: Financial and insurance activities
  • Section L: Real estate activities
  • Section M: Professional, scientific and technical activities
  • Section N: Administrative and support service activities
  • Section O: Public administration and defence; compulsory social security
  • Section P: Education
  • Section Q: Human health and social work activities
  • Section R: Arts, entertainment and recreation
  • Section S: Other service activities
  • Section T: Activities of households as employers; undifferentiated goods- and services-producing activities of households for own use
  • Section U: Activities of extraterritorial organizations and bodies

It is interesting to note that many SIC codes are extremely specific, reflecting the diverse range of business activities performed in the UK. For example, the first few SIC codes are as follows:

  • 01110 Growing of cereals (except rice), leguminous crops and oil seeds
  • 01120 Growing of rice
  • 01130 Growing of vegetables and melons, roots and tubers
  • 01140 Growing of sugar cane
  • 01150 Growing of tobacco
  • 01160 Growing of fibre crops
  • 01190 Growing of other non-perennial crops
  • 01210 Growing of grapes
  • 01220 Growing of tropical and subtropical fruits
  • 01230 Growing of citrus fruits
  • 01240 Growing of pome fruits and stone fruits
  • 01250 Growing of other tree and bush fruits and nuts
  • 01260 Growing of oleaginous fruits

Where can I find the list of SIC codes?

The list of SIC codes used in the UK has been revised several times, in 1958, 1968, 1980, 1992, 1997, 2003, and 2007. The latest list of SIC codes (UK SIC 2007) is available on the  Office for National Statistics (ONS) website. Companies House also provide a “condensed” list entitled “Standard industrial classification of economic activities (SIC)”.

It is important to note that you should only use SIC codes from the condensed list when filing documents with Companies House. Failure to use the condensed list of SIC codes may result in your filing being rejected.

Because SIC codes have changed over time, you may need to convert old codes to new codes. For example, if your company previously used 2003 SIC codes, you can use a conversion table to find a 2007 equivalent. You should then provide the new code(s) on your next confirmation statement and any other future filings.

When do I need to use SIC codes?

You will need to provide SIC codes when setting up a limited company with Companies House. SIC codes are also required when filing your annual confirmation statement with Companies House. You will only need to include SIC codes in your annual confirmation statement, however, if they have changed – either since incorporation or your last filing.

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How many SIC codes do I need to provide?

When incorporating your company with Companies House, you must provide at least one but no more than four SIC codes. It is important to note that if your business is dormant or not currently trading, you will still need to provide a SIC code. The SIC code for dormant companies is 9999, and for non-trading companies is 74990. If you do not provide at least one SIC code to Companies House, your application for incorporation will be rejected. 

In many cases, a single SIC code may be all that is needed to accurately describe the type of business performed. In other cases, a company will need to provide more than one code to provide a clear picture of what they do. For example, Companies House provide an example of a candle manufacturing company that has four SIC codes:

  • 19209 Other treatment of petroleum products (excluding petrochemicals manufacture)
  • 32990 Other manufacturing not elsewhere classified
  • 68209 Other letting and operating of own or leased real estate
  • 70100 Activities of head offices

If you are unsure which SIC codes you should use to describe your business, speak to a company formation specialist or accountant who will be able to advise you.

Reporting changes to SIC codes

Businesses typically evolve over time. This might mean they broaden into new areas of business or cease existing business activities. It may be necessary to inform Companies House if these changes result in the use of different SIC codes. As Companies House states, “It’s good practice to keep your information up-to-date, so anyone looking to do business with your company has accurate information”.

There is no immediate requirement to inform Companies House of a change in SIC codes. Rather, you will simply need to update your SIC codes when you next file a confirmation statement with Companies House. Confirmation statements are the primary method of providing up-to-date information to Companies House to be placed on the public register.

If you chose the wrong SIC codes when incorporating your company, these can also be changed when you submit your next confirmation statement. That said, using the wrong SIC code/s may cause problems when it comes to dealing with banks and insurers. This is because financial institutions use SIC codes to make decisions (e.g. when lending money or assessing risk). It may also mean that any insurance policies your company holds may be technically invalid. This may be the case if your business is insured for the wrong type of business. For this reason, it may be preferable to file your confirmation statement early. This will ensure that any SIC code changes will be reflected on the public register sooner than waiting for your annual filing.

Final words

SIC codes simply provide a way for Companies House and other government agencies to classify the business activities of companies in the UK. Using the correct SIC codes from the outset of your limited company will ensure the correct information is placed on the public record. It will also ensure that any financial institutions you deal with can make decisions and provide lending and cover based on the types of business activities you are involved in. If you are unsure of the correct SIC codes to use to accurately describe your business, speak to a specialist in company formations or an accountant. Likewise, if you need advice on changing your SIC code during the life of your business, do seek professional advice to ensure this is done correctly.

Uniwide Formations is a professional business service provider based in the UK. We deal with all aspects of limited company or LLP registration and formation. We can tailor your formation documents to your exact needs, including your memorandum and articles of association, and explain your Companies House reporting and filing obligations.

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