Limited companies are, by law, legal entities that have a (perpetual) life of their own, irrespective of the owners/shareholders of the company. As stated by Atrill & McLaney (2011), this means that the company itself can be sued, or can sue another person/entity in its own capacity, irrespective of the owners. This is in direct contrast with sole proprietorships where, unlike the accounting (where the owner and the business is separate), the owner and the company are legally treated as the same entity, therefore the owner is the one who is liable if any legal issues arise.
Perhaps one of the most important features of a company is that the shareholders of the company have a liability that is limited only to the equity (shares) they have in the business. If the company has a large outstanding debt which it is unable to repay, by law only the assets/equity the business itself owns can be liquidated to repay the outstanding amount, and the shareholders are not liable for any repayment in their personal capacities. Again this is in direct contrast, as mentioned above, with sole proprietorship where the sole proprietor themselves would be liable for any bad debts in their personal capacity and therefore even their “non-business” assets may be liquidated to fulfil debt payments.
Due to the two points mentioned above, a limited company therefore must be taxed as an entity. Most countries have separate taxation percentages for legal entities. These taxes are charged to the company and this does not exempt shareholders from their personal tax requirements, for example; receiving a dividend pay-out from the already taxed profits does not mean the shareholder doesn’t have to pay tax on the dividend pay-out as the dividend pay-out is a taxable income to them personally, the tax the company has paid is for the company.
South Africa – Accounting and Financial Reporting
South Africa currently has limited companies as well as another form of entity called a close corporation. Closed corporations are much easier to incorporate than regular companies and do not require full accounting audits, but have a number of other limitations compared with regular limited companies which are represented by (Pty) Ltd (eCompanies, n.d.). Close corporations in South Africa have, however, been phased out as of this year. Regulations for limited companies in South Africa, as mentioned, require the financials to be audited by a firm of Chartered Accountants. With effect from July 1, 2010, a new legislation amendment has been made to the companies act that states financial reporting standards “must be consistent with the International Financial Reporting Standards of the International Accounting Standards Board” (eStandardsForum, 2009).
Atrill, P. & McLaney, E. (2011) Accounting and Finance for Non-specialists. 7th Edition. England: Pearson Education Limited.
eCompanies (n.d.) What is a close corporation? [Online]. Available from: http://www.ecompanies.co.za/cc.htm (Accessed: 16 April 2011).
eStandardsForum (2009) South Africa – International Financial Reporting Standards [Online]. Available from: http://www.estandardsforum.org/south-africa/standards/international-financial-reporting-standards (Accessed: 16 April 2011).