What you need to know about joint shareholdings

Joint shareholdings and dealing with joint shareholders effectively can challenge a company. However, an increasing number of companies have joint shareholdings within their register of members and, in some companies like many residents’ management companies, joint shareholders can even be the norm rather than the exception. Here we answer all the key questions about the rules that relate to joint shareholdings and how a company can manage joint shareholders effectively.

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1 How many joint shareholders can there be?

Theoretically, a company may register a share transfer or allotment of shares into the joint names of any number of joint holders. For practical reasons, however, many companies limit the maximum number of joint shareholders via the Articles of Association – it’s common to set an upper limit of 4 or 10 joint holders. Even where a limit is not defined in the Articles, private company Model Article 26 gives directors the right to refuse to register any share transfer, which they might choose to do if a large number of joint transferees are included on a stock transfer form.

2 Do all joint shareholders have the same rights?

In short, no, they don’t share the same shareholders’ rights. In effect, Section 286 of the Companies Act 2006 confers more rights to the joint shareholder named first in the company’s register of members than to the other joint holders.

According to the Companies Act, it is the first named (or senior) holder who has the right to vote at company meetings, appoint a proxy and sign any shareholders’ written resolutions. The law does not give these same rights to other joint shareholders, partly to ease the administrative burden on companies.

3 Do companies need to communicate with all joint shareholders?

Again, no. The company is only compelled to communicate to the first named joint shareholder any of the following:

  • Notice of annual and extraordinary company meetings
  • Dividend notices and vouchers
  • An offer in respect of a rights issue or bonus issue of shares

Delivery to the senior holder is deemed to be delivery to all joint shareholders. That means, in practical terms, that it’s the first named joint shareholder with whom the company would interact in respect of a joint shareholding. It’s important, therefore, when allotting or transferring shares to joint holders that the person named first is the one who is most appropriate (and willing) to deal with correspondence and who has the trust of the other joint shareholders – and the time to forward on any information to them.

There’s nothing to stop a company sending information to all joint shareholders, but the law does not require it. A requirement to communicate more widely with joint shareholders might be included in the company’s Articles of Association, although that would be very unusual.

4 Should the company send out a single share certificate or one certificate for each joint shareholder?

Model Article 24 (which will apply to private companies that have adopted the Model Articles) states that only one share certificate needs to be issued in respect of a joint shareholding. More than that, it makes practical sense for there to be just one valid certificate for a joint shareholding in issue at any one time. It would again be standard practice for this to be sent to the first named joint holder and for this to represent delivery to all joint holders.

In a separate article, we look at what you should include in a share certificate for a joint shareholding.

5 Can the order of joint shareholders be changed?

Especially given the importance of the right person being named first, sometimes joint shareholders will request the order in which they are recorded to be changed. It’s common for this to be accepted by a company without the need for a full stock transfer form to be completed – although they will ensure that the request is in writing, confirms that the shares have not been sold or otherwise disposed of is and signed by all the joint shareholders.

One of the joint shareholders, even the first named, usually cannot on their own ask the company for the order in which the joint shareholders are shown in the register of members to be changed.

6 What requirements are there for transfers of joint shareholdings?

We looked at share transfers in other articles, starting with the process that should be followed for a share transfer. The main specific requirement for a joint holding is that the signature of all the joint shareholders is required on the stock transfer form in order for a valid transfer to take place. It’s not enough for the first named joint holder to sign and, on their own, any single joint shareholder cannot request that the shares (or any proportion of them) be transferred.

These requirements apply to all types of transfer – so include gifts and other disposals as well as a sale of shares.

7 Is there anything else that requires all the joint shareholders to agree?

In addition to transfers of joint holdings, the signatures of all joint shareholders will usually be required in the following circumstances:

  • On dividend mandates
  • As part of an agreement to receive notices and other documents via email
  • To split one holding into constituent parts or consolidate multiple joint holdings

There can also be obligations shared by all the shareholders in respect of a joint holding of shares – in particular, when shares are unpaid or partly paid the liability to pay calls tends to be joint and several.

8 Are there occasions when you can’t have joint shareholders?

The answer here really depends on your interpretation of the law, and particularly the Companies Act 2006. Companies House, whose interpretation counts for quite a lot, do not allow the formation of a new company with joint shareholders subscribing for shares. Instead, they require each subscriber of a new company to be a single natural person or a single corporate entity.

However, there’s absolutely nothing to stop companies, once formed with single subscribers, transferring the subscriber shares to joint shareholders.

There’s also some debate over whether joint members are permitted in a company limited by guarantee, since the Companies Act makes no specific reference to them. Opinion is divided, but more prudent companies limited by guarantee will therefore not permit joint members.

9 What happens if a joint shareholder dies?

If a joint shareholder dies, the shares pass automatically to the remaining joint holder(s) rather than, as with any property not held jointly, according to the deceased’s will or the law of intestacy.

As with the death of any other shareholder, the company will require sight of the joint holder’s death certificate (or an authenticated copy). The company’s register of members can then be updated to show the holding vesting in the name(s) of the surviving joint shareholder(s).

It’s also considered good practice for the company to:

  • Cancel the existing share certificate and issue a new one in the names of the surviving shareholder(s); and
  • Where appropriate, obtain a new dividend mandate from the surviving joint shareholder(s).

The death of the first named joint shareholder can pose a particular challenge, given that they will be the usual contact point used by the company in respect of the joint holding. Sometimes, companies allow address details of second and later named joint shareholders to fall out of date, which can then cause problems when one of them needs to be contacted in respect of the holding – it’s always prudent, therefore, to keep details of the second and any later named joint shareholders as up to date as possible.

Inform Direct is the innovative and easy way to manage a company's shares, make new share allotments, record share transfers and more.

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