A sole trader is classed as a self employed individual who runs their own business. Being a sole trader is also known as sole proprietorship and is the simplest of business structures.
Learning more about how being a sole trader could affect your self employed business helps you to make the most of your business finances.
Our sole trader tax guide gives you a breakdown of what it means to be a sole trader and some of the advantages and disadvantages for tax purposes.
A sole trader pays income tax on their business profits after allowable deductions for expenses. The rate of tax payable on profits is based on the income tax rates which start at zero and finish at 45%.
There are four sole trader tax rates which are also applicable to other sources of income for example from PAYE.
Sole trader tax rates:
Income £0 – £12570: No tax payable
Income £12,571 to £50,270: 20%
Income £50,271 to £125,139: 40%
Income £125,140 and above: 45%
If you receive any additional taxable income other than from your sole trader business this will need to be added to your self employed profits to give a total taxable income figure.
A sole trader will become liable for class 2 and class 4 national insurance contributions depending on profits.
Class 2 NIC will be payable if you earn over the small profits threshold and class 4 will be payable if your profits are over the lower profits limit.
Choosing to structure your business as a sole trader proprietorship has it’s advantages in comparison to other options.
We detail below some of the most common benefits for sole traders:
Simpler registration set up:
In comparison to setting up as a limited company the process of registering as a sole trader is pretty straightforward with either an online or postal registration to choose from.
Being a sole trader means you are protected by HMRC’s taxpayer privacy rules allowing you to keep more control over what accounts and other business information is available to the public.
In contrast limited companies legally have to submit company accounts and director details to companies house annually. Companies house makes all company reports fully available for public use.
As the sole owner you don’t have any problems with being in control when decisions have to be made. This let’s you make choices to suit you without having to consult other directors which is common in companies with more than one director.
Flexibility to change in the future:
Following on from having full control you can change the structure of your business from a sole trader to a partnership or limited company without too much effort and when you decide is the best time.
With less regulation bringing less administration you don’t have as much paperwork to contend with as a sole trader set up.
Limited companies need to file multiple statutory reports to companies house and each company director has to submit a personal self assessment tax return to HMRC.
Cheaper set up costs and accountancy bills:
There are fewer obligations and regulations to abide by as a sole trader which ultimately means you should pay less in accountancy fees.
Running as a limited company can mean you need to hire other services like a solicitor and a company formation agent.
A sole proprietorship business structure can bring some disadvantages when compared to a limited company.
We’ve listed below some of the common issues a sole trader may experience:
A sole trader experiences unlimited liability in relation to your businesses debt. Unlike a limited company you could be put in a position where you may need to sell personal assets to repay a business debt.
Less tax efficiency options:
Depending on the level of your business income a sole trader can encounter less tax planning opportunities.
Trading as a limited company instead of a sole trader brings with it added legal protection for other organisations. For this reason some organisations prioritise working with limited companies over sole trader businesses.
Less options to finance:
Some lenders prefer or only provide finance to limited companies because of the increased legal protection in comparison to a sole trader.
After you have registered as a sole trader with HMRC you will be given a ten digit UTR number and a self assessment record.
You will be required to complete an annual self assessment tax return which let’s you report your sole trader income, expenses and any other income to HMRC.
HMRC will calculate how much tax you owe from your self assessment tax return and expect you to pay your tax bill by the 31 January following the relevant tax year.
Making tax digital will affect sole traders at different times in the future depending on their level of income.
MTD for ITSA is part of making the tax system more digital and requires sole traders to keep digital records and report to HMRC quarterly instead of an annual tax return.
HMRC are expecting sole traders with an income of £50,000 of more to comply with MTD for ITSA from April 2026 and from April 2027 for sole traders with income of more than £30,000.
Sole traders with income below the £30,000 threshold will be told to submit under the MTD regime at some point after April 2027.
You need to register as a sole trader with HMRC by setting up a self assessment record. HMRC will then require you to report your sole trader income to them on a tax return each year.
First time registering for self assessment:
If it’s your first time registering for self assessment HMRC would prefer that you set up using your business tax account.
The business tax account can be opened at the same time as registering for SA and will become a useful tool to help your run your business in the future.
To sign in you will need your government gateway user ID and password which you can create if you don’t have one.
HMRC will send you a ten digit UTR number which will be posted to you in about 10 working days or you can access it through your HMRC app or personal tax account online.
Your UTR number is important and should be kept safe because you’ll need it when dealing with your self assessment record.
If you have registered for self assessment before:
If you already have a self assessment record you tell HMRC about becoming a sole trader by completing the CWF1 form online.
You will need your 10 digit UTR number to complete the submission which you can find in your personal tax, HMRC app or past self assessment correspondence received from HMRC.
CWF1 sole trader registration by post:
The CWF1 form can be posted to HMRC as well by completing it online so you can print it off and send it to the address on the form.
VAT registration for a sole trader isn’t always compulsory and can be done voluntarily. A sole trader is subject to the same VAT rules as any other business with VAT registration obligatory if your taxable turnover meets the VAT threshold.
Sole traders can voluntarily register for VAT even if their taxable income is below the VAT threshold which allows the VAT to be reclaimed from qualifying purchases.
There are downsides to consider to voluntarily registering for VAT like having to add VAT to your own prices and the extra admin around submitting VAT returns.
A business can be exempted from VAT but only under specific circumstances for example when the supplies your business buys are all zero rated for VAT.
You can also be partially exempt from VAT if your business has incurred VAT on purchases that relate to exempt supplies.
Sole trader accountants are there to relieve the pressure of bookkeeping, producing your accounts, submitting any VAT returns and your personal tax return to HMRC.
A sole trader accountant can offer support in other ways like passing on their knowledge to help keep you compliant, up to date with changes like making tax digital and give you advice on tax planning.
More Sole Traders and Partnerships guides: