Your social enterprise may need specific registrations, licences or permits. Which ones you need will depend on your business structure, its location, whether your business employs staff and the type of business you are operating. 

Licences and permits protect the health and safety of consumers and the environment, so penalties can be substantial for operating a business without them.

Because all three levels of government handle different registrations, licences and permits, finding out your requirements may seem confusing. The easiest way to obtain all Queensland, local and Australian government licensing information is to contact the Queensland Government.

Business names

A business name is a trading name that helps customers recognise your business. If you are thinking of registering a business name then you can search the business name register to see if your chosen name has been taken.  

There are legal requirements that come with having a business name. You must register your business name with the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC). Applications to register a business name are made through ASIC Connect.  However before you can apply to register your business name you need to have an Australian Business Number (ABN), or be in the process of applying for one and not have been refused.  For details about an ABN number and how to apply go to the Queensland Government guide on registering your business name .

Since ASIC assumed responsibility for the registration of business names in May 2012 you now only need to register for a business name once, instead of having to register your name in each state and territory you want to operate in. Once your name is registered, it's registered nationally. A business name is simply a name under which you can trade and is sometimes referred to as your trading name. The name itself does not give you any legal proprietary rights. Protecting your business name or product name is done through registration of a trademark.

You can also search the trade marks database for a list of trademarks registered with IP Australia. However protecting your idea, name or product is a very complex legal area.  You should consult a lawyer or a suitable professional for assistance.


If you want to operate your business as a company, you will first need to register with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) to receive your Australian company number (ACN) and registered company name. If you want your company to trade under even a slightly different name from your registered company name you will need to register this name with ASIC.

Sole traders, partnerships and trusts

If you plan to operate as a sole trader, partnership or trust - and not as a company - you will need to register your business name in the state or territory where you operate your business. Queensland-based businesses need to register their business name with the Office of Fair Trading. You need to register a business name only if you trade under a name that isn´t your own.

Taxation registration

You need to consider your tax requirements and register your business with the Australian Taxation Office (ATO). Which taxes you pay will depend on the type of business you run and the number of employees you have.

Australian business number (ABN)

An ABN is a unique 11-digit number that identifies your business to the ATO and other areas of government. It lets you:

  • lodge business activity statements 
  • confirm your business identity to others when ordering and invoicing 
  • claim GST credits 
  • claim energy grants credits 
  • register an Australian domain name.

ABN registration is not mandatory. Your business can trade without an ABN, but any businesses you deal with may withhold 46.5% of their payments to you (i.e. the current top marginal tax rate) and pay this amount to the ATO.

Register for an ABN on the ATO website.

Fringe benefits tax (FBT)

If you provide certain benefits to your employees or to people associated with your employees, you may be liable to pay FBT. If so, you must register for FBT with the ATO and lodge a return each year.

Learn more about fringe benefits tax on the ATO website

Goods and services tax (GST)

GST is a tax of 10 per cent on most goods and services sold or consumed in Australia. You must register for GST if:

  • your gross annual business turnover is $75,000 or more ($150,000 or more for a non-profit organisation) 
  • you provide taxi or limousine services - regardless of your gross annual turnover.

To register for GST, you will need an ABN.

Learn more about GST essentials on the ATO website.

Pay as you go (PAYG)

PAYG is a system that allows you to pay your expected tax liability in instalments. The ATO will notify you of your PAYG obligations.

Learn more about PAYG, including your responsibilities as an employer, on the ATO website. 

Queensland Government business guides

Other useful resources

The Australian Centre for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies produces the Developing Your Organisation manual which provides a wealth of information about running an organisation.

Social Enterprises, a Sydney based organisation, has produced a Business Planning Guide for social enterprises entitled Putting the Pieces Together. This guide has been produced through the Parramatta Social Enterprise Hub program and was developed by Social Ventures Australia in conjunction with Parramatta City Council.

Social Traders is a social enterprise development agency located in Melbourne. Their website provides a wide range of developmental resources for new and established social enterprises, including case studies, research reports, tools and resources.

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