How to Register as Self Employed with HMRC

Whether you’ve already started working for yourself, want to make the ‘leap’ or want to set up a business to turn a hobby into a fully-fledged business, then I’m sure that the thought of how to register as self-employed is lurking somewhere at the back of your mind!

In this guide, I’ll show you how you can make things official with HMRC and share the 5 steps you need to take and some advice about what you can expect to happen next, as well as your legal responsibilities once you are signed up to become self-employed.

This guide is written for individuals who want to register as UK self-employed. There are other business structures available such as Limited Company, Partnerships and LLPs and you can find out more about these in this guide ‘what business structure is right for you‘.

Updated 13 August 2021

1. Who Needs to Register as Self-Employed in the UK

First things first, it pays to check whether you actually need to register with HMRC because not everyone needs to. Avoiding registering can save you a lot of hassle! When you work for yourself you’ll need to apply for self employment once your business income (not profit) is £1,000 or more during a single tax year.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t register if you are getting paid less than £1,000. In fact, many people choose to apply anyway because they:

  • expect their turnover to increase beyond this;
  • don’t want to miss the registration deadline and avoid any potential HMRC penalties;
  • want to lock in a tax saving in future years by recording a tax loss to use against future profits.

Actually, HMRC’s recommended approach is that everyone should register as for self assessment once they start working for themselves, regardless of how much they get paid. The £1,000 exemption is really just designed for people who do odd jobs, babysitting or sell small amounts through eBay or car boot sales, for example.

2. When To Register as Self-Employed

The deadline to register as self-employed is the 5th October in your business’s second tax year.  So if you started working for yourself on 1 March 2020, you’ll need to register by 5 October 2020 and there are penalties for missing it.

When To Register as Self-Employed

3. Information You Need To Have Ready

Registering with HMRC will be easier if you have the information you need to hand. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Name
  • Date of Birth
  • UK Address
  • National Insurance Number
  • Telephone number
  • Email address
  • Business start date
  • A brief description of what you do

4. How to Register as Self Employed in the UK

Registering is simple enough to do yourself and once completed you’ll expect to:

But let’s start at the beginning. The easiest way to apply it is to either:

  • Go Online or;
  • Phone HMRC.

4.1 How to Register Online

Before you start applying online, make sure you have your national insurance number handy. You’ll then need to complete the following 5 steps:

  1. Visit the HMRC website and choose the option to “Register Online”;
  2. Set up your HMRC online account so you can manage your taxes online;
  3. Enrol for self assessment online;
  4. Wait for your UTR number to be posted to you (can take up to 10 days)
  5. Wait for your activation code so you can complete setup of your HMRC online account (can take 7 – 10 days).

5 Steps to Registering as UK Self-Employed

  1. Visit the HMRC website

    Head over to the HMRC website and choose the option to “Register Online”how to set up as a sole trader

  2. Set Up a Government Gateway Account

    This is the account where you’ll manage all your taxes. HMRC will automatically generate a 12 digit number which you’ll need to user as your login and let you choose a password.setting up as a UK sole trader

  3. Enrol for Self Assessment

    Complete the HMRC form to register for HMRC taxes. You’ll need to share your personal details, details about the work you will do once you are set up as self employed and make a declaration that everything you have entered it true.
    sole trader registration

  4. Wait for HMRC to Review Your Application

    HMRC will review your application once you submit it. Within the next 10 days they will send you out a UTR number to be posted to you (can take up to 10 days). It’s a 10 digit 10 ID number that you’ll need to keep safe in the event you need to prove you are a sole trader, speak with HMRC and manage your self employed taxes.

  5. Enter Your Activation Code

    Finally, you’ll also be sent an activation code for your government gateway account as part of the verification process. It can take up to 28 days for this to be sent but make sure you enter it as soon as you receive it because it will expire.

  6. What Happens Next

    Once registered with HMRC you’ll need to manage your own taxes which means declaring your income once a year on a tax return and paying any tax you owe twice a year.

4.2 How to Register by Phone

You can apply to register as self-employed by phone by calling HMRC on 0300 200 3500. HMRC’s opening times are as follows:

  • Monday to Friday: 8am to 8pm
  • Saturday: 8am to 4pm

5. Applying for Self Employment if You Are Already Registered for Self-Assessment (CWF1)

If you already fill in a tax return for another reason, for example, because you are a landlord or have dividend income, then you should not apply for self-employment again. If you register again, HMRC will set you up on their system for a second time and expect two tax returns from you! Instead, you should complete a CWF1 Form online.

5.1 Completing the CWF1 Form Online

You’ll need certain information to complete the form online so that HMRC can tie up your application to the right person. Here’s what you need to have ready:

5.2 How to Find the CWF1 Form Online

Head over to the HMRC website where you can find the latest version of the 2019/2020 CWF1 form online. It is fairly straightforward to fill out and you’ll be given the opportunity to review the form before you submit it.

CWF1 Online

6. How Long Does it Take for HMRC to Process Your Application

HMRC’s guidance says the self-employment registration process takes 7 – 10 days to complete. However, there can be delays with this timescales. To get an up to date estimate of how long your application will take you can call HMRC on 0300 200 3310.

You’ll need to wait for two things:

  • An activation code to complete the setup of your HMRC Government Gateway account;
  • A UTR number that completes your registration.

7. What Happens Next

Once you have successfully applied for self employment you’ll receive a UTR number to make it official and you’ll need to follow the rules of self-assessment. You’ll need to follow the rules of self assessment, which includes keeping business records, working out your own taxes and filling in a tax return (also referred to by HMRC as an SA100 form) online by 31 January each year. It’ll help to update your diary with all the tax year dates so you can stay on top of your deadlines.

8. Contacting HMRC About Your Application

If you have a question about your application or think you have made a mistake then you should call HMRC on 0300 200 3310.

9. Key Takeaways

  • The deadline to register with HMRC as UK self-employed is 5th October following the end of the tax year you started working for yourself;
  • You can apply for your self employment registration online or by phone, but either way, you’ll need to wait for your UTR number and activation code to be posted to you to complete your registration;
  • If you’re already registered for self assessment for another reason then you’ll need to complete a CWF1 form instead of completing a full application otherwise HMRC will expect two tax returns from you.


About Anita Forrest

Anita Forrest is a Chartered Accountant, spreadsheet geek, money nerd and creator of - the UK small business finance blog for the self-employed community. Here she shares simple, straight-forward guides to make self-employment topics like taxes, bookkeeping and banking easy to understand.