What is the Difference Between an ABN and ACN?

If you run a business, you must register for an Australian Business Number (ABN). On the other hand, an Australian Company Number (ACN) is a number only given to companies. A company is a particular type of entity (different from a sole trader business, partnership or trust) that carries on a business. This article will explain the difference between an ABN and ACN and how to register for one.

What Is an ABN?

ABN stands for Australian Business Number. It is an eleven-digit number that all businesses must obtain. It identifies the business and is used in commercial transactions and dealings with the Australian Taxation Office. As business names can be quite similar, an ABN helps people ensure they are dealing with the correct entity. An ABN is issued to all businesses, irrespective of their size or structure (e.g. sole trader, trust or company). It is important to keep your ABN information up to date via the Australian Business Register website, and to complete your BAS (Business Activity Statement) lodgments when necessary.

What Is an ACN?

ACN stands for Australian Company Number. It is a nine-digit number that only companies receive. Unlike ABNs, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) issues ACNs. Like an ABN, it is a unique number that identifies your company. ASIC uses the ACN to monitor companies, and, like ABNs, it can also be used for identification purposes.

Not all businesses are companies. Sometimes an individual may say they run a ‘company’ when they mean a sole-trader business. A company is a particular business structure that is legally separate from its owners (called ‘shareholders’) and is managed by directors. Unlike other business entities like sole traders and trusts, ASIC strictly regulates companies and mismanagement by directors carries criminal and civil penalties.

A company that runs business activities will have an ABN and ACN. Once a company is set up, and before it starts doing business, it will need to register for an ABN. If the company is only holding assets and is not directly involved in conducting business activities, it may not need an ABN. The ACN is used as the base number for the ABN. This means that they will be identical, except the ABN will have two additional numbers at the beginning.

How Do I Find an ABN or ACN?

You can search for an ABN on the Australian Business Register’s website.

You can search for a company’s ACN either on the Australian Business Register or on ASIC Connect. If you are looking for further information on the company, you should search for the company on ASIC Connect. There, you will find details of the company’s:

  • registration date and status;
  • documents it has lodged with ASIC;
  • address;
  • shareholders; and
  • directors

Note that some information is only available if you purchase the ‘company extract’.

How Do I Register an ABN?

You can register your business, company or trust for an ABN by applying through the Australian Business Register. If you would also like to register your business name, you can register both at once through the Business Registration Service.

Note, an ABN only applies if you are carrying on your own business (rather than working in someone else’s business).

You can reactivate a previous ABN by applying for a new number. The application will provide you with the opportunity to list your previous ABN. If your business structure has not changed and you are still eligible for an ABN, the ABN will be reactivated.

There is no fee for applying for or reactivating an ABN, but registering your business name costs $85 for a three-year registration (or $36 for one year). If your application is successful, you will immediately receive your ABN.

Updating or Cancelling Your ABN

It is your responsibility to keep your ABN details up to date on the business register. This includes details of your:

  • business’ owner;
  • address;
  • contact information; and
  • GST registration status.

You must update these details within 28 days of the change.

If you wish to cancel your ABN, you must inform the Australian Business Register and check that the register displays the ABN as ‘cancelled’.

How Do I Register an ACN?

You will receive an ACN when you set up a company. You can choose to set up a company yourself through ASIC or ask a lawyer or accountant to help you.

Firstly, check that your chosen company name is available by searching the register. Also, check that there are no existing business names or trademarks that are similar to your chosen name. If there are, you may not be able to run your business under that name freely. You can search trademarks on IP Australia’s website.

You should also read and fully understand your obligations as a company officeholder. A company officeholder includes directors and company secretaries. You should also make sure that any other officeholders in your company are also aware of these obligations and that you have obtained their consent to be an officeholder before setting up the company.

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