If you are setting up your business as a Community Interest Company (CIC) you must still register as a limited company (either limited by shares, by guarantee or as a public limited company), but also provide additional documentation and be approved by a Community Impact Regulator. Here's the process in full.
All CICs need to be registered limited companies, not charities or any other legal format. However, when registering you will need to supply additional documents stating your social purpose. At this point, you need to check your memorandum of articles fully complies with the relevant CIC legislation. You should also think about the distribution of shares. If you set up as a limited company by shares you have the option to issue shares that pay a capped dividend agreed by a CIC Regulator, which adhere to CIC obligation to lock all assets from being transferred for less than their full market value.
The most important additional document you need to provide when registering as a CIC is a community interest statement. The CIC36 form outlines the social objectives, interests, and activities of the CIC as well making various declarations to operation under CIC regulations. The CIC36 must be signed by all first directors. Companies already operating as a limited company but switching to CIC status must fill in a CIC37 form.
In order to be approved as a CIC, you'll need to satisfy the official Community Impact Regulator in a process termed 'passing the CIC test'. The test will assess your paperwork and confirm your CIC meets its purposes and could be regarded by a reasonable person as being in the community or wider public interest. It will also be asked to confirm that access to the benefits it provides will not be confined to an unduly restricted group. It is intended to be a light touch test but you be assessed annually that you have stuck to your aims.
If satisfied, the regulator will advise the registrar in Companies House who, providing all the documents are in order, will issue a certificate of incorporation as a CIC.