Contractors' Questions: Is home address vital on parcels and invoices?

Contractor’s Question: I’m relatively new to contracting but have a few clients who let me work from home a lot, and from here I also run my ‘Plan B.’ When invoicing for either line of business, do I have to write my private home address on the invoice? I don't really want to as I don't want any of my customers knowing where I live, but I don't have any other business address to use and I can’t really afford a virtual office.

With my Plan B, I’m going to need to send out a few tiny computer peripherals to a few prospective customers, but I'd need to put my place of residence on the parcels in case they gets lost in the post. Is there any way I can avoid having to use my personal home address?

Expert’s Answer: When it comes to invoicing, we always recommend following established best practice and ensuring your invoice has the minimum legal requirements as set out on .gov.uk. Unfortunately for you, in this case, it is generally accepted that you do need to include a postal address for your customers and as you work from home, this would generally necessitate the inclusion of your home address.

You state you can’t as yet afford to use a virtual office or mailbox solution, but it may well be worth checking with your local small business centres and freelance venues to see if they offer any similar services, as many will offer a limited or ‘pickup only’ option that you may find is surprisingly cost-effective. These services generally allow for the delivery of both parcels and correspondence and this would allow for any returned items to be received.

The humble Post Office still supplies P.O. Box numbers to businesses, but at £120 for a six-month lease these are at the more expensive end of the scale and far more cost-effective options are available if you look around online. In our brief internet search, we found a number of potential suppliers that offer mail forwarding on a PAYG basis, with set-up costs running from completely free but charging for each item, to a £15 yearly subscription that allows for ten items to be received per year.

Alternatively, many accountancy practices allow their customers to use their addresses as their customers’ Registered Office. So if you have an accountant already, then speak to them as they may agree to accept a limited amount of post on your behalf. But do keep in mind, most accountants don’t offer a formal forwarding service so as a general rule you would need to be able to physically pick up any mail as and when it is received and any cost is likely to vary between accountancy practices.

If the cost is the main sticking point then it might be time for some creative thinking. Do you know any other business owners or contractors/freelancers locally that you trust? If you do, then you could do worse than to speak to them to ascertain if they would be willing to allow you to use their address as a “care of” address on your correspondence. You may well find that other small business owners are more receptive to a start-up and will help you out free of charge, or it might be possible to exchange your services with them on an informal basis. This would avoid any financial costs and may give you the opportunity to forge stronger ties with other more established companies nearby.

The expert was Adam Home of Safe Collections.

Friday 19th June 2015