Companies House Consultation: Protecting personal information held on the register

This is the fourth in a series of articles examining the changes suggested by the Government in the consultation document issued earlier last year that proposed significant changes to the responsibilities and powers of Companies House.

This article will focus on the proposed changes to personal information and how it is stored on the register, including what is stored and who is able to access it.

What Are the Proposed Changes?

With over 4 million companies on the Companies House register, having easy access to the data we publish provides a fantastic resource to aid the UK economy. The information on the Companies House register is searched more than 5 billion times each year, which illustrates the value of having access to transparent data.

Naturally, in today’s technological climate, people are concerned about identity theft and fraud. So it’s only right that the Government takes into consideration how they should protect the information provided by the public to safeguard users from risk.

The consultation discusses the extent to which the information we collect should or shouldn’t be available to the public, and which information should only be shared with authorities such as the police force. This could include information like personal addresses and email addresses.

Who Does This Apply To?

The proposed changes would be applicable to anyone or any company with information held on the Companies House register or anyone looking to submit new information.

What Will This Mean for Me?

At present, information held by Companies House falls into two categories: public and non-public information. The current policy from Companies House is to only make non-public information available to public authorities such as the police under strict controls. Residential addresses of directors and people with significant control are also currently made available to credit reference agencies unless those individuals have been granted specific protection against the disclosure of this information.

The Government is proposing two levels of access to non-public information, with limited rights being granted to credit reference agencies and a wider level of access being given to specified public authorities. It’s important to note that there are no proposed changes within the consultation that would allow credit reference agencies to have access to any additional information that would be obtained by Companies House once the proposed reforms have taken effect.  Any new information provided after the changes take place would only be accessible internally to Companies House and to public authorities.

There are also some proposed minor changes to the information required from company directors, including ending the current requirement to disclose a director’s occupation. Companies House is currently prohibited from disclosing directors’ personal addresses but that is set to change, initially so that ‘access would be restricted to Companies House officials’ but also that this could be extended to law enforcement agencies on a ‘case by case basis’.

Directors currently have the option of showing a separate service address on the public register, thus keeping their home address private. These changes would mean that in future, an application would not be considered where the residential address is a company’s current registered office address or where the address was the registered office of the company at the time it was dissolved. The question has also been asked as to whether past registered office addresses should be kept on the register and if so for how long.

The Government is also aware that the public availability of signatures on the register could be used to perpetrate fraud. Alternative ways of authenticating documents are being considered. However, signatures on historic filings would still be available on the register. It is proposed there should be an administrative procedure which would allow individuals to have their signature suppressed with an annotation added to the register to show that a signature had been provided.

When Could This Be Implemented?

As outlined in our previous articles, the reforms to Companies House powers and procedures will require both primary legislation to be enacted and likely take years to deliver.

We will conclude our look at the remaining changes proposed in greater detail in our final article. Our next article will focus on how the Government is attempting to provide greater information in improving the detection of possible criminal behaviour.

If you have any queries about how the proposed changes to Companies House will affect your business, please contact Andrew Meredith on 01689 877081.

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