Understanding What Companies House Data Includes
Every month thousands of people search records held by Companies House, but what kind of data are they actually looking at, and how can the information found be used?
What is Companies House?
Basically Companies House is an executive agency of the UK government, which sits under the umbrella of the department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. It acts as a registrar service, recording, monitoring and maintaining information on incorporated limited companies. Particular details of all eligible companies are required by law [The Companies Act 2006] to be filed with Companies House.
This translates to most active, inactive, subsidiary limited companies of all sizes being legally required to lodge copies of annual financial statements and company returns, both of which are considered to be public records. This is a well established requirement, with the company registration system having existed in some form since 1844.
What type of company will have publicly available information?
Generally only limited companies are bound by this legal requirement, so while sole traders are exempt, companies limited by either shares or by guarantee are not.
A limited company is a legal entity in its own right, so those who own or run it have less responsibility for things such as business debt which a sole trader would be entirely responsible for. (Referred to as limited liability.) In most cases a company is ‘limited by shares’, so it is ‘owned’ by the shareholders. In small limited companies there could easily be just one shareholder, who may or may not be a director. Companies limited by guarantee is a popular option for non-profit organisations as the owners do not benefit from the profits the way shareholders in a limited by shares company.
Why certain information is public
Largely because limited companies enjoy the protection of having limited debt liability in return they are required to share key information on certain aspects of their business. It is this information, judged appropriate and relevant for ‘the public record’, which is freely available to anyone who cares to search the Companies House website for it.
What kind of information is publicly available?
Not all company information registered is added to the public record, but what anyone can access for sure are details of a limited company’s:
This includes the type of company it is, the official registered address of the company, the date it was incorporated, and the classification of the business conducted.
This shows whether the company is currently active/live, dormant, or dissolved.
Details of any previous or dissolved names
Notably the date the last accounts and confirmation statement were filed, and the date the next accounts and confirmation statement are due, plus copies of accounts lodged for previous years. Any relevant image documents are available too.
Specifically each director’s name, nationality, occupation, both the month and date of their birth, and their correspondence address. A director’s full birthday will be recorded but not shared with the public, as will their home address. In most cases director’s use the company’s trading address to be listed on the public records, or a registered address here they choose to have mail sent.
This is an optional role in a company, and anyone appointed to it is exempt from sharing their date of birth or home address, although a service (correspondence) address must be listed.
People with significant control (PSC)
A typical PSC is an individual or a company which owns 25% or more of the limited company shares, or has the power to say remove and appoint directors. A PSC is bound by the same sharing requirements as a director, plus they must additionally note the exact way they have significant control.
If any of the above choose to use their home address as a service address it too will become part of the public record.
The details of both resigned officers and disqualified directors are included in the public record.
Disqualified officers (further details)
Use the WebCheck option to search for the following information on a disqualified director: their name and address, date of birth, nationality, their current number of disqualifications, and both the period of, and reason for, the disqualification.
Such as any active mortgage charges against the company and any information on insolvency.
The information above can be found for free via Companies House Service, but further data can be secured from other sections of Companies House for a fee. For example, company shareholder lists can be purchased from their Information Centre.
How people use this information
There are various reasons why people choose to search the registers of Companies House for this kind of information. For some it may be simple curiosity, but in most cases searches are conducted before say deciding whether or not to extend credit to, or to do business with a particular company, or possibly a director of a company. Gaining some insight into the financial history of an unknown company, or into who is profiting from it could be an invaluable insight in the world of commerce.
In other cases an official from say a credit reference agency or the police force will search for/request access to more detailed information, often with a legal right to information such as dates of birth which is usually private.
Protecting sensitive data
All logged information about a company’s officers will be on the public record as long as the company is active, or dormant, and for a further twenty years after a company is dissolved, although they may not always be free to access. Third party office address services are readily available and an affordable way to meet the legal requirements without revealing a home address. If you have previously used a home address on public documents you can now apply to have the address changed. The current charge for this service is £55 per document which needs amending.