Two Companies House-related items in the media caught my eye at the weekend. The first is a blog post, If Darth Vader owned a company by Gary Townley, imagining how the Companies House disclosure requirements might apply if the Empire were a company. The second is a Financial Times article announcing that Companies House is facing its biggest overhaul in 170 years. It reports that Companies House is to be given new powers to check information submitted to it and to verify the identities of people setting up companies and other entities, and of the "people with significant control" behind them. Staff, digital capabilities and other resources will all be boosted.
At present, a new UK business entity can be incorporated in a single day, with minimal requirements for verified information. For many years, the ease and speed with which companies can be incorporated in the UK has been regarded as a boon to entrepreneurs and growth companies and as giving the UK a competitive advantage internationally. However, there are signs that the tide is turning. The FT quotes a former stockbroker who now runs a property business in Leeds whose address he complains has been used fraudulently: "By not doing basic checks, [Companies House is] aiding and abetting fraud. All legitimate traders would prefer the system to be much tougher than it is".
The new "people with significant control" (PSC) regime came into force in 2016, and is intended to compel companies and LLPs to disclose their controlling shareholders and beneficial owners. BEIS points out that the UK was the first country in the G20 to bring in a publicly available register of PSCs, as a key part of the UK's commitment to transparency. However, anti-corruption campaigners like Global Witness have been critical of the way in which the new regime has been enforced. Will the new powers and resources allow Companies House to shine a brighter light on the shadier entities registered in the UK?