Ever since new organisations could form under the Joint Stock Companies Act of 1844, companies in the UK have had to sign up to a public register.
Nowadays, there are over 4 million companies on the books of Companies House, which employs around 1000 people, with offices in London, Cardiff, Edinburgh and Belfast.
In an increasingly digital and global age, Companies House faces new challenges in its role to examine and store company information.
IoD members have raised two issues in particular. On the one hand, the information on the register could be inaccurate or misleading. Broadly speaking, information submitted is accepted in good faith, but this can open the way for fraud and money laundering.
On the other hand, directors have been wary about the need to publicise their own data. For instance, some directors may previously have had to provide their home address.
Over recent years, the IoD has underlined these concerns both to the Business Department and to Companies House, working with officials to provide the perspective of directors at organisations large and small.
In this light, the Government's announcement that it will press ahead with plans to beef up the powers of Companies House to verify information was welcome. Quoted by The Times, IoD Corporate Governance Policy Advisor Carum Basra described the paper as ‘a step in the right direction.’
But as Carum’s full response (available here) points out, the journey isn’t over yet. Embedding these new checks in a way that doesn’t overly detract from the UK’s strong reputation when it comes to the ease of doing business will be important. On this front, there is some detail left to be filled in.
“Furthermore”, Carum added, “finding time on the legislative agenda may prove a challenge, with wider corporate governance reform already stuck on the runway for some time now.”
What’s for certain, the IoD will continue to provide a voice for directors’ views on Companies House in the months and years to come.