‘Cleansing the register’: Companies House gains new powers to tackle fraud

Failing to supply an appropriate business address or registered email address will incur civil and even criminal penalties under new reforms.

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Richard Parris - managing editor of Startups.co.uk

New and enhanced powers announced today by Companies House signify a significant shift for UK business registrations. From now on, all companies must have an ‘appropriate’ registered office address, and PO Box addresses will not be accepted. A registered email address will also be required, as well as confirmation that a business is being formed for ‘lawful purposes,’ amid a crackdown on shady business registrations.

The move is part of a sweeping range of announcements from Companies House as part of the government’s Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Act 2023 (ECCT Act), which comes into force today.

The ECCT Act includes new criminal offences and civil penalties for business owners failing to comply with Companies House’s requirements.

Tackling misuse of the companies register

A series of changes were announced by Companies House this morning, aimed at improving the quality and reliability of its data, and ‘tackling misuse of the companies register.’ These include:

  • greater powers to query information and request supporting evidence
  • stronger checks on company names
  • new rules for registered office addresses. All companies must have an appropriate address at all times. They will not be able to use a PO Box as
    their registered office address
  • a requirement for all companies to supply a registered email address
  • a requirement for subscribers to confirm they’re forming a company for a lawful purpose when they incorporate, and for a company to confirm its intended future activities will be lawful on its confirmation statement
  • greater powers to tackle and remove factually inaccurate information
  • the ability to share data with other government departments and law enforcement agencies.

Commenting on what she termed “the most significant change for Companies House in our 180-year history,” Louise Smyth, Companies House CEO, said “We’ve known for some time that criminals have misused UK companies to commit fraud, money laundering and other forms of economic crime.

“As we start to crack down on abuse of the register, we are prioritising cases where people’s names and addresses have been used without their consent. It will now be much quicker and easier to report and remove personal information that has been misused.”

Criminalising abuse of the Companies House register

As part of the push to cleanse the Companies House register and support the newly rolled out ECCT Act, a range of criminal and civil penalties will be enforced.

“Companies House now have the tools to take a much harder line on criminals who take advantage of the UK’s open economy and can now ensure the reputation of our businesses is not tarnished by the UK playing host to the world’s scammers,” Business Minister, Kevin Hollinrake, announced today.

“The new reforms provide further protection to the public from companies fraudulently using their address and will begin to remove the smoke and mirrors around companies hiding behind false information,” Hollinrake continued. “This will enhance the UK’s reputation as a great and safe place to do business.”

The changes to Companies House registrations will have a phased rollout. Businesses needing to make changes to their registered information will receive updates as part of the existing reporting cycles, and should expect to hear from Companies House directly if their supplied information fails to comply with the ECCT Act.

The following common questions were included as part of the Companies House statement, issued for publish this morning:

Frequently Asked Questions
  • What is an appropriate registered office address?
    An appropriate registered office address is one where any documents sent should be expected to come to the attention of a person acting on behalf of the company and can be recorded by an acknowledgement of delivery. This does not include PO Boxes.
  • How will Companies House notify businesses that have registered with a PO Box address?
    Companies House has written to every company using a PO Box as its registered office address to inform them of the new requirements, contacting several thousand companies in total.
  • Can a registered email address' be a public email address, or does it have to be a registered domain owned by the company?
    All companies must maintain an appropriate email address. An appropriate email address is one at which, in the ordinary course of events, emails sent to it by the registrar would be expected to come to the attention of a person acting on behalf of the company. This can be an individual email address and does not have to be a domain name.
  • Why is Companies House asking for confirmation that a company is being used for a lawful purpose? How will this deter criminals?
    While the lawful purpose statement will not in itself stop companies being used for unlawful purposes, it provides an extra hook for any subsequent prosecution activity.
Written by:
Richard Parris - managing editor of Startups.co.uk
Richard joined the Startups team in 2021, and has a career in publishing that has spanned over 15 years. As a researcher, writer and editor, Richard has worked on brands across the UK, US and Asia in both print and online, including at the BBC, on the US-focused tech industry site Tech.co, plus at Which? magazine and its website, where Richard oversaw technology reviews and advice publishing. Richard has been an interviewee and contributor on television, radio, newspaper, magazine and online publications, and has featured in interviews including on the BBC and The Scotsman. Richard is passionate about converting potentially complex topics into clear, actionable advice and recommendations, and works alongside the in-house Startups team and its growing network to promote the needs of the UK small business community.

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