Companies House Service is a digital search service that provides free access to all public information stored on the UK register of companies, and until recently was called Companies House BETA.
The public ‘beta’ trial period for Companies House Service was launched in June 2015. ‘Beta’ is an IT industry term for software which is close to completion, but which requires tweaking to improve overall functionality and performance. With the service having been available for almost 4 years, and much of the original plan having now been achieved, the ‘BETA’ branding was dropped in favour of its official name, Companies House Service (or CHS).
Improving corporate transparency in the UK
In line with the UK government’s commitment to providing free data, the search service was introduced as part of Companies House Strategic Plan 2014-2019 to update digital services and improve corporate transparency. The strategy aims to transform the way in which businesses and customers interact with Companies House by providing:
- Digital transformation to become a 100% digital organisation
- Open data that fully links to other government data on companies
- Improved register integrity through better investigation and remedies
- Reduced burdens through deregulation and joining up across government
- Efficiencies and the prospect of the simplification of registration fees
Further changes and improvements to the register were recently proposed under a wider package of reforms to Companies House. Alongside digital improvements, these new measures will do more to ensure the accuracy of information on the company register, identify and tackle economic crime, safeguard the personal data of business owners, and minimise any potential burden on law-abiding companies.
Providing free access to more than 170 million company records related to over 4 million limited companies, the UK register of companies is one of the most open and transparent in the world. In the 12 months to March 2019, the Companies House register was searched nearly 6 billion times, demonstrating the importance of these digital upgrades and continued reforms.
Whilst most of this corporate data on the register has always been available to the public via Companies House Direct and WebCHeck, access has not always been free, and users were required to provide their details in exchange for access. Following the launch of the BETA service (and now in its new Companies House Service format), the public can search and access this data free of charge and without the need to set up an account or register personal details.
Report it now
Another aspect of Companies House Service that is proving extremely beneficial is the ‘report it now’ facility, which was introduced in July 2017. This new functionality enables users to notify Companies House of any errors or false information on the register, thus improving the integrity of corporate information. More than 58,000 reports were made in the first year alone, including complaints about incorrect data, notifications of resigned directors, and companies using unauthorised addresses as registered offices.
Decommissioning Companies House Direct and WebCHeck
The vast majority of transactions at Companies House take place online; however, many of the first-generation web services, such as Companies House Direct (CHD) and Companies House WebCHeck, no longer meet the demands and expectations of users. Additionally, these legacy systems are expensive, challenging to maintain, and inefficient to run.
This is why Companies House Service was created – to provide a new, unified service that is better and simpler for users, more suited to a modern web experience, and fit for the future. As part of this digital transformation, Companies House is moving all of its services from these legacy digital platforms to a cloud platform, which hosts Companies House Service.
Companies House Direct, which is a subscription service providing access to company data and documents, has already begun being phased out. The WebCHeck service, which can be used to search the register of companies and access company documents, will also be decommissioned. The timescale and execution of this reform is currently being determined.
On completion of these ambitious reforms, Companies House will be a fully digital organisation. Taking advantage of the latest technologies, it is hoped that all services offered will be simpler, easier, and more efficient to use. In turn, companies House itself will be better equipped to adapt to changing needs, respond to broader challenges, and support wider government policy on UK corporate transparency and economic crime.
Where to find Companies House Service
The new Companies House Service is available online and can be used by any business, organisation, or individual member of the public who wishes to find out more about a limited company or the people who control it. Current features of this free service include:
- Basic company information – company name, registered office address, date of incorporation, company status, the nature of the business
- Filing dates of last annual accounts and confirmation statement, as well as information about any late or missed statutory filings
- Images of filed company documents – certificate of incorporation, statement of capital, accounts, confirmation statements, resolutions, officer appointments and resignations
- Details of company directors, i.e. name, address, appointment/resignation dates
- Details of People with Significant Control in a company – name, address, nature of control (i.e. share ownership; voting rights)
- Information about disqualified directors
- ‘Report it now’ facility to make Companies House aware of any errors, false information, or misuse of data on the register
- ‘Follow’ facility to receive notifications about new documents filed by a particular company
Whether you want to search the register to check details relating to your own company, verify information about a company that you’re doing business with, or report an error or something suspicious on the register, you can now do so free of charge via Companies House Service.