3 minutes

Did you know that every limited company in the UK is required to register with Companies House, and provide a certain amount of open data which will be made available to the public? This includes names of directors (past and present), registered address, company number, accounts, and more. Registration also acts as a means of insurance for the director(s), so that the debt of a limited company cannot be passed on to an individual, whereas sole traders are personally responsible for any financial issues they face.

How did we get to this point? Prior to the Joint Stock Act of 1844, very few people were able to form a company, as it was only made possible by royal charter or private act. This act of parliament opened up the incorporation of companies to a far greater number of people. The first company registration in Scotland was in 1856 for The Daily Bulletin Limited, which published two newspapers – The Daily Bulletin, and The Workman. The first Registrar for Joint Stock Companies for Scotland was transferred to London where he took on the role of Chief Clerk to the Registrar for England and Wales at Companies House. Scotland remains a separate entity today, while England and Wales have always shared a unified register. In October 2009, Northern Ireland’s register was integrated with the England and Wales register as a result of the Companies Act 2006, which was fully implemented on 1st October 2009.

With a history going back 170 years, it’s somewhat surprising that it wasn’t until 1988 that Companies House became an executive agent for what was then known as the Department of Trade and Industry. This was followed in 1991 by Companies House becoming self-financing, retaining a percentage of charges for its services, which now includes the ability to download official documents pertaining to a number of circumstances, such as disqualified company directors.

Since 1979, the number of limited companies has grown exponentially, from 785,668 to the latest figure of 3,658,413. In February 2016 alone, there were 58,639 incorporations, as well as 38,192 dissolutions. Additionally, on a yearly basis, incorporations have increased from 66,500 to 585,700 – nearly nine times higher than 36 years ago. Dissolutions have increased annually from 25,700 to 369,500.

All of these changes require the administration of a team of over 1,000 staff, to ensure that the digital database allows members of the public access to its collated business intelligence for research, analysis, or reporting. This open data is crucial to FinTech companies, seeking to make financial services more efficient for their clients through innovative processes, applications, or business models.

Going forward, Companies House is aiming to become a digital by default service. Such ease of access will likely see an even greater increase in the number of companies operating within the UK, as well as the ability for members of the public to search for, and monitor, any company in which they have an interest. With February’s increase of over 21,000 companies on the total register, it’s possible that the register will hit four million within the next two years.

Looks like Companies House will be kept busy for the next 170 years!

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