Why does it matter?
The availability of personal information online is a clear concern given the rising number of identity thefts reported in the last year. In 2017 Cifa, the UK’s fraud prevention service reported almost 175,000 of identity theft cases recorded. This is a 125% increase compared with 10 years ago.
Identity theft happens when enough information about someone’s identity (such as their name, date of birth, current or previous addresses) is amassed to enable a person to fraudulently pretend to someone else. Identity theft can take place whether or not the fraud victim is alive. Some information is surprisingly easy to come by. Leaving aside the what information you share on social media voluntarily or when you respond to a fraudulent email with details of your personal information, some such information has been obtained via the public record where there is a legal requirement to be publicise it via returns and statements delivered to Companies House.
What is public information at Companies House?
Personal information has historically been available on the public register of companies at Companies House unless a confidentiality order had been granted. Since access to these public records became freely available to the public in 2015 cases of identity theft of directors have increased – highlighting the need for information to be redacted. Whilst directors can now provide service addresses, the historic filings are still available for download.
New laws allowing personal addresses on the public register to be removed are currently proposed by Parliament.
What is the Current Law?
Before 1 October 2009 the home address of a company director was publicly available on the register of companies. New laws introduced on that date gave directors the ability to file a service address and keep their residential address off the public register. Service addresses are typically the registered office address of the company.
Where a director’s home address is visible at Companies House, because the information was filed before 1 October 2009 or because the director chose not to provide a service address, he or she can only apply to hide their residential address where there is a serious risk that they, or a person living with them, will be subject to violence or intimidation as a result of the activities of a company with which they are involved. This is highly relevant for companies whose business include, for example, animal research. Whilst this does provide some necessary protection for such persons, it does not protect directors who may be targeted for identity theft who are not at risk of violence or intimidation. Also, information filed before 1 January 2003 is not included (as it is likely to be information contained in Microfiche and has been harder to redact).
Directors will still need to provide a business/service address to Companies House but under the proposed laws their home addresses can be replaced. Individuals will no longer have to show serious risk of violence or intimidation to hide their home address. Any information filed before 1 January 2003 will also be removable reflecting advances in technology enabling editing of Microfiche records.
Whilst the information will be generally unavailable to the public, some public authorities will still be able to access it.
The protection of historic information containing directors’ addresses does not extend to the same extent to members (shareholders) of a company.
Given concerns about corporate transparency in the case of large scale redactions to members’ details, a company which applies to have information relating to all of its members removed or suppressed will still need to satisfy the serious risk of violence or intimidation test. But members will be able to apply individually without having to satisfy the intimidation test.
Director shareholders i.e. those with a typical family run company may want to ensure that applications are made for removal of director and shareholder home addresses at the same time to avoid the information being available elsewhere (in capacity as a member).
The changes are due to come into force by the end of summer this year. Mundays’ offer a range of company secretarial services including a registered office and service address facility and can assist with filings and applications in respect of removing addresses. Please contact Fiona Moss or your usual Mundays contact for more information about our company secretarial services.