Companies House puts plan to erase millions of public records on hold

Rebecca Smith
Proposals were considering reducing the time records were kept from 20 years to six
Proposals were considering reducing the time records were kept from 20 years to six (Source: Getty)

The government's company registration agency won't be wiping more than 2.5m records, after controversial plans provoked criticism when they were made public this summer.

Proposals were being considered that would mean millions of public records - used to find white collar criminals and tackle money laundering - would be deleted. Companies House has a database on every incorporated firm in the UK, but it had faced some pressure from businesses to take down valuable information.

It was considering reducing the amount of time the records of dissolved companies are retained (from 20 years to six), meaning over 2.5m records could be lost.

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In a response to a written parliamentary question last week, parliamentary under secretary of state at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), Margot James, said the government had "no current plans to bring forward proposals to reduce the period of time that Companies House retains records of dissolved companies".

She did though add that it will "continue to keep the retention period under review".

When the plans became public back in August, they sparked public and political criticism, with deputy Labour leader Tom Watson writing to Theresa May and saying the move would make a mockery of her pledge to clamp down on corporate irresponsibility and would hinder businesses, as well as journalists and the police.

"This proposal from Companies House would only serve to protect criminals who seek to hide their past corporate misdeeds from public view," he wrote. "It would harm the global fight against corruption and tax avoidance."

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The question had been asked by SNP MP Martin Docherty-Hughes after discussion with the Asbestos Victims Support Groups Forum UK. It had been planning legal action should the government go ahead with the proposal, after being concerned that people with incurable asbestos-related cancer mesothelioma, would have been denied the chance to obtain redress from negligent employers.

"Any future proposal to change the retention period would be subject to public consultation, so that all interested parties, including those representing the mesothelioma victims, will be able to express their views," James added in her response.

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