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A company has been registered at an incorrect address, what can be done?
Companies House do not verify company registered addresses. However, they do have the power to change certain information on the register. As outlined by the Government in response to a Parliamentary Question (UIN 138350):
Upon receipt of supporting evidence showing rights to an address, the Registrar [the individual in charge of Companies House] can assist by replacing an erroneous registered office address with a Companies House default address on the public register.
More details are set out on the Gov.uk guidance on how to report a company using your personal details without your permission:
If the address is being used as a registered office address and was registered on or after 1 October 2009, use form RP07 (or form LL RP07 for LLPs).
If the address was registered before 1 October 2009 or the company is dissolved, you’ll need to seek legal advice.
Companies House explain the application process to change an address on their blog: Get ready for changes to UK company law. They will either accept or refuse the application to remove the residential address and explain their decision to the applicant. If the application is accepted, Companies House would immediately change the address to a default address and give the company 28 days to provide a suitable registered office address.
How long does it take Companies House to remove an address?
In response to a Freedom of Information request, Companies House said in 2022 they took 35 days, on average, to process reports of false addresses.
However, they do not give a minimum or expected timeline for completing the process.
If Companies House accepted an application to remove a registered address, they would replace it with a default immediately and require the company to provide an appropriate replacement within 28 days.
Why do fraudsters register companies at incorrect addresses?
As addresses are not verified by Companies House, incorrect addresses can be registered by mistake, and are not necessarily fraudulent. Fraudsters may register companies at incorrect addresses for the purposes of applying fraudulently for credit, as reported by the Guardian.
Consumer champion Which? reported that companies set up using fraudulent addresses can be used to trick individuals out of cash because individuals can wrongly assume that any company on the register is legitimate, or to obtain loans and overdrafts from banks, and even government grants.
The BBC reported further examples of fraudulent companies using residential addresses in September 2023. In that case, the fraudsters used the fraudulent companies either to launder money or to obtain bank accounts to take out loans.
Does a company have to publish contact information on Companies House?
There is currently no obligation for UK companies to publicly provide a contact email address or phone number. Companies must however provide a registered office postal address in their filings to Companies House. These postal addresses are publicly available on the Companies House register.
The Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Act (ECCTA) 2023 changed the law to allow Companies House to oblige companies to provide an “appropriate” email address. In order to enact the changes, secondary legislation is required. The email addresses registered with Companies House will not be made publicly available. Companies House states, in their blog about company law changes, that the changes will be introduced no earlier than 4 March 2024.
Failure to register an “appropriate” email address (meaning an address where documents would be expected to be received) will be a criminal offence committed by the company and every responsible officer. Existing companies will need to provide such an email address alongside their next confirmation statement (previously called an annual return).
There is currently no obligation to provide Companies House with a telephone number, and there were no changes in the ECCTA.
How to complain about Companies House
Individuals can complain to Companies House through their internal complaints procedure. Companies House state that they will respond to complaints within 10 days.
Following an initial response, complaints can be escalated to the Companies House Head of Service Delivery for a review of the decision. After completing the internal complaints process, the complaint could be referred to the independent complaint adjudicators, which can review cases regarding levels of service, mistakes, and Companies House complaint handling.
What is changing with the Companies House system?
Section 65 of the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Act (ECCTA) 2023 changed the law to allow Companies House to require identity verification before registering companies. The ECCTA gave Companies House powers to begin reforming the company filing regime in the UK. Despite the law change, secondary legislation is required to begin identity verification checks for new and existing companies (see ‘preparing for identity verification’: Companies House business plan 2023 to 2024).
As of December 2023, the Government explained in response to a Parliamentary Question that the Company Registrar (the individual in charge of Companies House) does not verify address information:
The Registrar carries out checks to ensure filings are complete, but at present, she has limited powers to verify or validate the information which is delivered to her. Provided a document appears to be properly delivered, the Registrar must register it.
The Registrar will be given broader powers under the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Act so that she can become a more active gatekeeper over company registrations. This will include powers to check, challenge and refuse to register any information which is inaccurate or false whilst also ensuring any fraudulent addresses can be removed more easily.
The Government has not yet published the secondary legislation required to begin identity verification checks at the point of incorporation.
From 4 March 2024, Section 28 of the ECCTA 2023 will put a legal requirement on company directors to provide an “appropriate address” and will make it an offence to not do so.
Section 105 of the ECCTA 2023 amends the Companies Act 2006 to enable the Registrar to proactively challenge address information, and to require companies to change registered addresses without complaints being raised. Secondary legislation will be required before the changes can be implemented. The Companies House business plan 2023 to 2024 confirms that although this power became available with the ECCTA, it is not yet being used by Companies House:
We’ll begin using the new powers to query information that we suspect to be false, fraudulent or inaccurate, and, where appropriate, it will be removed from our registers. In this first year, our intentions will be to target known misuses and respond to suspected fraud and other suspicious activities that pose the greatest threat to the integrity of the information that we hold.
Companies House states, in its changes to UK company law guidance, that the new measures to query and remove suspected false or fraudulent information will come into force in “early 2024”. Companies House have since confirmed in a blog post that the changes will be introduced on 4 March 2024, provided secondary legislation is passed in time.
- Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill 2022-23: Progress of the Bill, House of Commons Library
About the author: Peter Brook is a researcher at the House of Commons Library, specialising in areas of banking, company law, competition, financial systems and institutions, and consumer financial services.
The Commons Library does not intend the information in this article to address the specific circumstances of any particular individual. We have published it to support the work of MPs. You should not rely upon it as legal or professional advice, or as a substitute for it. We do not accept any liability whatsoever for any errors, omissions or misstatements contained herein. You should consult a suitably qualified professional if you require specific advice or information. Read our briefing for information about sources of legal advice and help.
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