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Fraud fears over time limit on company records storage

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Suggestions that public records of dissolved businesses stored by Companies House could be deleted after six years rather than 20 have been criticised.

The government’s business registration service stores details of accounts and features all listed former and current directors and shareholders.

There are 170 million records which are currently searchable for free online, enabling them to be used for open source investigations.

Concerns have been raised that Companies House is considering limiting the length of time records will be held for in order to comply with data protection law – potentially aiding fraudsters and impeding investigators.

Labour deputy leader Tom Watson said in an online article: “This proposal from Companies House would only protect criminals who seek to hide their past corporate misdeeds from public view.

“It would harm the global fight against corruption and tax avoidance.

“Crucially, it would also be an attack on the right of the public, the police and journalists to carry out legitimate checks on company directors.

“More importantly, it will make it harder for legitimate companies to conduct proper due diligence on potential business partners.”

He has called on Prime Minister Theresa May to intervene and stop the changes happening.

Chris Taggart, chief executive of the international database OpenCorporates, told The Times: "If you are a crook using a company for fraud, money laundering or corruption, then crucial evidence of your activities will be erased after six years.

"The UK has taken an international lead on anti-corruption issues but basically we’re now suggesting that all this evidence will be destroyed."

A spokesman for the service confirmed a review is being carried out.

She said: "Companies House has always had an obligation to delete expired records after a certain period of time has elapsed.

"It is not unusual for public bodies to review their data handling practices to ensure they comply with data protection law.

"Companies House has committed to holding a public consultation before any decision is made."