Companies House begins rolling out new powers to tackle fraud

By James McAllister

- Last updated on GMT

Companies House begins rolling out new powers to tackle fraud

Related tags Identity theft Fraud Companies House

Companies House has begun rolling out ‘new and enhanced powers’ to improve the quality and reliability of its data and tackle misuse of the companies register.

The first measures under the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Act 2023 (ECCT Act) came into force on Monday this week (4 March) and include greater powers to query information and request supporting evidence; stronger checks on company names; and a requirement for all companies to supply a registered email address.

It comes after a recent investigation revealed hundreds of fake firms have been set up using restaurant names.

Last month the BBC ​reported​ that several high-profile restauranteurs including Heston Blumenthal and Yotam Ottolenghi had been targeted as part of an identity theft scam​ that saw fraudsters register fake business in order to apply for bank accounts and loans.

Scammers would pay to register a business online with Companies House, after which they could ‘clone’ restaurants with similar names to a real business. They were then able to steal overdraft money from bank accounts set up in the name of the fake company they have cloned, and order high-value goods from suppliers keen to fulfil lucrative orders from a new, high-profile client.

In Blumenthal’s case, a company was registered with the name ‘Dinner by Heston Blumenthall’ with an extra ‘l’.

New criminal offences and civil penalties will complement the new measures introduced by Companies House, which also include new rules for registered office addresses that requires all companies to have an appropriate address at all times and not use a PO Box as their registered office address.

Subscribers will also be required to confirm they’re forming a company for a lawful purpose when they incorporate, and for a company to confirm its intended future activities will be lawful on its confirmation statement.

Many of the changes will be integrated into existing reporting cycles in order to try and minimise hassle for legitimate businesses.

Companies House says its priority is ‘cleansing the register to remove details of those appointed without consent’.

“These new and enhanced powers are the most significant change for Companies House in our 180-year history,” says Louise Smyth, Companies House CEO.

“We’ve known for some time that criminals have misused UK companies to commit fraud, money laundering and other forms of economic crime.

“As we start to crack down on abuse of the register, we are prioritising cases where people’s names and addresses have been used without their consent. It will now be much quicker and easier to report and remove personal information that has been misused.

“This will make a real difference to individuals.”

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