Companies House has announced it will embrace a transparent approach to business information and make its digital database free to access from spring 2015.
The department, which is a division of HM Revenue & Customs, said that customers will no longer need to pay to read business information via its database, such as company addresses, start dates and closure dates.
The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (DIS), of which Companies House is an executive agency, said that the move will help the UK become the first country to establish a register of business information that is ‘”truly open” to customers.
According to business secretary Vince Cable, this in turn would enable the UK to ‘cement’ its position as a leader in open data, Financial Times reported.
He said:[quote]The government firmly believes that the best way to maximise the value to the UK economy of the information Companies House holds, is for it to be available as open data.”[/quote]
Companies House’s main job is to supply information on limited companies, such as accounts; appointments; charges and any other significant events in a company’s lifetime. It is also in charge of incorporating and dissolving new and old companies.
Another responsibility of Companies House is the storage and examination of details of business owners and operating addresses. As well as announcing transparency for the register of business information, the government is also working on creating a register of beneficial ownership, which would be made freely available to the public.
The register would help to increase transparency on who owns and controls companies, the government said.
Last year, customers are said to have spent £8.7 million collectively on accessing information from the business information register. Each customer is generally required to pay £1 per search to view information like business appointments, charges, and document images, such as annual accounts.
Whilst printed documents will still require a fee to obtain, all digital data will be made available for free between April and June next year, the BIS said.
The Cabinet Office minister, Francis Maude, said that making the register transparent would also have positive effects in other ways, such as strengthening accountability for businesses; exposing waste and giving people a chance to make an informed choice over public services.
She said:[quote]It is the raw material of our age, providing opportunities for entrepreneurs to create new data-led businesses and growth.”[/quote]
The decision is part of a larger plan by the Public Data Group, to make all data available including commercial property data from the Land Registry and river network information from the Ordnance Survey.