NUJ calls for more transparency in company director details from Companies House
The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) have called for a reversal of changes to the way Companies House list Director’s details.
After a recent change, the full date of birth and home address of company directors is no longer listed. This can make it harder to verify who they are – especially for journalists for whom this information can be vital to confirm a story.
The NUJ is also calling for each Director to be issued a unique verification number to avoid the practice of Directors registering for several different companies with variations on their name such as Mike, Mick or Michael or using and omitting middle names.
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and Companies House are consulting on corporate transparency and register reform including these changes. They have also introduced measures to increase transparency, including making their data available for download.
Many major scandals around tax evasion, tax avoidance and other poor corporate practices have been revealed by journalists rather than by HMRC. While HMRC has seen increased resources in recent years, these were cut significantly and have not returned to former levels having lost 40% of staff between 2005 and 2015.
If journalists are unable to verify stories to a high standard, they may go unreported. Martin Shipton, chief reporter of the Western Mail reported that he was unable to publish a public interest story of national significance due to the changes. “I was unable to satisfy my editor that the director of one company was the same person who was a director of another company. One firm’s Companies House filings included a home address in Wales while another only showed a registered office address in London. Both directors were born in the same month of the same year, but the lack of the day of the month when he was born was considered insufficient to demonstrate that they were one and the same person.”
Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said: “Journalists have a job of holding businesses to account. Companies House is a vital part of our democracy and plays an important role in ensuring there is corporate transparency. Nothing should be done – deliberately or inadvertently – to make it more difficult to access the information it holds, and creeping secrecy should be rolled back.”
At present, both transparency and journalistic integrity are in the spotlight. As such any change that makes it harder for journalists to stand up a report are concerning to those campaigning for greater transparency.
UPDATE – A Companies House spokesperson told LFF:
“We are pleased that the NUJ have highlighted the reform proposals and we urge others to respond to the consultation.”
Consultation on the BEIS/Companies House corporate transparency and register reform closes on Monday 5 Aug 2019
Emma Burnell is a freelance journalist for Left Foot Forward.
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