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Where can you find out company information in the United Kingdom?

In Part I of this series of articles we looked at what company information is freely available to you and where you can find it.

In this article we’re going to be focusing on what company information is available to the public for companies which are registered in the United Kingdom.

What is the national registry of companies called in the United Kingdom?

In the UK, company information is held by Companies House. You can access the Companies House website using the following link: https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/companies-house.

What does Companies House in the UK cover?

Companies House in the UK is responsible for incorporating and dissolving limited companies in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Company information is registered at Companies House and made available to the public.

According to the Companies House website, more than 3.5 million limited companies are registered in the UK and 500,000 new companies are incorporated each year.

Limited companies in the UK have certain filing obligations pursuant to the Companies Act 2006.   Much of this information is available to the public, for free, as follows:

  • company information, for example registered address and date of incorporation;
  • current and resigned officers;
  • mortgage charge data;
  • previous company names; and
  • insolvency information.

What hints and tips can you give me when I search for information about a UK registered company?

In the UK, all limited companies are required to prepare and file annual accounts and these accounts can be viewed, free of charge, on the Companies House website.

All UK companies must be registered at Companies House. In the UK there are 3 main types of company: companies limited by shares, companies limited by guarantee and unlimited companies.  The most common form of company used in the UK in practice is a company limited by shares.  A company limited by shares can either be a private limited company or a public limited company whose shares are listed on a stock exchange.

This means that when you search for a company by name you will see a reference to the company type which overseas visitors to the Companies House website might not be familiar with. Here is a summary of what to look out for:

  • A PLC is a public limited company whose shares are listed on a stock exchange. An example is AstraZeneca PLC, the pharmaceutical company.
  • A limited or Ltd is a private company limited by shares. The terms limited and Ltd are interchangeable and it depends how the company chose to incorporate the name. An example is Virgin Atlantic Limited, the head office function for Virgin airlines.
  • A company limited by guarantee is a private company where the members are bound to contribute a fixed nominal sum to the liabilities of the company in the event of the company being wound up. Companies limited by guarantee do not have any shareholders and they are normally incorporated for non-profit making functions. In certain cases they do not need to include the term limited in their name. An example is British United Provident Association Limited (BUPA), the private healthcare provider. Charities are often companies limited by guarantee and an example is Age UK which provides residential care activities for the elderly and disabled.
  • In some instances, the company might be a private unlimited company. This is a company where the legal liability of the members/shareholders is not limited. The company might have Ultd or Unltd at the end of its name. This type of company is much less common. Because the member’s liability is unlimited, the unlimited company is not subject to as stringent a disclosure regime as limited companies and it does not have to file accounts at Companies House. An example is Credit Suisse International, the UK investment banking arm of Credit Suisse.
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