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Companies House plans identity verification service

Tick on padlock over tablet computer
Image source: Ruth Romero

Companies House is developing a new identity verification process, with an emphasis on a digital route, intended to be a deterrent to people setting up companies for illegal purposes.

Its project lead Andrew Williams said in a blogpost that the move responds to the growth of identity fraud in the UK, and that the new process will apply to all directors or equivalent, and people with significant control as part of the company incorporation process.

This comes on the trail of reports of people finding that their identities had been fraudulently used in setting up companies.

It also reflects an element of the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill, which is currently going through Parliament, that requires mandatory identity verification for people who manage, significantly own or control companies and other UK registered entities.

Williams said there will be two routes for verification that should provide the same level of identity assurance, one directly through Companies House and the other through an authorised corporate service provider (ACSP).

The former will mainly be via a digital service that links a person with their primary identity document, such as a passport or driving licence, although alternative methods will be made available.

Companies House has indicated that it will incorporate new technology such as face matching and that the process is expected to take a matter of minutes in most cases.

Open questions

Its public statements so far raise questions around the level of investment, any relationships with technology suppliers, when the service is expected to be launched and how it will relate to the Digital Identity Programme and One Login for Government service that is currently being developed by the Government Digital Service.

In response to questions from UKAuthority on these issues, a spokesperson said: “Planning activities are underway to ensure identity verification can be delivered in the best way possible for our customers. We will set out our plans at the appropriate time.”

The other route will involve ACSPs that have registered with Companies House and a supervisory body for anti-money laundering carrying out the identity verification checks on their clients before any filings can be made.

Williams commented in the blog: “Identity verification will make it much harder to register fictitious directors or beneficial owners, stopping the vast majority of fraudulent appointments from reaching the register.

“Businesses of all sizes will benefit from greater assurance that the information on the register is genuine. If you’re someone who uses the register to search for potential suppliers or partners, you’ll have greater assurance that the people behind the company are who they say they are.

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