Companies House has announced that as of Q2 2015 it will make of all its digital data available free of charge.
The change comes as part of an agreement by G8 leaders last year to improve corporate transparency and combat tax evasion.
During 2013/2014 users spent an estimated £8.7m on information from Companies House. It currently costs users £1 to access a stored document or image.
Business Secretary Vince Cable said: “The government firmly believes that the best way to maximise the value to the UK economy of the information which Companies House holds, is for it to be available as open data.
“By making its data freely available and free of charge, Companies House is making the UK a more transparent, efficient and effective place to do business.”
The implications for the insolvency industry could be far reaching; information such as administrator’s reports, director appointments and details, and creditor and debtor particulars, will become freely available.
Transparency has been a much-touted topic in the industry following the publication of Teresa Graham’s government-backed review into pre-pack administrations in June and measures to tackle rogue directors brought forward by Cable in April.
Andrew Tate, the new deputy vice-president of insolvency trade body R3, said the decision is a welcome extension of the government’s Trust & Transparency agenda.
Tate said: “For insolvency practitioners, free access to Companies House data won’t make too much of a difference. Almost all practices will already have access to company information databases that collate information from Companies House and other sources. Companies House won’t tell an insolvency practitioner about outstanding County Court Judgements, for example.”
“For creditors though, free access to company information might just make a difference. One of the easiest ways to avoid losing money because of a customer or supplier insolvency is to check the financial health of a business before you trade with them. For the smallest businesses, who can’t afford credit-checking services, free access to Companies House data could be useful.”
Gary Lee, partner at Begbies Traynor, said: “Making company information freely accessible to the public could have a positive effect on many businesses across the UK. It will enable them to build up a more detailed and comprehensive picture of the companies they are trading with on a day-to-day basis.
“Firms will also be able to use the information to conduct a full assessment of the market in which they operate in, looking not only at trading partners, but competitors and their suppliers, consequently leading to a more transparent market place and possibly a more sophisticated and informed breed of business leaders.
“Despite this it is important that businesses still receive instruction from professionals about how they can use the information to their advantage, as the sheer amount of data that is being made available could lead to information overload for many firms.
“Seeking advice from professionals will allow business leaders to digest the data and pinpoint the information that could give them a trading advantage.