Calls for Theresa May to stop Companies House plan to delete records

Destruction of millions of records 'would only serve to protect criminals', says Labour's Tom Watson

(Image credit: NIKLAS HALLE'N/AFP/Getty Images)

The Prime Minister is facing pressure to block a mass deletion of publicly available data held by Companies House.

In its annual results this week, Companies House, an executive agency of the government that reports into the business department, revealed it was mulling over plans to cut the minimum term it holds information on failed companies to just six years, a reduction of 14 years.

The move would see "millions of corporate records deleted", says the Financial Times.

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In its defence, Companies House cited its move to make all of its data available free of charge in 2014 - the same year a "right to be forgotten" ruling gave individuals the power to demand search engines block past negative publicity.

"Individuals and their reputation management firms have contacted Companies House claiming that its retention of records revealing an association with struck-off companies is personally damaging and a breach of data protection laws," says The Times.

The proposals have prompted unanimous condemnation from business commentators, campaigners and even, says the Times, the Serious Fraud Office and National Crime Agency.

There is concern that such a shallow history of information will hinder efforts to investigate past wrongdoing, including fraud, and make it harder for businesses to undertake due diligence on would-be associates or senior employees.

A cull of data older than six years would, for example, obscure information about former BHS owner Dominic Chappell: by next month, two of his past business failures would be hidden.

"Under the mooted proposals… a businessman like Mr Chappell could reinvent his business acumen several times over during the length of a standard career," says Ashley Armstrong in the Daily Telegraph.

Deputy Labour leader Tom Watson wrote to the Prime Minister to say the change would "only serve to protect criminals who seek to hide their past… misdeeds".

A spokesman for the business department said it is "not unusual for public bodies to review their data handling practices to ensure they comply with data protection law", but that a public consultation would be held before any decision is made.

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