Free Our Data: the blog

A Guardian Technology campaign for free public access to data about the UK and its citizens

Companies House: who’s watching how it works the numbers?

This week the Guardian is looking at Companies House, and the peculiar justifications it uses to not tell us about how it determines data charges – and the worries that would-be competitors (to this organisation to which by law companies must report their accounts) have about its move into value-added services.

The article – Companies House holds all the cards – reveals gems like this:

The argument for allowing Companies House to charge for information is that this helps reduce the cost of the mandatory part of its business, company registration. But the way Companies House works out its costs and charges is far from transparent. The agency sent us a document, Principles of Cost Allocation, which admits that producing such figures “is not a trivial exercise because the information available is not readily available”.

The document does not list all the product areas – one is blanked out, on the grounds that it is exempt under section 38 of the Freedom of Information Act. This exempts disclosures on the grounds that it may endanger the physical or mental health or safety of an individual.

We’re wondering who the individual is..

The contents of a pricing review, published internally in June 2004, are even more mysterious. It comes with a sheet explaining that “some parts of the report have been redacted” as it is exempt from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act. One reason given is that information “is of a sensitive nature and could prejudice the commercial interests of Companies House”.

Increasingly, what we’re finding in this campaign is that the question of the “commercial interests” of organisations that have statutory powers seems to override the commercial interests of just about anyone else who isn’t that organisation – including private companies and local government. This can’t be right.

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