The UK’s people with significant control register – a register which records the beneficial owners of UK companies and limited liability partnerships – has been public since June 2016. So what has been revealed by the world’s first public beneficial ownership register? Global Witness, in collaboration with other organisations, pulled together a team of data scientists over a weekend in November 2016 to interrogate the public data. At that point, over a third of the UK’s companies (1.3 million) had filed their beneficial ownership information. Here’s what they found:

  • Most beneficial owners (about 85%) are British, following by Irish, a mix of other European countries, then China and India. Just 13% of them live overseas.
  • Only 2% of companies could not collect the information they needed and just less than 10% of companies claimed to have no beneficial owner.
  • Potentially 76 people from the US sanctions list and 267 disqualified directors were listed as beneficial owners.

But the analysis quickly identified one of the flaws of the system: that there are insufficient safeguards to ensure data accuracy. Companies House does not have the resources to check every submission and the free text fields on the forms mean that information is reported in many different ways. For example, almost 3,000 companies listed their beneficial owners as a company with a tax haven address which is not permitted under the rules (Global Witness handed a list of these companies to Companies House for further investigation). And as you can write anything in the nationality field, people found over 500 ways of putting “British”.

The integrity of the data, compliance, and enforcement was an issue which was raised repeatedly as the PSC register rules made the journey from policy to legislation through to implementation. The government’s position is broadly that by making the register public, outside parties would do the job of scrutinising the register and highlighting non-compliance. And this project by Global Witness is in many ways what the government was driving at. However, any analysis is bound to be hampered by unreliable data. In reflecting on its investigation, Global Witness commented “This is going to be a serious challenge for the credibility of the register and the government will have to provide more reassurances on how it is going to ensure data accuracy.”

The government has responded recently by reiterating its position but acknowledging that something more may be required. The latest consultation on amendments to the PSC register regime states: “With many eyes viewing the data, errors, omissions or worse can be identified and reported. This means that the information held on the register can be policed on a significant scale by a variety of users. Ongoing consideration is being given as to whether this could be complemented by any additional measures.”

You can read more about the PSC register here.