Insights

Companies House API is open, why do we need you?

Derek Munro

Companies House API – It’s open, it’s free so why do we need any other data source?

Companies House gives you access to a great deal of public data in a conveniently centralised location. We have transparency legislation to thank for this, which placed all of this data in the public domain and made it available for reuse.

So, how do you go about getting hold of this data? This is as easy as asking your developer to extract any desired information via the Companies House API. But is it that simple?

When first approaching this data source, it is wise to tread carefully. Yes, the API is a great portal to a great data source, and yes it is open for all, but there are a few inherent issues you need to be aware of. Take these considerations into account before you integrate:

  1. BETA Stage– The Companies House API is still in BETA mode, which means its developers can apply updates or make changes with little or no notice. Currently, the API is version 0, and operates at a tight rate limit. This is in place to prevent overloading but also restricts its functionality.
  2. Completeness Issues – The Companies House API does not flag any directors who were disqualified. This means that you have to join a separate Disqualified Directors dataset to complete the data. You’ll need to fully download both datasets to complete the join which is time-consuming due to the rate limiting.
  3. Age Restrictions– Some of the data offered by Companies House via the API has a limit of five years. This means a lot of data covering older dissolved companies and their directors is no longer available.
  4. Legal Consequences– Although the data that Companies House offers is in the public domain as a legal requirement, directors are permitted to ask for their address to be suppressed from the public register. If a director removes their information from the register, you need to make sure you update your own records accordingly or risk falling foul of General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR).
  5. No Service Guarantees – Since Companies House API services are free, there are no service guarantees attached. The system operates on a legacy infrastructure that may sometimes struggle to maintain the usage levels expected of it, this is further compounded by the API’s extreme popularity. As you might expect, these factors make the system prone to outages. Recently, a Freedom of Information request revealed that the Companies House API suffered a total of 89 hours of major outages in 2018 alone, each of which lasted more than 10 minutes.
  6. Duplicate Entries – Companies House may create a duplicate director entry when different information is submitted i.e. a variation on a name or a change of address. As a result of this, you may miss a directors connection to another company due to multiple IDs relating to the same person. Not all Director IDs are listed consistently.

Other Options to Companies House API

Did you know that there is another Companies House API available? Based on XML, this alternative database is paid for which can offer a little more reassurance, however it can cost up to £2 per call so it needs to used sparingly.

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