Companies House is to open up all of its online data so it can be accessed free of charge.
Last year people spent £8.7 million paying to access company information such as accounts information, appointments and charges on the Companies House website.
But from spring 2015 the public will be able to access data covering the activities and ownership of companies and linked individuals for free, instead of paying the existing charge of £1 per search.
The government claimed that this step “will make the UK the first country to establish a truly open register of business information.”
Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude said that he hopes entrepreneurs will use open data, such as the companies register to create new businesses and fuel economic growth.
The announcement is part of wider efforts to open up the data held by government trading funds such as Land Registry, Met Office and Ordnance Survey.
Jeni Tennison, technical director of the Open Data Institute, told ComputerworldUK: “This move by Companies House shows that trading funds can do open data.”
Speaking to ComputerworldUK, Giuseppe Sollazzo, an open data expert and member of the Cabinet Office’s ‘Open Data User Group’, said: “I'm totally positive about the announcement, and I'm looking forward to knowing the details.
“One observation is that the accompanying document says the government aims to license the data via the OGL [Open Government Licence], which in my view is more important than releasing the data without charge.”
He added: “From a technical point of view I hope the data will be structured and indexed in such a way it allows cross referencing with other datasets, for example Open Corporates.”
In April business secretary Vince Cable confirmed plans to set up a public register on company ownership. The ‘beneficial ownership’ register will contain information about who ultimately owns and controls companies, making it harder for firms to commit offences such as money laundering, tax evasion or fraud.
The proposals were first announced at the ‘Open Government Partnership’ conference in London by prime minister David Cameron.
Companies House is currently undergoing a wider digitisation drive, for example by using an electronic document management system to automate existing paper-based processes.
The organisation eventually wants all of its transactions to be digital.