Protected online filing (PROOF) is a free service provided by Companies House that helps protect your company against fraudulent activity. This is a common problem for limited companies and limited liability partnerships (LLPs) in the UK.
A 2022 Global Economic Crime Survey conducted by the accounting firm PwC found that 64% of UK businesses experienced fraud during the year. That’s an 8% increase since 2020 and 14% since 2018. It’s also considerably higher than the global rate of 46%.
On top of this, the government website states that there are up to 100 cases of corporate identity theft a month. To help tackle these issues, Companies House introduced the PROOF service.
In this post, we’ll explain what the PROOF service is and how it protects UK businesses. If you haven’t already, we will also let you know how to register for PROOF and keep your company secure from unauthorised changes.
What is PROOF?
PROOF is a free scheme run by Companies House that provides UK-based limited companies and LLPs with added protection when filing certain documents. It is legally backed by section 1070 (agreement for delivery by electronic means) of the Companies Act 2006, designed to safeguard company owners from corporate identity theft.
The system is enforced by preventing the filing of certain paper forms. For limited companies, these include:
- Your annual return (AR01)
- The appointment of a director (AP01), corporate director (AP02), secretary (AP03), or corporate secretary (AP04)
- Changes to your registered office address (AD01)
- Changes to your company name (NM01)
It’s important to note that confirmation statements are not covered by the protected online filing service. Also, fewer forms are protected for limited liability partnerships. You can find a complete list of forms based on company type on the government website.
You can continue to submit all other forms on paper if you’re registered for the scheme.
If you submit any of these on paper, they will be rejected. Instead, they must be formally filed via WebFiling. This is the Companies House online portal that allows companies to file forms electronically, make changes to their records, and sign up for email alerts when certain documents are due.
WebFiling authentication codes explained
WebFiling is a far more secure way of sharing your company’s details with Companies House, as it requires your company authentication code to sign in.
The authentication code is a 6-digit code made up of a mixture of numbers and letters, and it is unique to your company. This is a critical safety measure that acts as a director’s electronic signature. Without this code, you cannot access your company’s details.
Your code is automatically issued at incorporation. If you register your company directly with Companies House, it is posted to your registered office address. If you form your company through us, you can find it in your Quality Company Formations account.
In the event of a lost or forgotten code, you can request a reminder via WebFiling. Simply sign in (or register if you haven’t already) and click on ‘Request an authentication code’. You’ll be asked for your company registration number, after which you can select ‘request code’. It should then be posted to your active officer’s home address (as opposed to your registered address) within 5 working days.
If you need to make a paper filing
If you’re part of the protected online filing scheme and need to file one of the above forms on paper, you will need to provide a legitimate reason using a paper consent form (PR03). This form should only be used in special circumstances and is, therefore, unavailable to download freely online.
To obtain form PR03, you need to call the Companies House contact centre on 0303 1234500 for further guidance.
You should treat this form as a last resort – only if absolutely necessary. If you repeatedly file a PR03, you could be removed from the PROOF service.
How to register
First, you should check that you are eligible to join. Most UK companies and LLPs can go ahead and sign up, however, you may not be able to register if there is an open internal dispute between your registered officers. You can only sign up once this has been resolved.
To join the PROOF scheme, you need a WebFiling account. Simply register or log into your existing account. Once you’ve signed in, you’ll see a ‘Join PROOF’ button at the top of the overview screen. Select this option and accept the terms and conditions.
Finally, click on ‘Protect this company’. You’ll then get an email to confirm your application. You’ll also notice the padlock on the overview screen is now locked, meaning that your company is protected by PROOF.
For more guidance on registering, take a look at the Companies House demo video.
How to opt-out
The PROOF service is free and optional. If you wish to opt-out at any point, you can do so quickly and easily through your WebFiing account.
When you log in, select the ‘Leave PROOF’ button at the top of the overview screen. You’ll receive an email to confirm that you are no longer part of the scheme, and the padlock will show as unlocked.
It’s important to note that if you opt-out, your company or LLP could be at risk of fraudulent activity, and you will not be protected in the event of a scam through unauthorised filings. To keep your company records safe, it is recommended to remain subscribed to the service.
When you could be removed from PROOF
In some instances, Companies House may automatically remove you from the protected online filing service. For example, if you file too many PR03 forms, as explained above.
You’ll be notified in writing up to 3 months in advance to let you know that your agreement with the service is being terminated. If you are automatically removed, you will not be able to sign up for PROOF in the future.
For complete guidance, visit the PROOF terms and conditions.
Additional security measures
As well as joining PROOF, you can take additional steps to keep your company’s information secure. For example, why not try ‘Follow’? This is another free service offered by Companies House that lets you set up instant email alerts for company transactions.
When you sign in to your Companies House account, you can search the register for your company. Then, select ‘follow this company’.
This will notify you when documents have been filed and when they have been accepted. You can also view your filing history and download copies of transactions for free, to cross-check against your own data and make sure everything adds up.
Another way to protect your company is to keep your authentication code safe at all times. Think of it like your bank account PIN. It’s strongly advised that you do not share it with anyone, unless they are trusted to make company filings on your behalf.
Finally, you should change your code if it becomes known by someone you don’t trust, or a person who is no longer authorised to make your filings. If this is the case, you should change it to a new mixture of letters and numbers.
Try to avoid memorable combinations (e.g. your date of birth) that might be easy to guess. Ideally, your code should be random. However, this can be tricky to come up with or remember, so apps like LastPass are excellent for suggesting random passwords based on your requirements and keeping them safely stored.
If you’ve spotted a scam
It’s best to keep your company filings protected by the PROOF scheme. But if you notice any unusual activity, you must report it to Companies House. This could include scam emails, letters, or suspicious phone calls.
You can also use this service to report another limited company committing fraud, and report another company using your details without permission.
Protected online filing is an important security measure that helps you share sensitive information with Companies House in a safe way. It’s strongly recommended that you sign up for this service if you own a limited company or an LLP in the UK.
If you have any comments or questions, please post them below or get in touch with our team.