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Companies and company information

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  • Introduction
  • Central government organisations ('Whitehall') - eg registration and regulation of companies
    - BIS, Companies House, the Insolvency Service etc
  • Local government - eg council licensing departments, trading standards, police
  • Commercial organisations - providing information on companies (eg Jordans, Company Check)
  • Non-government organisations promoting companies - eg associations (IoD, CBI, TRA etc)
  • Charities and companies (and fundraising)

Cautionary note:  We're not lawyers and we're not experts in company law.


Why have we included a section here on companies? - Read on ...

Our aim is to help charities (and other good causes) - eg maximising their fundraising and good works.

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There are two methods of doing this :

  1. focusing on the positive - in other words, praising charities and encouraging donations to them.
  2. focusing on the negative - in other words :
    • (a) discouraging inefficient charities, and
    • (b) discouraging misleading and/or fraudulent organisations pretending to be charities (or "good causes").

Most organisations and websites concentrate on the first of these two methods - the "positive".

By contrast, CharityBags focuses also on the second of these methods - the "negative".  This is what's sorely needed with the intractable, unique problems of "charitable" house-to-house clothing collections.  This takes one into the territory of law, regulation, monitoring, enforcement and (on occasions) prosecution.

Most of these "problem" clothing collections are carried out by commercial collectors (=the "private sector") - especially companies.  To deal with this problem, one needs to research them - finding who they are, where they're based, what happens to (a) the clothes they collect, and (b) the profits they make from them.  On this page we explain how to find out more about a company.

Types of company

  1. Conventional companies (=Limited/Ltd or PLCs - run for profit, with shareholders)
  2. companies limited by guarantee
  3. Community Interest Companies (CICs)
  4. limited liability partnerships (LLPs)


1. Conventional limited companies:  Most collectors (whether genuine, iffy or bogus) choose this status - as you can see from the
A-Z list of clothing collectors page.
Examples:  Audosta Ltd, Rutex Ltd, SOS Clothes Ltd.

We don't know of any collectors which are PLCs.

2. Companies limited by guarantee:
A few collectors are of this type.  Example: Air Ambulance Service (AAS) - a scam.

Trading subsidiaries of charities: 
Unfortunately, too few collectors are of this type.  They're wholly owned by the charity.  See below for more on this - eg the Salvation Army's commercial offshoot called SATCO.

Note: Bizarrely, the two main Air Ambulance clothing collection scam companies seem to have adopted an analogous model :
- "Air Ambulance Service" (AAS) is linked to Air Ambulance Service (Trading Co) Ltd (AASTC)
- "Air Ambulance Support CIC" (AASCIC) is linked to Air Ambulance Recycling Ltd (AAR)

3. Community Interest Companies (CICs):  We know of only one collector that's a CIC - namely "Air Ambulance Support CIC" (AASCIC).  Ironically it's a scam.

See Wikipedia - eg: Article on UK company law   Article on Public limited companies (PLCs)  

Other operating models

Private individuals, sole traders, franchises, partnerships, mutuals, trusts, co-operatives, charities, trading subsidiaries of charities, local exchange trading schemes (LETs), credit unions etc.

Individuals, "sole traders" or similar:  Example - Nicholas Rees (of Birmingham) - prosecuted 2004.  See the List of prosecutions of collectors page.

Franchises:  We're aware of only one franchise collector scheme - namely Clothes Aid.  The national franchisor and the local franchisees are well-respected and reputable.

Regulation of companies

Direct regulation:  The central government ("Whitehall") organisations listed below (eg Company Investigations) are able to regulate companies "directly".  In other words they can (a) investigate the company itself, and (b) force a company to change its name, directors, legal status etc - and (ultimately) they can close it down.

Indirect regulation:  However, other government regulators - such as the three local government agencies listed below (=council licensing, trading standards and the police) - have no such powers.  Their powers focus on individual misdemeanours such as unlicensed charitable collections, misleading practices and fraud.  Yes, they can prosecute a company for these things - but normally this doesn't stop the company operating.  In other words, this only deals with the symptoms.

Example:  The saga of stopping bogus Air Ambulance clothing collectors (2010-2011) highlights these differences between direct and indirect regulation.
Action was taken against the collectors using both types of regulation simultaneously.  For example, some local council trading standards departments (TSDs) were :

  1. seeking to prosecute them, and at the same time ...
  2. lobbying BIS / Company Investigations / the CIC Regulator to investigate/close down the companies.

Central government organisations - eg registration and regulation of companies

UK Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS)  

BIS logo (Crown copyright)

BIS is a central government ministerial department (HQ in Central London).
Part of it used to be called the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI).

"BIS was created in June 2009 from the merger of the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform [BERR] and the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills [DIUS]."  (BIS website 2011)

Most of the organisations below in this section are part of BIS.

Companies House logo
CH logo
(Crown Copyright)

Companies House (CH)  

"Our main functions
The main functions of Companies House are to:

  • incorporate and dissolve limited companies;
  • examine and store company information delivered under the Companies Act and related legislation; and
  • make this information available to the public." (source: website 2011)

Based in Cardiff (South Wales).  Part of BIS.
The CH website has the official register (database) of all companies in England and Wales.
Currently there are around 2 million companies.
You can search the register 24/7, for free.
You can buy copies of documents online for £1 each.

Also see the section below on commercial organisations which provide information on companies (such as Jordans and UKData.com).  Most of the information they offer is derived from the official data held by Companies House.

In general, Companies House is not a regulator.

See Wikipedia article on Companies House  

The Insolvency Service   Part of BIS

eg bankrupt/liquidated companies, struck-off companies, dissolved companies

"The Insolvency Service exists to provide the framework and the means for dealing with financial failure in the economy and with the misconduct that is often associated with it.  To achieve this we will:

  • maintain and develop a world-class insolvency law and regulatory framework;
  • deliver key public services to support that framework;
  • deliver and promote an effective investigation and enforcement regime..."  (source: website 2011)

Company Investigations (CI)  

Part of the Insolvency Service (and, in turn, part of BIS).
Note: Despite being part of the Insolvency Service, it investigates active companies.
In 2011 it investigated dubious Air Ambulance clothing collection companies. It closed down 5 of these companies in the High Court (in Nov 2011 and early 2012).

CIC Regulator  

Part of BIS.  They're the official regulator of Community Interest Companies (CICs).
Example of a CIC: "Air Ambulance Support CIC" (scam clothing collector, Birmingham)

"A community interest company (CIC) is a new type of company introduced by the United Kingdom government in 2005 under the Companies (Audit, Investigations and Community Enterprise) Act 2004, designed for social enterprises that want to use their profits and assets for the public good.  CICs are intended to be easy to set up, with all the flexibility and certainty of the company form, but with some special features to ensure they are working for the benefit of the community."  (source: Wikipedia 2011)

Office of Fair Trading (OFT)  

Office of Fair Trading logo (Crown copyright)

"Enforces consumer protection law and competition law, reviews proposed mergers and conducts market studies."
"The OFT is a non-ministerial government department established in 1973.  Our mission is to make markets work well for consumers."  (website at 2011)

Until 2011, the "Consumer Direct" helpline was operated by the OFT.
See our Regulators page for more on the OFT and clothing collections.

Business Link  `

"Business Link is government's online resource for businesses.  It contains essential information, support and services for you and your business – whether you work for a large organisation or are on your way to starting up."  (website at 2011)

Local government

See the Regulators page for details of the roles of the following organisations in relation to companies :

  • local council licensing departments (LDs)
  • local council trading standards departments (TSDs)
  • police forces (eg investigation of fraud)

Commercial organisations providing information on companies

We give examples below.

Most of these organisations' websites offer some free information on each company.
However, you have to pay if you want more detailed information and/or download copies of documents.
They get most of their information from Companies House (part of government) - see entry above.


"Search for People, Businesses and Places"
The "People" search tab includes a company-director search facility.
The "Businesses" search tab allows you to search for businesses.
Also you can browse by postcode, look at aerial photos and street maps.
Part of their information comes from local council electoral rolls and phone directories.
There are issues regarding privacy and data protection.

Companies In The UK  

They're one of many companies which provide a free alert service.  On their website, you notify them of companies you're interested in - and they email you (alerting you) whenever there's a change in their Companies House data.



Company Check  

Company Director Check  

National Business Register LLP  

"Established in 1984 the National Business Register provides data on all 10 million UK businesses, companies, trade marks and brands.
An entrepreneur can access all this combined data free of charge to help in choosing the right identity for their new enterprise.  One of the biggest threats to a new business is mistakenly copying someone else's established name, in the same type of trade, whether locally or nationally.  Our unique search facility solves this problem and we also provide full information advice and support in setting up a new business, company, trade mark and domain name."  (source: website at 2011)

Non-government organisations promoting companies - eg associations

The organisations/websites below give you a good idea of company attitudes and the culture of business, enterprise, commerce, etc.

Institute of Directors (IoD)  

"The Institute of Directors is Europe's largest membership organisation for business leaders.  Established in 1903, the IoD has been representing senior level professionals since our Royal Charter in 1906, earning us our trusted reputation as the business network for leadership.  We support our 43,000 members through 44 regional branches across the UK..."  (website at 2011)

Confederation of British Industry (CBI)  

"The CBI's mission is to help create and sustain the conditions in which businesses in the United Kingdom can compete and prosper for the benefit of all.
We are the premier lobbying organisation for UK business on national and international issues.  We work with the UK government, international legislators and policy-makers to help UK businesses compete effectively.
... The CBI is a not-for-profit organisation and was incorporated by Royal Charter in 1965."  (website at 2011)

British Chambers of Commerce (BCC)  

"The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) is a powerful and influential Network of Accredited Chambers of Commerce across the UK."  (website at 2011)

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB)  

"The FSB is the UK's largest campaigning pressure group promoting and protecting the interests of the self-employed and owners of small firms.  Formed in 1974, it now has 200,000 members across 33 regions and 194 branches. ... We are a non-profit making organisation..."  (website at 2011)

British Franchise Association (BFA)  

"The British Franchise Association is the voice of ethical franchising in the UK, the Trade Association for those who pass accreditation, and educator to the many potential individuals and businesses that consider franchising. ...
Franchise industry statistics [Britain] :
- Industry annual turnover: £12.4 billion
- Number of franchisor brands operating in the UK: 897
- Number of franchisee outlets: 36,900
- Number of people employed in franchising: 521,000"  (Source: website at 2011)

Examples of franchises: Clothes Aid (a reputable clothing collector), McDonald's restaurants, Prontaprint

See Wikipedia article on franchising  

Textile Recycling Association (TRA) - text logo (our thanks to the TRA)Textile Recycling Association (TRA) - circular logo (our thanks to the TRA)

Textile Recycling Association (TRA)  

... to promote textile recycling and the second hand clothing/shoe recycling industry."

A trade association.  Their website includes a useful detailed list of member organisations - including those which conduct house-to-house clothing collections.

Charities and companies (and fundraising)

1. Many charities (registered with the Charity Commission) are also registered as companies (with Companies House).  This gives them various legal and financial benefits.  However, (as far as we know) typically the company:  is "limited by guarantee", doesn't have to use the word "Limited" in its name, is not-for-profit, has no shareholders.

2. Some charities have trading subsidiaries.  These are registered companies (not charities).  Example: Salvation Army Trading Company Ltd (SATCO) - established 1991.
Normally the trading company is wholly owned by the charity and it has to pay all its profits to the charity.  This arrangement is common because of a "technicality" - charity laws in the UK don't allow charities to operate as commercial businesses.  "Trading" activities include selling clothes etc collected house-to-house, running charity shops, sale of Christmas cards.

3. Some charities enter into contracts (partnerships) with commercial companies.  For example a company may do fundraising for the charity - eg door-to-door collections of (a) cash/direct-debit signups or (b) clothing.  This is outsourcing/sub-contracting.  It's done if the charity thinks this arrangement will be more effective than running the operations in-house.

Next time you see a "chugger" collecting for a charity in a shopping centre, he/she may be :

Money - coins (courtesy of freeimages.co.uk)

  • a charity volunteer, or
  • a paid employee of the charity, or
  • self-employed (in a contract with the charity), or
  • self-employed (in a contract with a commercial fundraising company), or
  • a paid employee of a commercial fundraising company (often working on commission)

4. It's increasingly common for companies to pay sums to charity per item sold
- eg "We'll give £1 to charity XXX for each insurance policy we sell this month."
Usually these deals have been negotiated with the charity in advance - allowing the company to use the charity's name and logo prominently in its marketing.

5. Gifts:  Commercial companies (and related organisations or individuals) sometimes unilaterally give charities money, goods or services.  This can be done for one or both of the following reasons :

  • altruism/generosity/philanthropy
  • self-interest - eg giving the company (or individual) a better image

Examples :