17 January 2014

Address for service

Directors' risk of being served with a claim in the UK

Directors of UK companies have to give an "address for service" to Companies House. This came in in 2009 as a trade-off for the ability to conceal the director's home address (section 1140 Companies Act 2006).

In a surprising decision, a Master of the High Court has ruled that the address for service at Companies House can be used to serve any document on the director, including a claim form starting legal proceedings against him which were unrelated to the company in question (Key Homes Bradford Ltd & Ors v Patel [2014] EWHC B1 (Ch) 10 January 2014). That applies even if the director is not in the UK, and proceedings against him could not otherwise be started in England without the court giving leave to serve proceedings outside the UK (which is not automatic), and an expensive process of serving abroad. The usual rules of court requiring an individual to be served at his usual or last known residence are overridden.

Directors' addresses for service are often given quite casually, often as the company's registered office, perhaps without consulting the director in question. Now it is clear that directors should take more interest, especially directors resident abroad. Giving an address for service in the UK makes them vulnerable to being sued in England much more easily, even in unrelated matters. They can also be seriously prejudiced if proceedings are served at the company's offices and are not passed on. Disputes with the company are a particular risk: the company may be tempted to serve its claim at its own office, not pass the papers to the defendant, and enter judgment in default.

It is even possible that the address for service can be used for things that would otherwise have to be served personally, such as a statutory demand in bankruptcy or a court order threatening imprisonment for contempt.

Advisers should be much more careful in future about giving an address for service for directors, especially for those resident overseas. The address given does not have to be in the UK, and if it is outside the UK it would still be necessary to get leave from the court to serve a claim form there. Even UK directors might want to give an address abroad!

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