Jessica Fino 5 Apr 2017 02:44pm

Government proposes register of overseas-owned UK property

The new plans would deliver the world’s first public register of overseas companies that own property in the UK, as part of the government's efforts to tackle corruption and improve corporate transparency

In a consultation launched today, the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) is asking overseas investors, property and transparency experts for their opinions on how the register could be delivered.

If the proposal goes ahead, the plan would show the beneficial owners of property controlled by overseas companies and other legal entities. It would also list the beneficial owners of overseas-registered firms involved in central government procurement exercises, the BEIS department added.

Margot James, the business minister said, “We are committed to protecting the integrity and reputation of the UK property market and this register would be a valuable measure to increase transparency and investor confidence.

“The extension of transparency requirements, which UK owners are already subject to, levels the playing field and means we would know who owns and controls UK property wherever they are from.”

According to government’s figures, law enforcement investigations into international corruption have identified more than £180m of property in the country as the suspected proceeds of corruption since 2004.

Moreover, 75% of those investigated used overseas companies to hide their real owners.

Donald Toon, director for economic crime at the National Crime Agency (NCA) said, “Criminals and their money launderers will always seek to hide the true ownership of assets, including property, to frustrate investigations and hold onto the profits of their crimes.

“Greater transparency over the true ownership and control of UK property held in the name of overseas companies will make the UK a less attractive place to launder money and will assist investigators track down and recover the proceeds of crime.”

At the moment, £25m of property is frozen worldwide in connection with ongoing NCA international corruption investigations, the BEIS said.

Mark Hayward, chief executive at the National Association of Estate Agents Propertymark, said, “This new register will set a gold standard for transparency and enhance the reputation of the UK property market as an attractive place to do business.

“We will be working closely with our members to help them understand the requirements that will help shape the world’s first register of its kind.”

The call for evidence is open until 15 May 2017.