British expats and foreign investors buying property with a company may soon have their identities revealed on a public register.
Business minister Margot James wants more transparency to highlight the real owners of homes purchased with a company.
She is proposing the world’s first public register listing the beneficial owners of overseas companies and other entities masking the true ownership of property.
James also claims the register will help police track down and recover the proceeds of crime more easily.
Explaining why the government wants the register, she said some foreign property investors were involved in money laundering and organised crime and unmasking them would make the job of investigators easier.
Level playing field
Since 2004, British property worth £180 million has been identified as the suspected proceeds of corruption and other crimes, while 75% of owners hid their identities behind overseas companies.
Anyone controlling a British company already must make a declaration to Companies House.
“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,” said the minister.
“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.
“We are inviting the views of overseas investors, property and transparency experts on how this register could be delivered.”
James is leading a consultation asking interested parties to comment on the plans for a register by May 15.
The government is concerned that heavy-handed legislation may scare genuine foreign investors from conducting business in the UK, but wants to tackle organised crime laundering cash through property at the same time.
“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,” said Donald Toon, Director for Economic Crime at the National Crime Agency.
“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.”