The government has announced that it is intending to introduce a draft Bill before the summer recess this year to establish the public register of beneficial ownership for foreign companies owning property in the UK. The Bill is expected to be introduced in Summer 2019 with the register implemented in 2021. Our previous post on this topic can be read here.
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) will introduce the public register. The Register will require overseas companies that own or buy property in the UK to provide details of exactly who owns the property. Last year BEIS published a call for evidence on the design and impacts of the register and is expected to publish its response shortly. The government has also begun drafting clauses covering land registration in England and Wales with Scotland and Northern Ireland to follow.
Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon confirmed in the House of Lords that the draft Bill would be published before summer recess in 2018. A formal introduction to Parliament of the draft Bill is expected in the Summer of 2019. The register is then hoped to be fully operational in early 2021.
Business Secretary Greg Clark is reported to have said:
“We are committed to protecting the integrity and reputation of our property market to ensure the UK is seen as an attractive business environment – a key part of our Industrial Strategy.
“This world-first register will build on our reputation for corporate transparency as well as helping to create a hostile environment for economic crimes like money laundering.”
The purpose of the register is to ‘crack’ down on criminals laundering money in the UK. There are no official statistics of how much UK property has been bought with criminal proceeds, but BEIS claim that £180 million of UK property was brought under criminal investigation as the suspected proceeds of crime. BEIS also suggest that more than 75% of properties currently under investigation are shrouded in offshore secrecy with the details of the actual owner unknown.
It seems likely that this Bill will be passed into law and is likely to have an impact on those owning high value property, especially in London. Whilst 2021 is some months away advice should be sought sooner rather than later where necessary.