UK public register of overseas entity beneficial ownership
The government has confirmed in a written ministerial statement its intention to introduce a draft Bill before the summer recess in 2018 to establish a public register of beneficial ownership for foreign companies owning property in the UK. Formal introduction of the Bill is planned for summer 2019, with the register expected to become operational by early 2021. This follows an announcement made in the House of Lords during the debate on the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill on 17 January.
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) will introduce the public register requiring overseas companies that own or buy property in the UK to provide details of their ultimate owners.
The intention to create such a register was first announced at the international anti-corruption summit held in London in May 2016. In April 2017, BEIS published a call for evidence on the design and impacts of the register, following which the government began drafting clauses covering the land registration elements of the policy in England and Wales. Specific provision will also be made for land registration systems in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
The Lords had twice attempted to introduce legislation for the register through amendments to other Bills: first in the Criminal Finances Bill and latterly in the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill. In December, the government stated in its anti-corruption strategy that it would publish provisions in a draft Bill. Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon confirmed in the House of Lords on 17 January that the draft Bill would be published before the summer recess in 2018, with formal introduction to Parliament planned for summer 2019. The register itself is expected to be operational by early 2021. The government confirmed these deadlines in a written ministerial statement on 24 January.
Business Secretary Greg Clark 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.”
More than £180 million worth of property in the UK has been brought under criminal investigation as the suspected proceeds of corruption since 2004. Over 75% of properties currently under investigation use offshore corporate secrecy – a tactic regularly seen by investigators pursuing high-level money laundering, according to BEIS.
The register will also provide the government with greater transparency on overseas companies seeking public contracts.
BEIS will publish its response to the April 2017 call for evidence shortly.