Government to ‘crack down on corruption in property sector’

On 27th December 2023 the Government launched a consultation to “crack down on corruption in property sector” as well as ensure far greater transparency by making it clearer who owns land trusts.

The new proposals will make it much clearer with regard to who owns trust-owned land – with greater transparency helping target illicit finance and corruption in the sector. The government hopes the consultation will “lift the veil of secrecy currently afforded to land-holding trusts'”.

The consultation hopes to improve the transparency of trust information, stating:

“Land ownership through a trust means someone legally owns and manages the land on behalf of the true owner and beneficiary. Currently, the identity of the beneficiary is not always recorded or publicly available, potentially leading to secrecy or corruption in the sector.”

The new plans mean residents (as well as the media and the public) will be able to:

  • find out more about who owns land and property;
  • who can control it; and
  • who receives financial benefit from it.

Michael Gove, the Housing Secretary, said:

“It matters who really owns land and property. It matters for how and where we build our homes, grow our food, and power our country.

These proposals will lift the veil of secrecy currently afforded to land-holding trusts.

Transparency about land ownership is crucial if we want to make our housing and land markets fairer. In its absence, injustices, corruption and crime can flourish.”

Kevin Hollinrake the Minister for Enterprise, Markets and Small Business, adds:

“There’s no place for fraud and other illegal activity in our society, so it’s fantastic so see the launch of this consultation which fulfils a government commitment and ensures more is being done to make the trust information held on the Register for Overseas Entities more transparent.

The Register for Overseas Entities is imperative in ensuring we weed out kleptocrats and oligarchs buying up British properties under false names and has already helped identify absent landlords so that they can be held to account.”

The changes aim to make it significantly easier for people to access all land and property ownership data across the range of different public registers. In turn this will provide as much free and readily available information as possible, with the added hope of preventing fraud and other corruption, including anti-money laundering in the sector.

The consultation will run for eight weeks and seeks opinions on widening access to trust information held on the Register of Overseas Entities and on how ownership of land involving trusts can be made more transparent. Read more about the transparency of land ownership involving trusts consultation here.

This consultation meets the commitment made during the passage of the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Act 2023 which stated the government would launch a consultation on how we to improve the transparency of trust information before the end of this year. The government intends, subject to the results of the consultation, to bring forward changes as soon as possible thereafter.

Through this act the government strengthened the Register of Overseas Entities – a list of the true owners of offshore companies that own UK land, while the Trust Registration Service in 2017 created the first register of beneficial ownership of trusts with UK links, clamping down on money laundering and terrorist financing.

This consultation also builds upon the new transparency powers that were announced in the Levelling-up and Regeneration Act which make clear the need for more information on land and property ownership.

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