Who owns land in the UK? Draft Bill aims to identify overseas owners

Who owns land in the UK (when the land is registered to an overseas company) is being tackled by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).

The information currently available on overseas owners or leaseholders of land is often sketchy, being limited to the entity’s name and where it was incorporated. It is not, therefore, clear who owns and controls the entity and, it follows, the land itself. The Draft Registration of Overseas Entities Bill has been presented to Parliament by the Secretary of State for BEIS and seeks to address this lack of information.

Ownership of land by foreign companies has become a hot potato given evidence that such companies are often used by criminals to hide and launder the proceeds of crime. The UK’s property market is particularly attractive as a vehicle for money laundering because of the country’s stable and open political and business environment.

Since June 2016, most UK-registered entities have been required to provide information to Companies House about their ultimate owners and controllers; this information is held on the public People with Significant Control Register.

When it comes to foreign companies, a commitment was made at the 2016 Anti-Corruption Summit in London to establish a public register of beneficial owners of non-UK entities that own or buy UK property, or who participate in UK Government procurement over certain thresholds. The intention is that the register will identify, in a public and easily accessible way, the beneficial owners and controllers of these overseas entities, increasing transparency and trust in the UK property market, and supporting law enforcers in their investigations. Views are being sought on how the clauses of the Bill will be implemented in practice.

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