Foreign companies wishing to buy property in England and Wales could be forced to reveal details of their ownership under new proposals from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS).
The department has launched a consultation on plans to force foreign companies to provide information on their beneficial ownership before being able to purchase property.
The consultation is also seeking views on whether the new rules should be applied retrospectively, meaning that foreign companies that already own property in England and Wales would also be forced to reveal details of their ownership.
The move is aimed at preventing companies registered abroad – and particularly in offshore territories – from using property to launder money.
Rachel Davies, head of advocacy and research at Transparency International UK said: “There’s evidence that the UK has become a safe haven for corrupt money stolen from around the world, facilitated by the laws which allow UK property to be owned by secret offshore companies.
“Layers of secrecy facilitated by the offshore company structure prevent effective investigations by police and checks by those working in the property sector. This means that property in the UK can be acquired anonymously and anti-money laundering checks can be bypassed with relative ease.”
Property Week revealed in October last year that a staggering £263bn has been invested in property in England and Wales by companies registered offshore since 2000. The investigation also showed that the total amount of offshore investment has risen by 1,500%, from £2bn in 2000 to £32bn in 2014.
The government agency responsible for cutting serious and organised crime in the UK admitted toProperty Week it had no way of assessing how much of the £263bn that has flowed into the UK from offshore companies could be “dirty money”.
“A combination of factors mean that we will never know exactly how much criminal money is being laundered through the UK market,” a National Crime Agency spokesman said. “These factors include the hidden nature of the problem, the intermingling of legitimate and illegitimate funds and the lack of transparency in some source countries.”
The deadline for responses to the BIS consultation is 1 April.