UK Government urged to deliver on promise of property transparency

Tuesday 24 November 2015

In a joint statement, the National Association of Estate Agents and Transparency International UK have called on the UK Government to begin the process to make ownership of property in the UK fully transparent and deliver on the message that ‘there is no place for dirty money in Britain’.

In July the Government committed to tackling corrupt money in UK property, but they are yet to publish plans or a timeline for their consultation on providing more transparency over foreign and offshore ownership of UK property. We, as representatives from civil society and the estate agency sector, hope the Government will open this consultation with the urgency it requires.

Mark Hayward, National Association of Estate Agents said:

“The recent documentary From Russia with Cash demonstrated that there is still not absolute clarity in relation to anti-money laundering among those in the property sector, despite the very clear legislation in place and regular training and updates from within the industry. It is now time to step up the level of scrutiny that the sector comes under to ensure that a small minority of agents do not support criminal activity and those that do are appropriately sanctioned.

Nick Maxwell, Head of Advocacy and Research at Transparency International said:

“The rhetoric from the Prime Minister about stopping the flow of corrupt capital coming into the UK has been very strong, but now is the time for real action. The veil of secrecy over UK property ownership needs to be lifted to ensure the UK is no longer a safe haven for dirty cash and we look forward to working with the Government to this end.”

London is a magnificent city and its high-end property is amongst the most sought after in the world. But it is also attractive to the corrupt as a place to wash dirty cash.

This dirty cash is very likely to be increasing house prices and – ultimately – stopping ordinary, honest people getting into the property market. Anonymous offshore companies hold the titles to over 35,000 properties in London; almost 1 in 10 properties in Westminster. Using these companies to hide the true owners of a property is vital for criminals wishing to hide their money.

To stop our property market being used to launder corrupt and criminal money and to bring transparency and confidence to the market, we believe that the Government should:

  • Require all foreign companies to be as transparent as UK companies over their ultimate beneficial ownership if they wish to hold property titles in the UK.
  • State that anti-money laundering checks should be carried out by estate agents on the purchaser, not just the seller, of high-value property.
  • Ensure that estate agents who break the rules and support criminal money laundering should face meaningful punishment and sanctions.
  • Support the sector to ensure that estate agents adhere to anti-money laundering regulations.

The private sector is the first line of defence in detecting and reporting money laundering. However, under the current supervisory structure in the estate agency sector, reporting rates of suspicious activity, awareness levels of reporting responsibilities and sanctions for bad behaviour are all too low.

UK property is a world leading market for overseas investors seeking a stable political and business climate, financial security or an attractive place to live. It should remain so, but with the message that dirty money is not welcome.