Overseas companies owning or buying property in the UK must join public register from 2021

A register revealing owners of overseas companies buying property in the UK will be published by early 2021. The aim is to crack down on criminal gangs laundering money in the UK.

The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) claims that, since 2004, property in the UK worth £180 million has been brought under criminal investigation as the suspected proceeds of corruption.

The register will only cover property in England and Wales and BEIS aims to have draft laws published by summer 2018. The public register will require overseas companies that own or buy property in the UK to provide details of their ultimate owners. This will make it easier for law enforcement agencies to track criminal funds and take action against criminals using shell companies to launder money by buying properties in London and elsewhere.

UK companies must already record details of their beneficial ownership by keeping a register of people with significant control (PSC register). The PSC information is filed at Companies House and is publicly assessable. The planned register for overseas companies is likely to operate on a similar basis, with an overseas company being provided with a unique identifier number (the same as a UK company number) that will enable it to acquire property in England and Wales. Currently, the only publicly available information is the name of the company and its territory of incorporation.

The register will remove the right to privacy, and joins various provisions introduced in recent years reducing or removing any tax advantage for offshore structures or persons holding high value UK residential property. 

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