Fast Track for Register of Overseas Entities Owning UK Property

08 March 2022
Author: Helen McGhee

The invasion of Ukraine has prompted the UK government to speedily publish the draft legislation for the Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Bill 2022 which requires foreign entities that acquire UK property (freehold interests or leases granted for more than 7 years) to register with Companies House and declare details of their beneficial ownership. Implementation will proceed at record pace following royal assent and ultimately the register could be open for public inspection (albeit with restricted access to date of birth and residential addresses of beneficial owners).

The objective of the Bill is to crack down on foreign criminals using UK property to launder proceeds of corruption.

Any non-UK entity that already owns (and indeed acquired at any time in the previous 20 years) or going forward buys UK land will be required by the new rules to disclose to Companies House details of its beneficial owners/individuals with significant control (broadly those owning more than 25% of the shares/voting rights or otherwise exercising significant control) in exchange for the issue of an ID number necessary to complete title registration. Information provided will need to be verified and updated annually. Sanctions for non-compliance of course will include restrictions on an ability to create charges over or dispose of the land as well as daily fines of £500 and/or criminal sanctions including prison sentences of up to 5 years.  At present those who already own land will have a grace period of 18 months to register.

The effects of the new legislation will be felt not only by the Russian oligarchs and kleptocrats it is aimed at but also by those families who have historically favoured holding UK land through offshore entities as a means of asset protection or to safeguard privacy for other reasons. The new rules when read alongside the expanded scope of the UK Trust Register are a significant step towards global transparency.

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Increased Investment in Personal Tax Compliance in the UK (Published in Thought Leaders 4 Private Client)

Advances in technology and increased international fiscal co-operation have made global personal tax compliance initiatives pop up in abundance in recent years. To compound the issue, the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the corresponding economic fallout prompted domestic governments to increase transparency in relation to investments held by wealthy foreign individuals (with a focus on oligarchs).

In the UK, in the context of the cost-of-living crisis, public opinion certainly seems to be in favour of increased accountability for high-net-worth individuals (eg, on 9 October 2022, 63% of Britons surveyed thought that “the rich are not paying enough and their taxes should be increased”).1

HMRC is one of the most sophisticated tax collection authorities in the world and the department is making significant investments in technology in the field of compliance work; they are well placed to take advantage of new international efforts to increase tax compliance, particularly considering the already extensive network of 130 bilateral tax treaties in the UK (the largest in the world).2 The UK was also a founding member of the OECD’s Joint International Taskforce on Shared Intelligence and Collaboration (JITSIC) forum.

This article discusses the main developments in support of the increased focus on international transparency and personal tax compliance in the UK. There are other international fiscal initiatives, particularly in the field of corporate taxation, but such initiatives are beyond the scope of this article.

It should be noted that a somewhat piecemeal approach, with constant tinkering makes compliance difficult for the taxpayer and is often criticised for lacking the certainty that a stable tax system needs to thrive.

This article was first published with ThoughtLeaders4 Private Client Magazine

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