Loopholes in the new draft legislation against money laundering through the UK property market “need to be addressed”, the joint select committee asked to review the bill has warned.
The Joint Committee on the Draft Registration of Overseas Entities Bill has published its pre-legislative scrutiny report in which it calls for its concerns to be rectified to ensure that the legislation “successfully deters money laundering in the UK property market”.
In 2017, 160 properties worth over £4bn were identified as being purchased by high corruption-risk individuals, and 86,000 properties in England and Wales have been identified as owned by companies incorporated in secrecy jurisdictions.
Some of the problems identified by the Committee include:
- Trusts – The Bill does not cover trusts. Since trusts are not technically “entities”, there are concerns that they will be used to circumvent this law. The Government’s plan to ensure that trusts are transparent – the Fifth EU Anti-Money Laundering Directive – must therefore be introduced at the same time as this draft Bill.
- Exemptions – The Bill allows the Government to exempt certain entities from publishing their information, and in some cases from disclosing it at all. The Government should make clear in the legislation exactly which entities can be exempted. And to be as transparent as possible, the Government should publish in an annual statement to parliament the number of times these exemptions are used.
- Updating – Out-of-date information will mean the Register is not fit for purpose. Vendors of property should update their ownership information once a year, but also update information about proposed transactions before they take place – capturing information at the point where most money laundering occurs.
- Accuracy – the current proposals lack verification checks to deter individuals, including criminals, who want to submit false information.
- Enforcement – Enforcing this new law may be difficult. Without enforcement the Bill risks being an ineffective deterrent. The report therefore suggests that civil penalties will be easier than criminal sanctions to enforce abroad, and against land or other assets in the UK.
Chairman of the Committee, Lord Faulks QC, said: “We welcome this much-needed legislation as one of the vital tools required to create a hostile environment for money launderers who want to use the UK property market to hide unlawful funds. The legislation is well drafted, but there are still some loopholes in the draft Bill which, if unaddressed, could jeopardise the effectiveness of this important piece of legislation.
“In the current political climate, anti-money laundering may not seem an immediate priority. But the evidence we took shows there’s a huge problem, and it’s not going away. Time is of the essence: the Government must get on with improving this Bill and making it law.”