Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has called on the government to speed up plans for a new public register of the beneficial ownership of foreign companies that own UK property, despite the launch being three years away.
Roughly 44% of all the UK properties owned by overseas registered companies are located in London, according to recent research from the Land Registry.
Khan believes that in order to help prevent offences such as tax evasion, terrorist activities and theft, the legal and beneficial ownership of companies that own UK property should be more transparent.
In May 2017, the Mayor wrote to Greg Clark, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, for evidence on proposals for a register, stating that any measures must be backed up by penalties for those who are non-compliant. He also called for money-laundering checks on the purchasers – as well as sellers – of properties.
Khan described the government’s slow pace of progress on the issue as ‘bitterly disappointing’, pointing out in his February 2018 follow-up letter that ministers had first committed to a public register of the beneficial owners (including those living overseas) back in 2013 before eventually expanding to include foreign companies that own property in the UK three years later. It was only announced this year that the register would not be put into effect until 2021.
“If the proposed timetable slips even slightly, the publication of this much-needed register could easily have taken a decade since a commitment to greater transparency was first made by the Prime Minister at the time,” Sadiq Khan said.
“For an issue which is of such importance in London, this is completely unacceptable. I urge the government to prioritise the publication of draft legislation and ask the Prime Minister to give it full backing in Parliament.”
He added: “Londoners deserve to know the identity of those that own property in their city, and we have waited long enough for Government to fulfil its commitments.”
Rachel Davies Teka, head of Advocacy at Transparency International UK, commented: “Giving the public transparency over the real owners of London’s multi-million-pound properties would strike a huge blow against corrupt individuals who view our homes as nothing more than safety deposit boxes to hide their loot.”
“Transparency International has been campaigning for the introduction of this register for over three years and with cross-party support there is no reason or any further delay. Nor should secretive company owners be given additional time to make their own agreements – they have known this was coming for two years already.”
She continued: “The government should publish draft legislation before Easter, so that a Bill can be put before MPs in the current parliamentary session.”