The Home Office has announced it is to bring forwards a new Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Bill on 1 March. The bill is to help NCA prevent foreign owners from laundering money in UK property and to make it easier to use UWOs. Key requirements will:
- require entities which own UK property to declare their beneficial owners, or else face restrictions over selling their property, and there will be a 5 year imprisonment sanction for breach; and
- to bring those who hold UK property in a trust within the scope of the UWO regime, and to define an asset’s “holder” in such a way as to prevent individuals hiding behind shell companies and foundations.
The Register of Overseas Entities will apply retrospectively to property bought up to 20 years ago in England and Wales and since 2014 in Scotland.
Separately, a more wide-ranging strict liability test is to replace the current “reasonable cause to suspect” test of sanctions breaches, which will make it easier for OFSI to impose fines.
Finally, the Government has also published the long awaited plans on upgrading Companies House which will, among other things, require anyone setting up, owning, running or controlling a company in the UK to verify their identity with Companies House, will prevent overseas agents creating UK properties secretively and will give Companies House the power to challenge information that appears dubious.