UK Open consultation on the Transparency of land ownership involving trusts, Published 27 December 2023
On 27th December 2023, the Government launched a consultation to “crack down on corruption in property sector” as well as ensure far greater transparency by making it clearer who owns land trusts.
The new proposals will make it much clearer about who owns trust-owned land – with greater transparency helping target illicit finance and corruption in the sector. The government hopes the consultation will “lift the veil of secrecy currently afforded to land-holding trusts'”.
Currently, HM Land Registry does not show on a public register detail of anyone behind the legal owner who may be able to control, or derive economic benefit from, land.
Housing secretary Michael Gove said:-
- A consultation, Transparency of land ownership involving trusts, proposes closing what anti-corruption campaigners see as a loophole in current requirements for revealing who owns land and property. The proposals ’aim to lift the veil of secrecy’ over landholding trusts,
- These proposals will lift the veil of secrecy currently afforded to land-holding trusts. Transparency about land ownership is crucial if we want to make our housing and land markets fairer. In its absence, injustices, corruption, and crime can flourish.
- The proposed reform, using powers under the Levelling Up and Regeneration Act 2023 to gather and publish more information, will mean residents, the media and the public will be able to find out more about who owns land and property.
To help inform decisions on balancing the making of information available to government and any legitimate concerns in sharing that information publicly, the consultation seeks views on:-
- Options to widen access to trust information held on the Register of Overseas Entities (ROE).
- How ownership of land involving trusts can be made more transparent.
- What data would be most useful and why.
The consultation proposes three options:
- Trust information to be publicly available by default, except for protected information [’maximalist approach’,]
- Partial information to be made publicly available by default. This would ’address any real or perceived risks of making all information about trusts publicly accessible by default’.
- No change in public availability: the current system would remain, although with the added new powers of the Levelling Up Act.
According to the consultation, the government is also interested to hear views on the extent to which the transparency of land held by trusts not associated with overseas entities could be improved. Listed options here include the ‘maximalist approach’.
The consultation document states that:
- The government recognises that many trusts are set up for legitimate reasons, such as to hold property for a person who may be unable to hold it themselves, either because they are underage or have a disability that affects their capacity.
- In such circumstances, revealing the identity of the beneficial owners of land through trusts could put vulnerable people in harm’s way.
- In such cases, ’it may be that the right balance is found by publishing the minimum amount of information necessary to establish the details of a trust and land it holds, with further details available to those who have a legitimate interest in knowing them’.
The consultation closes on 21 February 2024.
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