Proposals for a public register of foreign ownership of UK property

The UK’s Government Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has published detailed proposals for a public register of foreign ownership of property.
It proposes a public register of:
  • the beneficial owners of UK properties held by overseas entities - both existing holdings and new purchases;
  • the beneficial ownership of overseas companies that bid for UK government contracts.
This register will be the first of its kind in the world, according to Margot James, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at BEIS.

The Government first announced its aim to legislate in this area in May 2016, and it has now reached the detailed consultation stage.
'Beneficial ownership of property' would have a similar definition as the 'people with significant control' criteria in the company ownership register. It would include persons who have the right to exercise significant influence or control over vehicles that are not legal entities, such as trusts.
Existing foreign property owners would have just one year to declare their ownership to Companies House, which would maintain the register and make it freely accessible to the public – as it already does with its register of beneficial ownership of companies. Overseas entities planning to buy UK property will first have to register their beneficial ownership information with Companies House. In both cases the register would have to be updated every two years. Non-compliance with this requirement may constitute a criminal offence, although this issue forms part of the 28 questions that BEIS is consulting on.
Information recorded on the public register of foreign ownership of UK property will display the individual's name, year and month of birth, nationality, country of residence, a service address, the nature of their control over the company, and the date on which they gained that control. Individual owners will be able to apply to have certain personal information withheld from public view, as the BEIS paper promises a "thorough protection regime to protect people who are at risk of harm as a result of information about them being publicly accessible".
"We will ensure that all legal entities affected by the changes are informed and made aware of the new requirements in good time", says the BEIS paper. "This will include working with international partners to raise awareness about the register with legal entities considering investing in the UK."
The consultation is open until 15 May 2017 and we intend to comment, particularly on the privacy aspects. A link to the consultation is here.

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