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16 February 2018

My London property is owned by an offshore company; are my details in the public domain?

This article was first published by City AM, Friday 16 February 2018

Not yet but soon they will be. For a number of years the Government has mooted the idea of creating a public register of beneficial ownership of UK residential property, but the exact timetable as to when this register is to come into force has never been clear until very recently.

Last month the Government set out a timetable to implement this register, which is likely to mean it will become operational by 2021. This is a measure which has loomed large for many owners of UK residential property, mostly those outside the UK, who continue to own their UK residential properties via offshore companies. It has always been a question of when and not if this register would come into effect in light of the UK’s commitment to widening the net of transparency.

It is too early to say for sure what form the register will take, but it is likely, based on previous Government consultation, that it will be akin to the public register in force in relation to UK registered companies. This identifies ‘persons with significant control’ (PSCs) within companies, which are not necessarily the beneficial owners themselves.

If so, it will compel existing and would-be property owners to declare their PSCs to Companies House. Existing overseas owners that fail to comply with the new requirements will be prohibited from selling property, or creating long leases or legal charges over them. For new overseas owners, the rules could mean that they cannot be registered as the legal owner until they have complied with this requirement or the transaction may even be made void.

Under the Government’s proposals, the PSC information will be held on a central register with Companies House which will be, crucially, publicly accessible. The Government acknowledge though that there are situations where making information about an individual public would put that individual at risk of harm or would create a wider public safety risk.

Safeguarding measures are therefore proposed to allow a beneficial owner to request that they are not named on the register or their details limited if, for example, they can show that disclosure of their details would lead to an increased public safety risk. Indeed, for many foreign owners of UK property, privacy and asset protection are the primary motivations for choosing to own their UK properties in offshore companies.

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