The consultation will look at widening access to trust information on overseas entities that own UK land

The government has launched a consultation into the transparency of land ownership involving trusts, aiming to eliminate “the veil of secrecy” surrounding land trusts.

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Gove says that land trust transparency consultation will “lift the veil of secrecy” surrounding the beneficiaries of land-holding trusts

The new proposals aim to make it clearer who owns land trusts, ensuring greater transparency to help with tackling illicit finance and corruption.

Gove stated that the consultation into land trusts launched on 27 December will build on the government’s previous work to prevent the abuse of trust structures through the passage of the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Act 2023.

Through the Act, the government strengthened the Register of Overseas Entities, a list of the true owners of offshore companies that own UK land.

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The Trust Registration Service, which was introduced in 2017, created a register of beneficial ownership of trusts with UK links, helping to clamp down on money laundering and terrorist financing.

The consultation paper adds that increased transparency will support a housing market that better delivers for the public, for example by ensuring that remediation liability for high-rise buildings can be resolved.

Land ownership through a trust means someone legally owns and manages the land on behalf of the owner and beneficiary.

Currently, the identity of the beneficiary is not always recorded or made publicly available, which can result in secrecy and corruption in the property sector.

The consultation states that the new plans will mean residents, the media and the public will have access to more information about who owns land and property, and who can control it and receives financial benefit from it.

Housing secretary Michael Gove stated that “trusts can be used for wholly legitimate reasons. But they can, and are, created with deliberately labyrinthine structures to obscure the ownership of assets and make it easier for corrupt individuals to operate”.

Gove said that the proposals “will lift the veil of secrecy currently afforded to land-holding trusts”.

He said: “The government must know who really owns and controls UK land and property, and as much of that information as possible should be public by default. There are some, with things to hide, that will fear accountability. We must not enable them.”

Kevin Hollinrake, minister for enterprise, markets and small business, said: “There’s no place for fraud and other illegal activity in our society, so it’s fantastic so see the launch of this consultation which fulfils a government commitment and ensures more is being done to make the trust information held on the Register for Overseas Entities more transparent.

“The Register for Overseas Entities is imperative in ensuring we weed out kleptocrats and oligarchs buying up British properties under false names and has already helped identify absent landlords so that they can be held to account.”

This consultation will last for eight weeks from 27 December 2023 and closes on 21 February 2024.