And leaseholders in Milton Keynes want to know who owns their freehold held by Long Harbour’s Abacus Land 4
Offshore games in residential property came a step closer to ending today as beneficial owners of commercial and residential enties hiding in tax havens must be declared to the Register of Overseas Entities. For years, commentators have looked askance at the UK’s hyper-capitalist residential property market, and have waited for public patience with offshore gaming to end.
The move has in fact been accelerated owing to a crack-down on money laundering following Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
The rabid commercialisation of residential property, in particular, has seen overseas ownership tripling since 2010, now sitting at over 1 per cent of all UK properties.
“It’s also not confined to London,” according to Mike Ward, former banker and founder of data intelligence firm Armalytix, writing on the Companies House website. “In the last 10 years, foreign investment in property has spread out across the UK.”
This means financially squeezed first-time buyers are not simply competing with asset-rich baby-boom buy-to-letters, but with investors scattered across the globe.
Those domiciled in the UK faced being turned into tenants in their own land by this ludicrous commercialisation of housing – in other countries a pedestrian social need – which has at times seemed to have government in its thrawl.
Leaseholders in Milton Keynes have been quick off the mark demanding who are the beneficial owners of their freehold, held by Abacus Land 4 which is part of William Waldorf Astor’s £1.8 billion Long Harbour fund.
Among other sites, Abacus Land 4 is the landlord of early cladding site Heysmoor Heights in Liverpool:
In August the Milton Keynes leaseholders were told: “Abacus Land 4 Limited is in the process of registering information about its beneficial owners and managing officers in accordance with the Register of Overseas Entities/ Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Act 2022. It has until 31 January 2023 to comply with the legislation.”
Overseas entities that bought property or land on or after 1 January 1999 in England and Wales, and 8 December 2014 in Scotland, have to declare who is the beneficial owner.
Mr Ward explains: “If these entities do not register with Companies House [by 31 January 2023], they will not have an overseas entity ID and will not be able to register a change of interest at the relevant land registry. This will prohibit that entity from buying or selling property or land in the UK,” says Companies House.
Globally, money-laundering is estimated to account for 5% of GDP or the equivalent of $2 trillion.
“In the UK, there’s a significant amount of dirty money flowing through the country – most notably in the property sector. Laundered money has become a significant issue and companies have been given plenty of warnings about the financial and social consequences of not following anti-money laundering regulations.
“Looking at London in particular, its continued rise as an international capital and desirable destination has driven a booming, high-value property market. This, when combined with an openness to international money, has created the ideal conditions for financial crime to grow.
“Wealthy investors often buy property through corporate entities, including those offshore. Whether deliberate or not, this can hide who the ultimate beneficial owners are.”
From tomorrow the beneficial owner, corporate structure or entity or the agent of a land or property purchase in the UK must be registered.
But is there still wriggle room to hide?
If the government thinks UK property ownership is now transparent, it’s sadly mistaken | Oliver Bullough
hen Vladimir Putin launched all-out war on Ukraine a year ago, the British government realised that letting Russian oligarchs buy large chunks of west London had been foolish. The long-cherished belief that the civilising air of Eaton Square might turn kleptocrats into democrats was finally – if belatedly – abandoned.
Nearly 40 individuals and entities declared as being under sanctions, including three Russian tycoons, hold British property through offshore vehicles, according to an analysis of an official ownership register. The British government launched the register in August 2022 in an effort to tackle the flow of illicit money into the UK.