Firms need to put legal ethics at the heart of their business
In an “important milestone” in the quest for greater transparency in the property market, the Land Registry has made available its data on Commercial and Corporate Ownership and Overseas Companies Ownership and at no cost.
In short, this release of data will allow anyone to discover which companies own land or property in England and Wales, subject first to an online registration.
Data relating to over 3 million properties owned by companies has been accessible since April 2014. However, until now this access has been at a cost and specifically excluded land owned by overseas companies.
The reform means that we are now able to access a list of freehold and leasehold title registrations owned by companies, whether they are incorporated in the UK or overseas, at no cost, enabling an increased scrutiny of land ownership and opening the window into company structuring.
The accessible data continues to exclude land owned by private individuals and charities.
The data deals only with the express legal ownership and does not provide information relating to the beneficial owners of property, such as the majority shareholders of the overseas companies. This is contrary to rules proposed by the government in April 2017 which would require overseas companies to file details of their beneficial owners prior to acquiring or disposing of property in England and Wales. This proposal is still in its early stages (the government are currently analysing feedback following a call for evidence on the initial proposals), with reports suggesting that it will eventually be implemented.
This release of data follows the government’s commitment to fix a housing market they described as “broken”, a commitment which includes their aim to improve the availability of data to make it easier to identify those with interest in land. The Land Registry echo this and explain that the change is “to promote economic development, financial stability, tax collection, law enforcement and national security.” Both noble intentions, but how effective this change will be in achieving these aims and how useful the additional data will be to lawyers and developers alike remains to be seen.
There is certainly still a long way to go to “fix” the housing market and incentivise developers, but any increase in the transparency of ownership is welcomed. If reports are correct and the government’s proposals are implemented, these changes represent a stepping stone to even greater transparency for the consumer and even more bureaucracy for the companies.
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