As we all know by now, the Trust Registration Service was set up in 2017, as part of a worldwide drive to reduce money laundering. Although this was done as part of a European initiative, it was agreed as part of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement that this would be maintained in future.
So far so good. After a rocky start and a deferral of the planned implementation date the website eventually started working properly and a date was set for existing all trusts to register by 1 September 2022 with a 90-day registration window for those set up since 4 June. Only excluded trusts are not required to register, such as:
- a trust used to hold money or assets of a UK registered pension scheme or registered charity
- a trust used to hold life or retirement policies which only pay out for healthcare or on death, terminal or critical illness or permanent disablement
- a ‘pilot’ trust set up before 6 October 2020 and holding no more than £100
- a co-ownership trust set up to hold shares of property or other assets which are jointly owned by two or more people for themselves as ‘tenants in common’
- a will trust which comes into effect on their death and is wound up within two years
- a trust for bereaved children under 18, or adults aged 18 to 25, set up under the will (or intestacy) of a deceased parent or the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme
- a ‘financial’ or ‘commercial’ trust created in the course of professional services or business transactions for holding client money or other assets
It will be noted the ‘bare trusts’ are required to register unless they hold only bank deposits, as are joint ownership trusts where the registered and beneficial owners are not identical.
As usual there is an enforcement policy, using fines of between £100 and £5,000, although HMRC have indicated that, given what appears to be a massive lack of publicity and possibly millions of trusts which are unaware of the changes, compliance will initially be driven by a programme of ‘nudges’. Nonetheless, those with trusts that do not fall within the exclusions should take steps to register as soon as possible.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that, outside the professional community, there is a massive lack of awareness about the new rules. Presumably, where there are bank accounts in operation, HMRC will eventually catch up, but one suspects that the number of unregistered bare trusts and co-ownership trusts probably runs into millions.
Another register has been introduced with very little notice or publicity indeed by the Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Act 2022. This includes offshore trusts owning UK property, along with all overseas entities which own or lease property or land in the UK. Information will be required to include the nature of the entity and its beneficial owners. The register is being maintained at Company House and the entity ID will be linked to Land Registries across the UK.
Registration here is required by 31 January 2023, there will be a £100 registration fee and an eye-watering range of fines for non-compliance, which include a daily penalty of £2,500 or a prison sentence of up to five years. In this case, the legislation seems to encourage companies to use an agent to make the filing, since even those which intend to deal with the registration themselves will still need to use an agent to confirm the identity of the filer.
Whilst the covering letter from Companies House acknowledges that "most overseas entities who own land in the UK are not breaking the law", the intention is clearly to create "greater transparency (which) will allow law enforcement agencies to investigate suspicious wealth more effectively".
Whilst overseas entities owning (or leasing) UK land and property are not widely used they are by no means unknown. Apart from those structured for tax purposes, such companies can also exist for purely family reasons, for security purposes or simply because offshore investors see them as a convenient way of managing a UK property portfolio. Within the farming sector it will catch offshore farms or partnerships with UK land, and presumably offshore corporate partners in a UK partnership.
Where we are aware of an offshore element in a farming business, it would appear that a careful reading of the legislation is advisable.*The views expressed are the author's and not ICAEW's.