If you are responsible for a non-UK entity which owns UK land, you should consider whether you need to provide details to the new Register of Overseas Entities (ROE) by 31 January 2023.
The Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Act 2022 (Act) was given Royal Assent on 15 March. It has been on the ‘transparency’ agenda since 2015, and due to the conflict in Ukraine, it has now been rushed through parliament. It introduced the ROE from 1 August 2022, a public register held at Companies House (CH) and holding information on non-UK entities that own UK land and their beneficial owners.
It should be noted that the implementation of this Act does not alter the tax profile for the Overseas entities, but certainly increases the visibility in respect of the ultimate ownership of the UK land assets.
Any overseas entity which owns or acquired UK land since 1 January 1999 must be entered on the ROE by 31 January 2023. Failure to do so will be a criminal offence by the overseas entity and its officers, punishable by fines and imprisonment.
The key ‘transparency’ measure is that when applying to be registered on the ROE, the overseas entity must disclose details of its beneficial owners, if it has any. A beneficial owner is broadly someone who has more than 25% of the shares or voting rights, in relation to the overseas entity or is in a position to exercise significant influence or control over it. A beneficial owner may be a person, another company, Government authority or a Trust. The information supplied to CH must be updated annually.
The Act applies throughout the UK, but there are slightly different rules for Scotland and Northern Ireland. This article covers only land in England and Wales.
The obligation to register on the ROE applies where an overseas entity is registered at HM Land Registry (HMLR) as the proprietor of a ‘qualifying estate’, which means that they are:
It applies to freeholds or leases which are over seven years which the overseas entity already holds.
As well as the requirement to register on the ROE, the Act is enforced by changes to the land registration regime. When anyone buys or takes a lease of land in England and Wales, they do not become the legal owner until the transaction is registered at HMLR. The following will now apply going forwards.
The main risk for anyone buying or taking a lease from an overseas entity, or taking security over land held by an overseas entity, is that it will not be possible to register the transaction at HMLR if the overseas entity has not complied with its duties under the Act. There is also a possible money laundering offence if someone acquires an interest in land from a non-compliant overseas entity, because the overseas owner will have committed a criminal offence in making the disposal.
The key protections against these risks should be to:
Anyone currently dealing with an overseas entity should be protected, as the Act reflects the time it will take for the ROE to be set up and the new restrictions to be added to the relevant titles, before the new restrictions are in place.
Overseas entities which already own qualifying estates in land must register within the six-month transition period, which started from 1 August 2022 and ends on 31 January 2023.
Any disposals on or after 28 February 2022, must be disclosed to CH when an overseas entity applies to be registered on the ROE. Overseas entities who have disposed of all their interests in UK land by the end of the transition period will not need to register on the ROE, but the Act still requires them to provide information about any disposals since 28 February 2022.
HMRC have obtained data, including from the Land Registry, which has been reviewed to launch a targeted campaign tackling non-compliance linked to offshore corporates owning UK residential property.
This data review has identified non-resident corporate owners of UK property HMRC believe may not have met certain UK tax obligations. Depending on the circumstances, HMRC may issue one of two letters.
These companies are typically Non-Resident Landlords (NRLs). UK-resident individuals who have any interest in the income or capital of an NRL, whether directly or indirectly, may be within certain income tax charging provisions.
A UK resident who has not personally transferred property to an NRL but benefits from a transfer made by somebody else (e.g. they occupy the property) may also be within the provisions.
Between 6 April 2015 and 5 April 2019, disposals of UK residential property by non-resident companies were subject to NRCGT.
Where the company purchased the property before April 2015, and the whole of any overall gain is not charged to NRCGT (or otherwise), then that part of any gain not charged may be attributable to the individual participators.
The letters will also be accompanied by a Certificate of Tax Position and a Notice of Intention to Disclose.
In the event one of the above letters is received, or you believe the above circumstances may apply, it is recommended professional advice is sought.
Overseas entities should review their property holdings and identify any UK land, keeping records of any disposals since 28 February 2022, as well as preparing to apply to be included on the ROE.
They should also consider whether they have fulfilled all the UK tax reporting requirements required of them and seek advice if they are not sure.
If you would like to talk more on how these issues may affect you please get in touch with Caroline Fleet, or your usual Crowe contact.