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Please note that this briefing paper is no longer being updated but is kept here for readers seeking further detail. The most recent relevant briefing is Economic crime: The UK’s multi-billion pound problem.

Beneficial ownership refers to the person or persons who ultimately own or control an asset (for example, a property or a company) and benefit from it. The concept of beneficial ownership exists because the direct legal owner of an asset is not necessarily the person ultimately controlling and benefitting from the asset. For example, the direct legal owner of a residential property may be an anonymous company registered overseas. Registers of beneficial ownership provide transparency and play an important role in the fight against corruption, tax evasion and money laundering.

The UK has registers of beneficial ownership for three different types of assets: companies, properties and land, and trusts. Information on the beneficial ownership of companies is publicly available. For properties owned by overseas companies and legal entities, the Government plans to launch a public beneficial ownership register in 2021. The register for trusts is not public.

Around the world, many countries have created or have plans to create registers. In the EU, member states have until January 2020 to make public the beneficial ownership of legal entities such as companies. All British Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies will introduce public registers for companies, although the dates are the subject of controversy. UK legislation asks Overseas Territories to do so by the end of 2020, and if they have not done so by then, the Government would order them to do it by a certain date. Crown Dependencies have committed to following suit after the EU reviews the implementation of its own public registers, some time in 2022 or 2023. However, MPs might vote to require Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories to open their registers earlier than planned. The UK Government seeks to make public registers the global norm by the end of 2023.

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