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Registers of beneficial ownership

Published Friday, March 15, 2019

This briefing looks at the development of beneficial ownership registers in the UK and around the world.

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Beneficial ownership refers to the person(s) who ultimately own(s) or control(s) an asset (for example, a property or a company) and benefit(s) 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 play a key role in the ongoing debate about transparency of ownership.

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. All British Overseas Territories will introduce public registers for companies, although the date is subject to some controversy. UK legislation asks them 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 when public registers become the global norm. The UK Government seeks to make that the norm by the end of 2023, although MPs might vote to require Crown Dependencies to open their registers earlier. In the EU, member states have until January 2020 to make public the beneficial ownership of legal entities such as companies.

Commons Briefing papers CBP-8259

Author: Federico Mor

Topics: Companies, Privacy, Regulation

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