If you’re running an estate agency business that’s not registered for supervision under the Money Laundering Regulations (MLRs) you are trading illegally and may soon have HMRC knocking on your door.
That’s the message being given to estate agents involved in the sale of property. Estate agents who are not registered will face enforcement action and a fine, and those not following the regulations could be named and shamed on HMRC’s list of non-compliant businesses.
HMRC is preparing to complete several more ‘weeks of action’ similar to its campaign in February, when some 50 agencies were paid unannounced visits by enforcement officers.
During this campaign, three agencies were fined and named for not complying with MLR rules including Countrywide, which received a penalty of £215,000, and two online estate agents, which both received lesser fines. HMRC is also targeting errant individuals as well as businesses; last year it recovered £31.5 million, prosecuted 18 people and put several criminals in prison, who are serving sentences totalling 30 years between them.
The additional weeks of action are due to take place in the coming months as the government delivers on its promise to clamp down on money laundering in the UK whether this is by suburban criminals or international millionaires. During these visits any estate agents found not to have registered for supervision, or who have wilfully or unintentionally failed to comply with the MLRs, can expect a difficult time.
HMRC says approximately 10,000 estate agencies are registered for MLR supervision, and this number is increasing as the message gets through. However, this means there are at least several thousand that are not.
HMRC is a key partner in the Government’s flagship anti-money laundering campaign Flag It Up, which was rolled out to the estate agency sector in January. Flag It Up promotes best practice in anti-money laundering compliance and highlights the need for professionals to submit Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) if they suspect money laundering. The government argues that estate agents cannot claim ignorance about the MLRs obligations. HMRC has run several popular online webinars explaining what agents must do to comply, all of which are available online. These webinars also urge agents to let HMRC know if they are aware of local non-compliant businesses.
Lettings-only agents are not covered by MLRs but agencies who have both sales and lettings operations are required to file a SAR if there are suspicions around money laundering.
“If you realise that you should have registered but haven’t then please do get in touch with us because it’s better for you to come forward and tell us rather than us finding out,” says an HMRC spokesman. Watch the latest MLR compliance webinar here.