A quarter of the properties in England and Wales that are owned by overseas firms is held by entities registered in the British Virgin Islands, according to a new BBC report.
The Caribbean archipelago, which has a population of just 30,600, “is the official home of companies that own 23,000 properties – more than any other country,” the report, published on the BBC’s website today, says.
“They are owned by 11,700 firms registered in the overseas territory.”
Close behind the British Virgin Islands (BVI) as a base for corporate holders of UK property are Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man, the report continues.
Altogether there are around 97,000 properties in England and Wales held by overseas companies, as of last month, the report goes on to point out, of which “two thirds are registered to firms in the British Virgin Islands, Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man”.
Many foreign UK property owners are also officially headquartered in Hong Kong, Panama and Ireland, the report notes.
The BBC said these and other findings came out of an analysis it carried out of Land Registry data on overseas property ownership, which followed on from a decision last November to make the database public and free to access.
The findings, the report continues, “adds to concerns that companies registered in British-controlled tax havens have been used to avoid tax”.
BVI: Tax haven label ‘incorrect’
The BBC notes that the government of the British Virgin Islands refuted implications that it was a “tax haven”, and pointed out that there were “many practical reasons why UK properties might be owned by companies incorporated in the BVI”.
The BVI also said it shares “necessary information”, including ownership details, with relevant authorities, the BBC report adds.
As reported here last month, the UK is in the process of laying the groundwork for a new public register that, beginning in 2021, will require overseas companies that own or buy property in the UK to provide details of their ultimate owners.
The new registry has been under discussion for years, as part of an effort to crack down on criminals who make use of such properties to launder “dirty” money as well as to hide assets from tax authorities and others. It has taken on a new urgency, though, since the Panama Papers and Paradise Papers media storms focused world-wide attention on the extent to which wealthy individuals and secretive entities make use of offshore institutions.
Other findings in the BBC report:
- Close to half (44%) of all properties owned by overseas companies in England and Wales are located in London
- More than one in ten (11,500) properties owned by overseas companies in England and Wales are located in the City of Westminster
- More than 6,000 properties owned by foreign companies are in the London borough of Kensington and Chelsea
To read the BBC’s report on its website, click here.