A new government's consultation, ‘Transparency of land ownership involving trusts’ explores widening access to trust information held on the Register of Overseas Entities, as well as considering how the ownership of land by trusts can be made more transparent. 

While the Legal ownership of land in England and Wales is recorded at the Land Registry, where there is a trust structure, the identity of the parties that can control or derive economic benefit from that land is not always recorded or publicly available.

The government’s view is that transparency around land ownership and control is important for several reasons, which include:

  • For those seeking to buy land: to ensure that the existing owner and conditions attaching to the land are known.
  • To prevent hiding ownership of property for criminal purposes and to allow illicit finance and corruption in the housing market to be tackled.
  • To resolve housing sector issues, such as:
    • Aiding community groups and businesses to take on underused or unused properties.
    • Ascertaining liability for historical remediation costs.
    • Undertaking enforcement against rogue landlords in the private rental sector.
    • Assisting with local authority enforcement.

The current lack of transparency around Beneficial ownership can create a barrier to understanding land ownership for most of the general public.

It is this lack of transparency that the consultation's proposals seek to address, by using powers in the Levelling-up and Regeneration Act 2023.

The consultation is framed with three overriding principles:

  • Greater transparency of land ownership where trusts are involved is a matter of public interest.
  • Greater transparency will support a housing market that better delivers for the public.
  • Transparent ownership can help with tackling illicit finance and corruption.

Views are sought on three possible options to expand access to information, which aim to enhance transparency around trust information held on the Register of Overseas Entities (ROE):

  1. Trust information could be publicly available by default, except for protected information.
  2. Partial information held on the ROE could be made publicly available by default, eliminating any risks associated with making all information publicly accessible by default under the first option.
  3. No change to the current public availability of information.

Views are also invited on the extent to which transparency of land held by Trusts, not on the ROE could be enhanced. Five possible options surrounding trusts holding UK land are considered:

  1. Retain existing practices relating to trust information access.
  2. Increase transparency of Non-UK trusts holding UK land.
    • This extends the principles for transparency of information held elsewhere other than on the ROE, but only for non-UK trusts.
    • This option responds to the increased risk of Money laundering and terrorist financing posed by land owned by overseas trusts and entities.
  3. Publish the minimum information necessary to meet the three overriding principles and retain current privacy practices for all other data.
    • Different tiers of information would be available: some would be available for public inspection with more information available to law enforcement agencies.
  4. Publish the minimum information necessary to meet the three overriding principles and increase access to further information through an expanded ‘legitimate interest’ test.
    • Those with a ‘legitimate interest' might include a person living on the land in question.
  5. Publish all information collected about trusts, by default.

The consultation closes on 21 February 2024. Responses can be submitted online, or by e-mail.

Consultation questions

Questions about the overall principle of transparency of trusts owning land

Question 1: Do you agree that more direct information about the ownership and control of land, including where a trust structure is involved, would help address the issues in the housing sector identified above?

Question 2: Are you aware of, or have you experienced, any housing-related issues where a lack of ownership information has caused a problem? Please give details.

Question 3: What further benefits do you see from increasing the transparency of land ownership, especially where trusts are involved, and what are the risks? Please provide any evidence you may have to support your position.

Questions about future transparency of trusts involving minors

Question 4: In any future proposed solution for enhancing transparency about trusts on the ROE following this consultation, do you believe that information about minors should be available for public inspection:

a. by default, with the onus on the overseas entity, the trust, or their representatives, to apply for protection under section 25 of the ECTEA 2022; or,

b. access permitted only by application with the applicant required to demonstrate a legitimate interest in the information?

Please give reasons for your answer.

Question 5: If you believe that information about minors should not be made public by default, do you believe that it should remain accessible only to law enforcement, HMRC and public authorities, or would you support limited access under certain circumstances (for example, on application with a reason provided)? Please give reasons for your answer.

Options for enhancing transparency of trust information held on the ROE

Question 6: In your view, which of these options would it be most appropriate to take forward? Please give reasons for your answer, including your views about any risks associated with each option, and how it might help to achieve the government’s aims.

Question 7: What is the potential impact on business of your preferred option? If you believe there will be an impact, please evidence of what that impact could be, and how businesses may be supported.

Question 8: What is the potential impact on individuals of your preferred option? If you believe that this would not be helped by the expanded protection regime, please provide reasons and any alternative suggestions.

Question 9: If your preference is Option 2, which categories of data do you consider should be publicly available? Please give reasons for your answer with reference to the government’s stated principles set out in Chapter 1 of this document.

Question 10: Do you have any other views on this issue that you wish to share with us?

Increasing transparency of land-owning trusts

Question 11: Do you agree that any future transparency requirements should apply to all land, regardless of use class?

Question 12: Are there any factors the government should consider regarding different land use classes?

Data collection

Question 13: Which of the following data do you consider necessary and proportionate for the government to collect (or continue to collect) in order to meet the objective of greater transparency of land ownership as a matter of public interest? Please tick all that apply and give reasons for your answer.

Question 14: Which of the following data do you consider necessary and proportionate for the government to collect (or continue to collect) in order to meet the objective of helping to address issues in the housing sector? Please tick all that apply and give reasons for your answer.

Question 15: Which of the following data do you consider necessary and proportionate for the government to collect (or continue to collect) in order to meet the objective of helping to tackle illicit finance and corruption in respect of UK land ownership by overseas trusts? Please tick all that apply and give reasons for your answer, noting that overseas trusts are considered by the National Risk Assessment to pose a higher risk for money laundering.

Question 16: Which of the following data do you consider necessary and proportionate for the government to collect (or continue to collect) in order to meet the objective of helping to tackle illicit finance and corruption in respect of UK land ownership by UK trusts? Please tick all that apply and give reasons for your answer, noting that UK trusts are considered by the National Risk Assessment to pose a relatively lower risk for money laundering.

Data access

Question 17: Which of the above options do you consider reasonable and proportionate to address the issues outlined in this consultation? Please give reasons for your answer.

Question 18: If you chose options 3 or 4, which of the following data would you consider necessary and proportionate for the government to publish by default in order to identify a trust holding a particular piece of land, if further data is available under certain circumstances? Please tick all that apply and give reasons for your answer.

Question 19: If you chose option 4, who do you think should qualify under a ‘legitimate interest test’ to allow access to further detail? Please tick all that apply and give reasons for your answer.

Useful guides on this topic

Trust Registration Service
What is the Trust Registration Service? What trusts does it apply to? What are the requirements and deadlines?

Registration of Overseas Entities: Agent Guide
Registration of Overseas Entities: How to register an Overseas Entity that owns, buys or sells UK property. A detailed guide for Overseas Entities and their UK Agents.

Joint property: Legal v beneficial ownership
What is the difference between legal and beneficial ownership? What are the tax consequences? Are the rules different for married couples and civil partners?

Acting for a trust? Start here…
This is an essential guide for advisers and trustees on how to manage the tax affairs of a UK trust and how to avoid common pitfalls.

UK Trusts
What is a trust? What types of trust are there? How are UK trusts taxed?

External links

Press release: Government to crack down on corruption in the property sector

Consultation: Transparency of land ownership involving trusts


Small acorn
If you like our content come and join us.

Thousands of accountants and advisers and their clients use www.rossmartin.co.uk as their primary TAX resource.

Register with us now to receive our FREE weekly SME Tax News update.