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Government registry of beneficial ownership to come in

THE ULTIMATE OWNERS of all UK companies are to be listed on a publicly available central registry, the prime minister has confirmed, as the government seeks to clamp down on tax evasion and avoidance.

Both sides of the coalition have been behind proposals to place greater culpability on the shoulders of directors, amid concerns over opacity in company ownership.

The proposals would see a central registry – curated by Companies House – detailing individuals with more than 25% of company shares. Additionally, courts will be given more powers to consider the impact of directors’ actions on society more widely, as well as previous failures, when considering director disqualification.

“For too long a small minority have hidden their business dealings behind a complicated web of shell companies – and this cloak of secrecy has fuelled all manners of questionable practice and downright illegality,” Cameron said in a speech. “We need to shine a spotlight on who owns what and where money is really flowing.”

In May, it was announced all the UK’s overseas territories are now signed up to automatic information-sharing deals, with a pilot currently underway. The deal sees the UK, along with other countries involved in the scheme, automatically provided with much greater levels of information about bank accounts held by taxpayers in those jurisdictions, including: names, addresses, dates of birth, account numbers, account balances and details of payments made into those accounts.

The latest development builds on those measures. 

“Some people will question whether it’s right to make this register public,” Cameron added. “Of course we in government will use these data to pursue those who break the rules. And we’re going to do it relentlessly. But there are so many wider benefits to making this information available to everyone.”

CBI policy director Katja Hall said the business world was in agreement with the plans.

She said: “Businesses back the creation of a beneficial ownership register which will support efforts to promote transparency and stamp out illicit financial activity.

“The real prize is the ability to track ownership information around the world. Now that the UK has chosen to make this a public register, ensuring that others follow our lead will be critical to its success and to maintaining a level playing field.”

 

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