Early impacts of public registers of beneficial ownership: United Kingdom

Overall impact

The UK PSC register is serving multiple users, disrupting and deterring criminal and corrupt practice, and proving a useful tool for investigations of illicit activities within and beyond the UK borders. The case study of the Beirut explosion shows how the ease of access and use of the BO data can help investigators draw the link between UK companies and companies operating in other countries. Similarly, the Hajiyeva case highlights how the investigators used BO data from the PSC register to link individuals to assets in the UK. The case of SLPs shows how public access to BO data is changing behaviour.

Whilst the UK is a leading jurisdiction on BOT, further work is still required to improve the effectiveness of the UK PSC register for preventing corruption and money laundering. OO’s rapid assessment of the performance of the UK PSC register against the Open Ownership Principles (OO Principles) in late 2020 highlights the need to improve the verification of BO data, and the importance of UK government action to identify and prosecute potential violations of BO disclosure.[43] The reforms that the UK government has proposed to Companies House offer significant potential to improve these issues. However, despite a relatively strong PSC register, the UK’s Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories (OTs) remain a significant weakness in the UK and global defences to money laundering and corruption.[44] Nine of the OTs have announced their intention to build publicly accessible registers in their territories, to which OO is providing technical support.[45]

The UK has a clear opportunity to continue its global leadership on BOT by maintaining momentum on its domestic improvements to the PSC register and encouraging OTs to implement BOT effectively. On the global stage, the UK’s 2021 Presidency of the G7 and prominence in the 2021 UN General Assembly Special Session on Corruption (UNGASS) present further opportunities to continue international leadership on BOT as a crucial tool in the fight against corruption and money laundering.

Endnotes

[43] “The UK’s performance against the Open Ownership Principles”, Open Ownership, n.d., https://www.openownership.org/uploads/Rapid%20assessment%20of%20UK%20performance%20against%20the%20OO%20Principles%20.pdf.

[44] Naomi Hirst, “Cleaning up closer to home – why the Crown Dependencies need to go public”, , Global Witness, 4 December 2018, https://www.globalwitness.org/en/blog/cleaning-up-closer-to-home-why-the-crown-dependencies-need-to-go-public/.

[45] “New Support for UK Overseas Territories to Publish Beneficial Ownership Data”, Open Ownership, November 2020, https://www.openownership.org/news/new-support-for-uk-overseas-territories-to-publish-beneficial-ownership-data/.