Estate Agents In The Fight Against Money Launderers
Estate agents may be forced to hand over private information (bank account details, company information, etc.) belonging to buyers of high-value properties in some parts of London; this is a proposal being forward by the Home Office and should come as no real surprise bearing in mind the amount of ‘dirty money’ that is allegedly slushing around in the London property market.
Part of the proposal is also to expand the requirement into other parts of the country where properties are cheaper.
Estate agents are relatively new to the money laundering regulated sector and many are still trying to get their heads around the Money Laundering Regulations and the obligations that stem from them, so to impose further requirements on them, no matter how well intentioned, is unlikely to be met with glee!
It will be interesting to see how the proposal would work in reality; for example:
- What would be the property value thresholds for providing the private information?
- Clients wouldn’t normally need to provide their bank account details to estate agents as they would normally be requested by the instructed solicitors, so this seems to suggest that this could be a new task for them
- If estate agents are to start holding bank account details how will they do so that makes them safe from hackers/fraudsters; won’t the fact that such details are known to be kept by estate agents make them new targets for criminals wanting to hack into clients’ bank accounts?
- If it is found to be too much of a problem to obtain these details from estate agents, could the government then turn to solicitors to provide them?
I suspect everyone (apart from the criminals) want to reduce the amount of money laundering that goes on, but careful consideration needs to be given to proposals that may result in unintended consequences that then go on to harm clients.