Estate agents urged to report dirty money

The Government has extended a campaign designed to increase the amount of suspicious activity reports (SARs), in a bit to limit the impact of money laundering.

The Flag It Up campaign, which has already targeted solicitors and accountants, is now looking to estate agents to reduce the number of UK properties being bought with the proceeds of crime or corruption.

In the 2017-2018 financial year, accountants submitted 5,036 SARs, with a further 2,660 from solicitors. However, in the same year, and despite a legal duty to do so, estate agents submitted only 710 SARs. It is hoped that the campaign will address this shortfall.

The campaign is supported by a number of property industry associations including the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, the National Association of Estate Agents and the Central Association of Agricultural Valuers. It is being publicised via social media, digital advertising and at industry conferences.

As well as encouraging agents to report suspicious activity, the government has also provided some ‘red flags’ to help those working in the sector to spot signs of money laundering. These include clients being evasive about the source of their money, transactions that are unusual because of their size, frequency or the manner of their execution, and where a client has taken steps to hide their identity.

According to Ben Wallace, the Minister for National Security and Economic Crime: “Criminals who seek to use this country as a place to launder money should be in no doubt that they have nowhere to hide.”

As well as the campaign, a range of other measures are in place to combat ‘dirty money’ including  the Criminal Finances Act, the Register of Overseas Entities Bill, unexplained wealth orders, and account freezing orders.

The government recognises that money laundering isn’t always apparent. However, it also stresses that “even accidental involvement in money laundering could mean losing your licence, receiving a fine, or facing criminal prosecution”. Indeed, in 2014, HMRC imposed a penalty of almost £170,000 on a firm of estate agents because of inadequate money laundering procedures. Although this fine was subsequently reduced to £5,000 for being “manifestly excessive”.

You can find out more about the campaign here.

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