Estate agents urged to sort out anti-money laundering compliance

Estate agents in England need to improve their anti-money laundering standard following a crackdown by HMRC and a survey finding that over a third admit they have no AML officer in place.

Since 2017 estate agents have been required to carry out checks on buyers and sellers of properties, including collecting identity and address documents and carrying out risk assessments.

But spot checks on 50 estate agencies suspected of not complying with the rules by HMRC were carried out earlier this month, some 35 in London, five in Leicester, four in Buckinghamshire and Berkshire, three in Greater Manchester and one each in Watford, Wakefield and Wolverhampton.

Tax officers visited the premises and HMRC said it will fine agents who do not comply. Separately it announced that it has fined Countrywide £215,000 for failing to comply with regulations.

Ben Wallace, Minister for National Security and Economic Crime, said that estate agents are ‘a crucial line of defence’ against criminals who seek to use the UK to launder money. Referring to agents, he added that they have ‘a legal and moral obligation’ to file a report when they spot something amiss.

Meanwhile, a survey by identity verification solution Credas, has found that 38% of estate agencies do not have an AML officer in place, a key component of compliance, and just under a third of agents aren’t sure whether they have any AML processes to follow at all.

Despite this, some 55% believed their business was ready for a spot check investigation and the research also found that only 16% of agents surveyed said that they had a comprehensive understanding of anti-money laundering regulations.

Rhys David, chief executive officer of Credas, said:

‘These statistics are very concerning. AML compliance has always been an issue for estate agents, but with big companies falling foul and HMRC making serious efforts to stamp out laundering in the property sector this month, it looks like this might be the beginning of a more vigilant approach to AML compliance.

‘With serious fines being given to some of the UK’s leading agencies we would urge all property agents to take this as an early warning to re-evaluate their anti-money laundering procedures to ensure that every member of the team is compliant and prepared for investigation.’


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