The introduction of a register of land owners has triggered concern from the agents’ trade body Propertymark.
A Register of Persons Holding a Controlled Interest in land in Scotland launches tomorrow and the Scottish Government says this will enable individuals and communities to identify and engage with those who make decisions about land that affects them.
Mairi McAllan, environment and land reform minister, says: “The launch of this new register marks a significant milestone in making land ownership in Scotland more transparent. I want to ensure that there can no longer be categories of landowner or tenant where, intentionally or otherwise, control of decision-making is obscured, including in or via overseas trusts or entities.
“Scotland has a long history of land reform and this journey to make the ownership and use of our land and assets fairer marches on.
“The new register will make Scotland a frontrunner in Europe and deliver greater transparency than any other part of the UK. It enables the public to look behind land ownership and identify those who ultimately make decisions.
“We have committed to bring forward a new Land Reform Bill over the course of this parliament which will further tackle Scotland’s historically iniquitous patterns of land ownership and use.”
However, there is some concern from agents.
Daryl McIntosh, Propertymark’s policy manager for the devolved nations, comments: “The register is good in theory, but an exemption for companies incorporated under the Companies Act makes little sense. How will this improve the transparency of complex company structures which is primarily what it sets out to do?
“To help maintain the integrity of the market not only is it vital to know who the owner of land or property is but there is also transparency in relation to those who have ultimate control over decision-making in relation to land making it more difficult for fraudsters to hide behind complex structures.
“It’s right the register is free and publicly accessible, and it has the potential to add some robustness to the checks estate agents must already complete prior to sale to comply with their anti-money laundering obligations. But to do that it must close existing loopholes, not leave them some of them wide open.
“With any regulatory instrument that requires self-declaration the measure of its success will be in how effectively it’s policed and enforced.
“For agents, they may want to check they fully understand the requirements of the register and its exemptions so they can advise clients whose property they manage accordingly to ensure they are fully compliant before the one-year grace period expires and fines of up to £5,000 for breaches come into effect.”