Press release 07th Feb 2023

Nearly 52,000 UK properties still owned anonymously - despite new transparency law

True owners of more than half of offshore companies holding UK property still unknown


February 7, 2023 – Almost 52,000 UK properties are still owned anonymously despite a new transparency law designed to reveal their true owners, research from Transparency International UK finds. 

Analysis of the Register of Overseas Entities (ROE), a new database of the real owners of offshore firms that hold UK property, shows almost half of the companies required to declare their ownership have failed to do so. 

Through the Keyhole details how the register has provided some valuable insights into high-end UK property ownership. Just last week, a new filing revealed the son of a senior Azerbaijani official is the true owner of an offshore company that holds a £17 million flat in one of London’s most expensive areas. The value of the property appears to far outstrip the owner’s known sources of wealth.

Read the report

But more than 18,000 offshore companies, which between them hold almost 52,000 properties in England and Wales, have either ignored the law altogether or submitted information which makes it impossible for the public to find out who owns them. This includes firms reportedly owned by kleptocrats, oligarchs and individuals subject to sanctions.

The UK Government estimates that a total of 32,440 offshore companies hold almost 100,000 land titles across Britain. These companies were required to disclose their true owners on the ROE by January 31, 2023. Using a series of new case studies, the report identifies five key ways in which information about the real people behind these firms risk being withheld from public view.


Analysis of a snapshot of the register from February 1 shows:

  • Around 14,500 offshore companies listed as owning property in England and Wales by the land registry could not be identified on the ROE.
  • More than 3,000 firms listed other anonymous companies (which weren’t themselves on the ROE) in secrecy jurisdictions such as the British Virgin Islands as their beneficial owners, despite this being against the rules in many cases.
  • More than 4,000 companies indicate they are held by trust arrangements. These opaque structures make it difficult to find out who is really behind them. 
  • 12 per cent of all companies that have filed information (2,358) claim to have no beneficial owners – an issue we previously identified as a potential loophole that would allow offshore companies to sidestep the rules.


Duncan Hames, Director of Policy at Transparency International UK, said:

“Transparency over who really owns property here is vital to addressing Britain’s role as a global hub for dirty money. While the register is starting to serve its intended purpose, our analysis reveals there are far too many companies that could be trying to skirt the rules, not knowing they exist, or ignoring them altogether. Without action from Parliament to close loopholes in the law and active enforcement from Companies House, this promising reform will fall short of its aim in providing fewer places for corrupt wealth to hide.”


To ensure the register fulfils its purpose of preventing dirty money from entering Britain via the property market, we are calling for:

  1. Parliament to legislate to lift the veil of secrecy over UK property held by opaque trusts by allowing Companies House to publish information on all parties to trusts that control overseas firms holding property here.
  2. Companies House to use its new powers to prioritise securing registration from overseas firms that missed the January 31 filing deadline. 
  3. Companies House to pursue overseas companies that have submitted non-compliant filings and report the professional service providers responsible for submitting obviously non-compliant information to anti-money laundering regulators. The law is clear that anonymous offshore companies cannot be listed as beneficial owners and any competent professional should know this.


Notes to editors:

Reforms to improve transparency in the UK property market were first promised by the Government in 2016. After years of delay, the Register of Overseas Entities was fast-tracked as part of the Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Act in March 2022, in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 

Transparency International UK’s research has previously identified more than £6.7 billion worth of UK property bought with suspect wealth, including £1.5 billion worth of assets bought with suspect funds from Russians either subject to sanctions, with ties to the Kremlin, or both. 

We define suspect wealth as funds belonging to a person accused of corruption, or funds belonging to politicians or officials that are far beyond what they could be expected to earn from their public role.