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Estate agents targeted in latest government crackdown

Paloma Kubiak
Written By:
Paloma Kubiak

Estate agents turning a blind eye to property potentially bought with dirty money are the focus of a new government campaign.

Suspicions of money laundering must legally be reported by agents through a Suspicious Activity Report (SAR) to the National Crime Agency.

Yet in the tax year 2017/18, estate agents submitted just 710 SARs compared with accountants submitting 5,036 and independent legal professionals submitting 2,660.

Estate agents face unlimited fines and prison terms of up to two years if they are prosecuted for failing to comply with money laundering regulations.

And the government has now teamed up with industry groups to target professionals who fail to flag dubious transactions.

The Central Association of Agricultural Valuers, the National Association of Estate Agents and the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, are to help agents spot signs of money laundering and remind them of their obligations.

A client being evasive or contradictory about the source of a large sum of money or using many different bank accounts should be among the triggers for filing a report.

Flag it up

The Flag It Up campaign already targets solicitors and accountants but is now expanding into the property sector with support from HMRC.

Money laundering in the UK is estimated to be worth hundreds of billions a year, according to the National Crime Agency, which supervises estate agents under the money laundering regulations.

Ben Wallace, minister for national security and economic crime, said: “Criminals who seek to use this country as a place to launder money should be in no doubt that they have nowhere to hide.

“Estate agents are a crucial line of defence against them and that’s why they’re under a legal – and moral – obligation to file a report when they spot something amiss.

“It’s wrong to think of money laundering as a victimless crime.

“Those with dirty cash to clean don’t just sit on it – they reinvest it in serious organised crime, from drug importation to child sexual exploitation, human trafficking and even terrorism.”

Mark Hayward, chief executive of trade body NAEA Propertymark added: “Both small and large estate agencies are susceptible to criminal activity.

“Houses bought with laundered money often sit empty, taking homes away from the market that could be used for families and having a further negative impact on the wider community.”