“£260 billion worth of residential and commercial UK property is owned offshore where the ultimate beneficial ownership is hidden,” according to Sebastian O’ Kelly, director of the Leasehold Knowledge Partnership. “I don’t think a democracy can function with that scale of evasion.”
“English leasehold law is an absurdity,” he told Business Insider. “Everywhere else in the world, including countries which have English law as their legal system, have abandoned them. There’s no leasehold law in Australasia, North America, or even Scotland, let alone continental Europe.”
“If you own a flat in France or Italy, you and your neighbours all own the building – the land, the roof, the lift-shaft, the corridors. And you pay [to maintain] them. In England, a leasehold is a tenancy. That means you buy a number of years within some walls. You don’t own the building or the land.
“People often think you just don’t own the land, but you don’t own the building either,” he said.
Around 4 million – or 21% – of privately-owned properties in England are leaseholds, according to 2014/15 figures from the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG).
“A lot of these freeholds are owned offshore, and most are owned by interests which hide their beneficial ownership behind nominee directors,” said O’Kelly. “Why is so much of this smoke-and-mirrors behaviour felt necessary in this sector?”
“The truth of the matter is, owning the freehold to a block of flats – or a portfolio of leasehold houses – is a brilliant way of hitching a ride on the UK residential property market. If you can do so anonymously, and off-shore, all the better [for them].”
“It’s an utter disgrace that £260 billion worth of residential and commercial UK property is owned offshore where the ultimate beneficial ownership is hidden,” he said. “I don’t think a democracy can function with that scale of evasion.”
“It’s about social responsibility as much as anything else. It’s a huge chunk of the nation’s wealth. You cannot have this amount of wealth owned by people about whom we know nothing.”
The “pass-the-parcel” underworld of freeholders
Communities Secretary Sajid Javid said: “Enough is enough. These practices are unjust, unnecessary and need to stop.
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