UK HMRC has confirmed today that firms that advise their clients on the establishment of offshore companies or trusts may receive pre-Notice letters this month.
The letter requests that advisors come forward and volunteer the following information to HMRC: name and address of the client, the entity details (name, jurisdiction, date of registration) and details of persons with beneficial ownership or interest in the entity. Following the issue of the pre-Notice letters the formal Notices will be issued under Schedule 23 of the UK Finance Act 2011 in February 2017.
STEP and the Law Society of England & Wales have been in protracted talks with HMRC about this issue over the last year. There are concerns about the potential breach of legal professional privilege, access difficulties to the relevant data and the definition of Trust or Company Service Providers (TCSPs).
HMRC has launched this initiative in order to gather information on the beneficial ownership of offshore companies and beneficial interest in offshore partnerships, trusts and other entities from UK-based TCSPs or their overseas subsidiaries. However, the definition of a TCSP in this connection is a little uncertain. The Money Laundering Regulations 2007 (MLR) incorporate the meaning of a TCSP within regulation 3:
’10) “Trust or company service provider” means a firm or sole practitioner who by way of business provides any of the following services to other persons—
(a) forming companies or other legal persons;
(b) acting, or arranging for another person to act—
(i) as a director or secretary of a company;
(ii) as a partner of a partnership; or
(iii) in a similar position in relation to other legal persons;
(c) providing a registered office, business address, correspondence or administrative address or other related services for a company, partnership or any other legal person or arrangement;
(d) acting, or arranging for another person to act, as—
(i) a trustee of an express trust or similar legal arrangement; or
(ii) a nominee shareholder for a person other than a company whose securities are listed on a regulated market,
when providing such services.’
We believe that the most likely scenario whereby a UK practitioner will be classed as a TCSP is under section 10(d) when the UK practitioner arranges for another person to set up the entity offshore. It is not entirely clear whether this would be a formal referral to another firm, involving a transaction fee, or whether an informal recommendation of an offshore firm is sufficient to trigger the classification as a TCSP.
Regulation 6 of the MLR sets out in detail which persons should be treated as though they are beneficial owners for the purpose of Anti-Money Laundering. Those categories are:
- any individual who is entitled to a specified interest in at least 25 per cent of the capital of the trust property
- any trust, other than one which is set up or operates entirely for the benefit of individuals, falling within sub-paragraph (a) the class of persons in whose main interest the trust is set up or operates
- any individual who has control over the trust.
There is a GBP300 penalty for initial non-compliance, followed by daily penalties of up to GBP60 if the non-compliance continues. The TCSP will have 90 days to respond with the requisite information.
We understand that the Notices are only being sent to a select number of firms in February and HMRC has not issued any guidance at this time, therefore please contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any queries.