STEP meets HMCTS to discuss EW probate delays

Emily Deane TEPSTEP met HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) this week to discuss the backlog of applications and continued disruption to the Probate Service.

HMCTS representatives explained its old database needed to be upgraded, which had prompted the decision to move to digital software. The new system was scheduled to go live in January but was delayed until 25 March following technical glitches. HMCTS explained that it had not anticipated this level of issues with the technology, in conjunction with such a high spike in probate applications.

The following points were raised:

  • HMCTS has brought in 15-20 more people for the national office; a 10-15 per cent increase in those working on the backlogged applications.
  • The remaining probate registries will be closed over the next 12 months. Staff will be given six months’ notice and HMCTS expects to help them all find other roles in the civil service.
  • The new digital system is being delivered from the Courts and Tribunals Service centre based in Birmingham. HMCTS is keen to get more solicitors using the digital pilot, and will be looking for volunteers shortly. This pilot will enable solicitors to issue up to 250 applications per week.
  • Cases are taking up to 30 working days to be processed at the moment.
  • The Probate Registry will publish regular bulletins to improve communication with the public.
  • HMCTS assures users its existing Registry staff are working hard to get through the applications, and issued 960 grants on a single day this week.
  • HMCTS requests users not to chase applications, as they are being dealt with by date order.
  • HMCTS is currently up to date with caveats.

STEP expressed its disappointment that the court service was not better equipped to deal with the spike in applications. The Ministry of Justice had issued reassurances earlier this year that the court service was prepared for an increase due to the proposed increase in probate fees. STEP noted HMCTS was ill prepared to merge the new online system, change the format of the certificate, close registries and cut staff all at once. 

STEP repeated its suggestion that HMCTS should change the fee implementation date to the date of death for applications, to relieve the pressure and generate some goodwill amongst the industry and the public. The idea should be seriously considered, given pressure on practitioners and members of the public is considerable, and is causing a great deal of anxiety. 

STEP has also provided feedback to HMCTS on errors in the new-style grants that members have received, together with feedback on how they could be improved. We have explained why the will should continue to be annexed to the grant of probate, and the difficulties caused if it is not.

The Statutory Instrument to increase probate fees is still waiting to be scheduled for approval in parliament, and we will continue to monitor and report any developments (latest update).

Emily Deane TEP, STEP Technical Counsel

5AMLD consultation: STEP’s view

Emily Deane TEP

The UK Treasury has published a consultation paper on the transposition of the EU’s Fifth Anti-Money Laundering Directive (5AMLD), which expands upon the scope of registration for trusts and widens the accessibility provisions to the beneficial ownership records. The 5AMLD Directive provides for public access, but it is up to each Member State to decide whether or not they will restrict this.

Express trusts

5AMLD will require that all UK express trusts register with HMRC, not just those with UK tax consequences (as was the case with 4AMLD). It will also bring into scope non-EU resident trusts that own UK land or property. STEP is concerned that under 5AMLD, a much wider range of trusts will need to be registered. Express trusts may include co-ownership of land, insurance trusts and other dormant trusts, which will significantly enhance the number of trusts that need to be reported. The consultation seeks to clarify the definition of express trusts, which we hope will provide some clarity and narrow the scope.

Access to the register

There will be expanded accessibility provisions. In the UK, the records will be accessible by law enforcement agencies, any UK obliged entity that enters into a business relationship with a trust, and anyone who can show that they have a ‘legitimate interest’ in the data. An exception is that if a trust has a ‘controlling interest’ in a non-EU company, then anyone will be able to access the information by making a written request and no legitimate interest is required. A trust will be deemed to hold a controlling interest in any corporate or other legal entity when the trust has 25 per cent or more of either the voting shares or other means of control over that entity as defined in the Persons with Significant Control (PSC) guidance. It is currently unclear how legitimate interest applications will be dealt with by the government since ‘legitimate interest’ is not defined within 5AMLD.

Legitimate interest

The government will need to decide whether or not requests for trust data meet the definition of legitimate interest. The current train of thought is that those with legitimate interest should be limited to people with active involvement in anti-money laundering or counter-terrorist financing activity, or those who have reason to believe or evidence that a particular trust or person is involved with money laundering or terrorist financing.

We hope that the government will require strong evidence of illegality and/or wrongdoing that clearly implicates the trust concerned before agreeing to consider a legitimate interest application. There are many people who seek to obtain confidential information about individuals and families with wealth for purposes other than the exposure of illegality or wrongdoing. People are often keen to obtain information about the affairs of the wealthy and those in the public domain, for example, and we are concerned that vague assertions of impropriety could be used to obtain confidential information about family trusts.

The consultation does, however, acknowledge that many trusts are used for children and vulnerable adults, and requests for personal information on either of these will be given ‘special consideration’ and will possibly even be withheld, which we fully endorse.

Registration deadlines

For trusts already in existence on 10 March 2020, the government proposes a deadline of 31 March 2021 for them to register. This gives a long lead-in time, given the greater number of trusts that will need to be registered.

For trusts created on or after 1 April 2020, the government proposes that the trust should be registered within 30 days of its creation. The government envisages that this approach will be the most straightforward, as registration can occur as part of the set-up process, when the required details should be readily available to trustees/agents. The proposal for registration within 30 days for new trusts means there is no single deadline each year and it seems sensible for the trust to be registered at the same time it is created.

It is also intended that this 30-day deadline will be used for any amendments that need to be made to the trust register data, for example, to update an address or change a trustee.

Penalties

Due to the fact that 5AMLD extends registration to non-taxpaying trusts, the government considers that the self-assessment penalty regime is not a suitable basis for the 5AMLD penalty framework. The new regime is also being consulted on within the paper.

STEP will be submitting a response to the consultation, which closes on 10 June 2019. The transposition deadline is December 2019, with an implementation deadline of January 2020. There is an extended trust register deadline for the UK of March 2020.

Emily Deane TEP is STEP Technical Counsel

HMRC’s five traps to avoid with CRS/FATCA reporting

Emily Deane TEPHMRC has identified the most common errors made by financial institutions (FIs) when filing their Automatic Exchange of Information (AEOI) returns, which include Common Reporting Standard (CRS) and Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) reportable information.

1. The FI misunderstands what constitutes an undocumented account

FIs are wrongly reporting accounts as ‘undocumented’ on the basis that a self-certification requested from an account holder has not been completed.

Accounts should only be reported as undocumented where they meet specific criteria, which include that the account has either a hold-mail instruction or a ‘care-of’ address. The full criteria can be found in CRS, Section III: Due Diligence for Preexisting Individual Accounts, subparagraphs B(5) and C(5). HMRC guidance is available at IEIM402850 and IEIM403040.

Any accounts that are correctly reported as ‘undocumented’ must show Great Britain as the residential country code.

2. The FI misunderstands what information is required to be reported 

Some FIs only complete the mandatory fields in the schema or portal, even though they hold additional information which is legally required to be reported. In addition, some FIs fill in mandatory fields with ‘n/a’ or similar.

CRS and the UK-US FATCA Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) state which information is required to be reported. Where a schema or portal field is not mandatory, there can still be a legal requirement to provide this information. For example, where a Taxpayer Identification Number (TIN) or date of birth is held or obtained by the FI, it is required to be reported even though it is not down as a mandatory field within the portal or schema. Where an address is held, the full address must be provided, even though the only mandatory field is for ‘city’ in the schema or portal.

3. The FI reports accounts held by persons who are not reportable persons

FIs are reporting publicly traded corporations, as well as related entities, governmental entities, international organisations, central banks, and financial institutions. In most cases, such accounts are not reportable. HMRC guidance at IEIM402010 outlines which accounts are not reportable.

4. The FI misreports joint accounts and/or partnership account

Some FIs confuse the treatment of joint individual accounts and partnership accounts.

Joint individual accounts must be reported as individual accounts with the entire balance or value of the account, as well as the entire amounts paid or credited, attributed to each holder of the account.

A partnership is defined as an entity for reporting purposes, and accounts held by partnerships should be reported as entity accounts, with the respective due diligence and reporting requirements applied.

5. The FI reports entities as controlling persons 

Some FIs report entities as the controlling persons of entity accounts, resulting in trusts and companies being reported as controlling persons. However, entities cannot be controlling persons; under CRS and FATCA, ‘controlling persons’ means‘natural persons who exercise control over an entity. In the case of a trust, such term means the settlor, the trustees, the protector (if any), the beneficiaries or class of beneficiaries, and any other natural person exercising ultimate effective control over the trust, and in the case of a legal arrangement other than a trust, such term means persons in equivalent or similar positions. The term ‘Controlling Persons’ shall be interpreted in a manner consistent with the Recommendations of the Financial Action Task Force.’

Full HMRC guidance on AEOI reporting can be found at: International Exchange of Information Manual.

Please email Emily.Deane@step.org with any further queries.

Emily Deane TEP is STEP Technical Counsel

GDPR Roundtable

Emily Deane TEPSTEP’s GDPR working group recently hosted a roundtable event that enabled representatives from professional bodies, including the Law Society, ICAEW and CIOT, to update each other on their progress in relation to GDPR implementation. It is widely felt by the private client industry that when the legislation was drafted it was not designed with trust and estate practitioners in mind and there are some significant grey areas in practice.

Key issues that continue to be an industry concern discussed were:

  • How the GDPR applies to lay trustees and personal representatives.
  • How non-legal advisors process special category data.
  • How the GDPR impacts upon international transfers.
  • Queries in relation to joint data controllers and confidentiality.
  • GDPR and its impact upon engagement letters.
  • GDPR and its impact upon attorneys and deputies.
  • Erasure of files and filing system requirements.

STEP’s working group is in the process of preparing a joint paper that it will submit to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) identifying the practical issues that have arisen for trust and estate practitioners. We hope that the ICO will be able to address some of the gaps in the guidance and legislation.

STEP has scheduled another roundtable in February 2019 to further discuss these issues and aims, to provide STEP members with a best practice position and guidance in due course. In the meantime, STEP has published an update to its briefing note on the GDPR, listed below.

Please note that STEP will be publishing a webinar in January 2019, recorded by the chair of STEP’s GDPR working group, Edward Hayes TEP of Burges Salmon, that will offer some interim guidance on the application of the GDPR to trust and estate practitioners.

Emily Deane TEP is STEP Technical Counsel

Cross-border protection of vulnerable adults in Europe under discussion

Emily Deane TEPSTEP took part in the EC-HCCH Joint Conference on the Cross-Border Protection of Vulnerable Adults last week in Brussels, to discuss the ratification of the Hague Convention of 13 January 2000 on the International Protection of Adults (the Hague Convention) at EU and global level and the possible future EU legislative initiatives in this field.

The event, organised jointly by the European Commission and The Hague Conference on Private International Law, brought together legal practitioners, judges, academics and government officials who deal practically with the challenges associated with the cross-border protection of vulnerable adults in Europe and beyond.

STEP’s EU cross-border expert Richard Frimston TEP joined panellists to discuss the need for an international and regional legal framework for the cross-border protection of vulnerable adults from the perspective of organisations providing services and/or protection. Richard was accompanied by representatives from Dementia Alliance and Alzheimer’s Disease International, AGE Platform Europe, CEOs in global banking and the President of the International Union of Notaries (UINL).

Richard is the coordinator of the Protection of Adults in International Situations Project Team and spoke on behalf of STEP as a member of the Board and Co-Chair of the Public Policy Committee. He delivered some pertinent points on the need for a protective framework for our increasingly aged society and those living with disabilities, and their supportive loved ones, including family members and guardians, in accordance with their human rights.

He expressed concern with powers of representation which are generally not measures of protection, unless confirmed with sufficient legal process, and the manner of exercise of such powers of representation being governed by the law of the state in which they are exercised. He argued for more balance between the protection and autonomy of individuals, and called for improved methods of powers of representation to be accepted cross-border.

The conference emphasised that this work is invaluable since the Hague Convention determines which courts have the jurisdiction to take protection measures, and which law is to be applied in circumstances when a vulnerable person requires it.

Importantly it establishes a system of central authorities to cooperate with one another and locate vulnerable adults, as well as providing information on the status of vulnerable persons to other authorities. Although much work has been carried out already, more could be done to improve the quality of European law, increase practical guidance in the European legal field and enhance European legal integration.

STEP is asking members for any practical examples of when they have encountered difficulties in practice in relation to England and Wales not having ratified the Hague Convention. Please email STEP’s policy team if you have any feedback on this issue, at step@policy.org.

STEP will keep you updated on the outcome of these discussions.

Emily Deane TEP is STEP Technical Counsel

Government changes E&W probate procedure without consultation

Emily Deane TEP

This Blog was updated on 26/11/2018 – for latest developments, please see the update at the end of the article below.

The government has announced amendments to the procedure for applying for probate in England and Wales, with less than a month’s notice. The Statutory Instrument (The Non-Contentious Probate (Amendment) Rules 2018) will come into force on 27 November 2018.

The Rules were laid as a negative instrument, meaning they don’t need the approval of Parliament and have already been signed into law by the relevant Minister. The instrument can be annulled by Parliament before implementation, but this is rare.

In brief the amended rules:

  1. allow personal online applications for probate to be made by an unrepresented applicant;
  1. enable all applications for probate to be verified by a statement of truth (instead of an oath) and without the will having to be marked (by the applicant, solicitor or probate practitioner);
  1. extend time limits in the caveat process, which give the person registering the caveat notice of any application for probate;
  1. allow caveat applications and standing searches (which give notice of grants being issued) to be made electronically;
  1. extend the powers of district probate registrars equivalent to those of district judges; and
  1. make further provision for the issue of directions (instructions to the parties) in relation to hearings.

The Probate Service has accepted online applications from personal applicants (individuals not represented by probate specialists) since earlier this year, with a view to making the system simpler and ‘easier to understand’.

There are concerns that the introduction of the online service may discourage individuals from using a probate specialist where it may be advisable to do so, for example where the estate is taxable, has foreign or complex components, or may be disputed.

The announcement comes at the same time as the Ministry of Justice’s proposal to increase the probate application fee with a banded fee structure depending on the value of the estate.

STEP strongly opposed this new system when it was proposed in 2016, on the basis that it is disproportionate to the service provided by the probate court. It is effectively a new tax on bereaved families. The government intends to introduce this measure without any proper debate via Statutory Instrument (see STEP blog: The death tax returns).

STEP will continue to follow developments in this area.

UPDATE 26/11/2018

HMCTS has advised that they will shortly provide further information with regard to the template of the statement of truth, but at present it is their intention only to make small changes to the current oath format to ensure that it fits with the new procedure and to make sure that practitioners do not need to change the format completely. They will soon provide template wording that must replace the jurat at the foot of the oath, as well as wording to account for the removal of the need to sign the will.

HMTCS have also provided guidance on the changes to the way caveat applications can be submitted. This is as follows.

Please note the following changes to Rule 44 regarding caveats:

  • Rules 44(2) (b) and 44 (3) (a) and (b): Caveats can now be entered and extended via email as well as post. If the caveat is to be entered electronically, the caveat form should be emailed to the DPR solicitors enquiries address. The email attaching the caveat form should ask for the fee to be taken from your PBA account. The fee must be paid before the caveat is entered/extended and currently there is no provision to pay a fee electronically other than by use of a PBA account. The caveat should be in the prescribed form i.e. form 3 (precedent form number 41 in Tristram & Cootes Probate Practice, 31st Edition). Caveats received after 4pm will be entered the following day.
  • Rules 44(6),(10) and (12): The period for entering an appearance/summons for directions following a warning to a caveat is now 14 days (calendar days including weekends and Bank Holidays).
  • Rule 44(13): District Probate Registrars can now deal with all summons to discontinue caveats following an appearance – whether by consent or not. The summons should be sent to the registry where the grant application is pending and if there is no application pending to the registry where the caveat was entered.
  • Rule 44(14): District Probate Registrars can now deal with applications to enter a further caveat entered by or on behalf of any caveator whose caveat is either in force or has ceased to have effect under R44(7) or (12) and under R45(4) and R46(3). These applications should be sent to the registry where the caveat was entered.
  • R45(3) and R46(3): Registrars can now deal with applications under these rules.
  • R43: Standing Searches can now be entered and extended via email as well as post. If the Standing Search is to be entered electronically, form PA1s should be emailed to the DPR with confirmation that the fee is to be taken by PBA. The fee must be paid before the Standing Search is entered/extended and currently there is no provision to pay a fee electronically other than by use of a PBA account.

In addition, please note that caveats received after 4pm will be deemed as having been received on the following day.

Emily Deane TEP is STEP Technical Counsel

How will the UK budget affect STEP members?

Budget red boxUK Chancellor Philip Hammond delivered the final budget before the UK leaves the EU yesterday. Here are some of the key measures that may affect STEP members.

Individuals

Income tax: the personal allowance threshold, the rate at which people start paying income tax at 20 per cent, is to rise from GBP11,850 to GBP12,500 in April 2019. The higher rate income tax threshold, the point at which people start paying tax at 40 per cent, is to rise from GBP46,350 to GBP50,000 in April. Subsequently, the two rates will rise in line with inflation.

Entrepreneurs’ relief: changes to the qualifying terms. Disposals of shares only qualify where the shares entitle the holder to 5 per cent of any dividends and 5 per cent of assets on a winding up. In addition, for disposals after 6 April 2019, assets will need to have been held for a period of two years (rather than one year).

Principal private residence relief: the period of deemed occupation at the end of a period of ownership is being reduced from 18 months to nine months with a withdrawal of the rental relief element in all circumstances, except where the owner co-occupies with the tenant. The principle that the relief should apply to all properties was reaffirmed.

Capital gains tax: lettings relief is to be limited to where the owner is in shared accommodation.

Charities

Small trading tax exemptions for charities: raising the exemption upper limits from GBP5,000 and GBP50,000 to GBP8,000 and GBP80,000 respectively.

Gift aid donor benefits: simplifying the limits on benefits that charities can give to their donors to acknowledge donations.

Gift aid small donations scheme: increasing the small donations limit using cash or contactless payments from GBP20 to GBP30.

Retail gift aid scheme: relaxing the requirement to issue annual letters.  Charities will now only need to issue letters once every three years, rather than every year where a donor’s total donations in a given year are less than GBP20.

Trusts

The budget Red Book referred to the government’s trusts consultation, but the consultation date has not yet been confirmed:

3.15 Trusts consultation – As announced at Autumn Budget 2017, the government will publish a consultation on the taxation of trusts, to make the taxation of trusts simpler,
fairer and more transparent.

STEP has a trust consultation working group in place to review the consultation document as soon as it is published.

Companies

Individuals providing services via personal companies: the provisions that have applied in the public sector since April 2017 are being extended to private companies from April 2020. These provisions impose a duty on the ’engaging’ company to operate PAYE on amounts paid to the service company. These provisions will only be applied to large and medium-sized businesses.

STEP will continue to monitor the progress of the budget proposals and keep members updated.

Emily Deane TEP is STEP Technical Counsel

GDPR – Invitation to Members

Emily Deane TEP

Even though the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into force on 25 May this year in the UK there is still widespread confusion around its application to the private client industry.

STEP has formed a Data Protection Impact Group with the objective of reviewing the GDPR’s impact in relation to the trust and estate industry. The group would like to collate some of the practical issues that have arisen and submit them to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) with the intention of the ICO addressing some of the gaps in the guidance and legislation.

Tell us your views

STEP would like to invite members to provide examples of how the ICO guidance/legislation may be difficult to apply in practice, so that we can present these issues to the ICO and underline that the impact is potentially far-reaching.

Issues that have been identified include:

  • Firms will be holding large amounts of personal data on clients and non-clients relating to their wills, family trusts and estates. Information (‘special category data’) on individuals other than clients is generally required in order to carry out the client’s instructions, for example a will. However as it stands a firm will have to obtain consent from third parties for this information because there are no express exemptions that apply in Article 9(2). Unlike the express exemption for ‘legal advice’ in the DPA 1998.
  • Subject access requests have become a first port of call now for potential beneficiaries who are seeking further information about a will or trust. It is currently very difficult for an advisor to gauge how much information they can provide or restrict and what the applicable justifications are for doing so.
  • The majority of private client firms in the UK will also undertake international work. File notes and legal documents containing personal data will need to be sent to third countries. If this data applies to a client it is possible to reply upon their consent to the transfer, however when the data relates to non-client data subjects then their consent is required. There does not appear to be an exemption in the GDPR that deals with this common occurrence.
  • Firms are currently uncertain as to whether they should destroy/delete some of the personal data that they hold, for example, some personal information that is held on a family member could be more pertinent to one person than another. The firm may be exposing itself to risk by destroying data that become relevant at a later date.
  • There is uncertainty as to whether all potential beneficiaries of a trust or estate should be provided with a copy of the trust’s privacy policy, even when the settlor or testator was adamant that they did not want the individual, who may be vulnerable, to know that they may benefit at some stage.

STEP is hopeful that by providing the ICO with some working examples then it might recognise and review the difficulties that advisors are facing in this connection. We aim to provide members with a best practice position when further information is available.

We would very much value your input. Please send your examples to standards@step.org.

Emily Deane TEP is STEP Technical Counsel

The future of the Trust Registration Service

Emily Deane TEPUpdate: 4 September 2018

HMRC would like to notify members regarding a mismatch problem with the SA950 Trust and Estates Tax Return Guide and the SA900 2017/18. The original guidance notes indicated that untaxed interest could be declared at boxes 9.2 to 9.4 when in fact, if box 9.3 is populated with ‘0’, automatic capture of the return will fail. This has caused a backlog of rejected returns requiring manual capture and, therefore, significant delays. The correct action is that all untaxed interest should be declared at box 9.1 instead. The SA950 guidance notes were updated on 24th August to reflect this. HMRC’s Software Developers Support Team has been in touch with commercial software suppliers to alert them of the change.

The next issue of HMRC’s Agent Update due for publication 17 October 2018 will also highlight this issue.

Original blog:

STEP attended a meeting with HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) and HM Treasury (HMT) last month to discuss the operation of the Trust Registration Service (TRS) and its progress, and the implementation of the EU’s Fifth Anti-Money Laundering Directive (5MLD). The following feedback was provided.

Operation of TRS

The TRS GOV.UK guidance should be published by the end of June 2018. The 22 November FAQs (hosted on STEP’s website) will not be updated in the meantime.

HMRC has allocated a 15-month timeframe to enhance the online functionality and make it more efficient for future service. It will be seeking volunteers to assist with piloting the new system shortly.

In situations where non-resident trustees have bought a UK property (and paid Stamp Duty Land Tax – SDLT), but have no UK income tax or capital gains, they should not be receiving demands for four years’ tax returns from HMRC. This will be addressed.

Named beneficiaries must be identified on the TRS, which is part of the EU Directive, and HMRC is constrained on this point.

HMRC is aware of the issue where the system requires the Unique Tax Reference (UTR), trust name or postcode to be matched to HMRC’s records, and access is being denied.

Delays to UTRs being received following registration of trusts and complex estates are being investigated.

HMRC will endeavour to produce more guidance on complex estates in the GOV.UK guidance.

The paper and online system will be amalgamated as soon as is practical.

HMRC is aware of the widespread dissatisfaction around the penalties, and has confirmed that it will take a soft approach this year.

HMRC introduced dummy variables to enable registration to proceed on the TRS, but will no longer accept them.

There will be no more trust registration deadline extensions in 2018.

HMRC is considering changing the March deadline to align with the Self-Assessment deadline, 31 March or 5 April.

The 28-day period to save and return data will be reviewed, and possibly extended.

The functionality is still not available to complete Q20 on the SA900, which should be left blank.

EU 5MLD

The EU’s 5MLD will extend the TRS to all UK express trusts and non-EU trusts that own UK real estate or have a business relationship with a UK Obliged Entity. The new Directive will require HMRC to share the trust data with Obliged Entities and anyone with a ‘legitimate interest’ – the latter term will be defined in full in due course. STEP is liaising with HMT on this.

HMT is planning to publish a policy consultation in winter 2018/19* that will last for eight weeks, followed by a consultation on draft legislation in spring 2019* that will last for four weeks.

5MLD is expected to come into law at EU level later in June 2018, with a transposition deadline of around December 2019, and an implementation deadline of around February 2020.

STEP will keep members apprised of any further developments.

*corrected date

Emily Deane TEP is STEP Technical Counsel

STEP Bahamas reports to the FATF Forum in Vienna

Vienna united nationsSTEP was invited to attend the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) Private Sector Consultative Forum in Vienna on 23-24 April.

The event consisted of several breakout sessions relating to FATF’s global priorities for Anti-Money Laundering (AML) and Counter Terrorist Financing (CTF) in 2018.

As part of the Forum, Cecil Ferguson TEP, Chair of STEP Bahamas and Bank Examiner of the Central Bank of the Bahamas, which is responsible for licensing, regulating and supervising financial institutions, was invited to report to attendees on the progress of the National Risk Assessment (NRA) in the Bahamas.

Cecil reported that the NRA process in the Bahamas had been very collaborative in nature, with participation from the public, private and NGO sectors. The country had embarked on a course to implement FATF’s Recommendation 1, with all sectors identifying key risk areas and resources allocated to the highly-exposed areas. A national co-ordinator was appointed to take responsibility for the process.

There were two elements to the money laundering and terrorist financing risk assessment at the country level, as well as at the financial institution and Designated Non-Financial Businesses and Professions (DNFP) level. The Bahamas engaged with the World Bank’s technical risk-assessment expert to assist in the initial process.

The process served to enhance and deepen the understanding of the Bahamas’ money laundering and terrorist financing threats and vulnerabilities, and focus its resources to address gaps in its AML/CFT regime. This included amending primary laws, regulations and guidelines as well as supervisory enforcement and frameworks.

Cecil concluded that the Bahamas’ NRA was adopted by the Cabinet in December 2017 and it has established a working group meeting weekly to ensure that the outcomes continue to be addressed.

STEP representatives also attended a closed session drafting group for lawyers, accountants and trust and corporate service providers (TCSPs) to discuss FATF’s Risk-Based Approach guidance. The review included discussions around the sectoral guidance of 2008 and potential areas of improvement focusing on beneficial ownership, suspicious transaction reporting obligations, terrorist financing risk indicators, and ongoing customer due diligence measures.

STEP will continue to engage on these issues with FATF and report back accordingly.

Emily Deane TEP is STEP Technical Counsel