HMRC continues silence on how many estate agents have been fined for anti-money laundering breaches

Anti-money laundering fines imposed by HMRC are not broken down by sector, making it impossible to verify independent claims that almost one in five estate agents have been fined over anti-money laundering breaches.

HMRC supervises seven different industry sectors, including estate agents.

However, it will only make available overall figures, and it is not known how many agents have been fined since HMRC took over anti-money laundering regulation from the Office of Fair Trading three years ago. Nor do we know what the average fine is, or what the biggest fine has been. This is despite HMRC publicising its crackdown on the sector.

In January, for example, HMRC said it was considering naming and shaming agents breaching anti-money laundering requirements and was said to be ramping up its supervision activity, making spot checks and paying unannounced visits.

Just before Easter, HMRC would not extend its deadline for agents having difficulty registering for anti-money laundering supervision because of problems they were having with both HMRC’s own website and the helpline.

This week, an HMRC spokesperson told us: “HMRC takes failure to comply with the Money Laundering Regulations extremely seriously, and we carry out regular checks to ensure customers are correctly following the rules.

“For the three full years since 2014-15, when we became the supervisor of estate agency businesses, we have issued 2,725 penalties with a total value of £2,498,111 for all sectors – including estate agency businesses – for failing to comply with their obligations.”

While cynics may suspect that this means that HMRC does not keep records by sector, the spokesperson added: “We haven’t previously given out detailed breakdowns of penalties for each sector we supervise, as this could aid criminals by highlighting how we deploy our resources and may be used to identify businesses.”

The sectors supervised by HMRC for anti-money laundering are: money service businesses; accountants; trust or company service providers; high value dealers –for example in planes and speedboats; estate agents; bill payment service providers; and digital payment service providers. However, we do not even know which sector provides the greatest risk.

EYE had asked HMRC for information as to how many estate agents had been fined since HMRC became the anti-money laundering regulator; what the average fine has been; and what has been the highest fine imposed on an estate agent.

However, none of this information has ever been available from HMRC, and we found this continues to be the case.

Our question was prompted by a press release from an ID verification company, Credas, which claimed that nearly a fifth of estate agents (19%) have been fined for anti-money laundering breaches.

Credas said the average fine was £11,842.

Of the 19% of agents who had been fined, a third were fined between £15,000 and £25,000.

We contacted HMRC to see how its own figures compared – but were unable to get any information.

Credas’s figures were obtained from agents themselves, recruited – and paid – to take part in a poll last December.

Credas did not ask the agents when they were fined, so some of the fines could have been quite historic, and levied by the OFT under the Money Laundering Regulations 2007.

However, if 19 out of 100 agents were fined an average of £11,842 each, the total would be £250,000 – although over an unspecified time period.

Scaling up the cost to the whole industry is difficult because of the guesswork involved. Last year, according to compliance firm Lysis Financial, there were estimates that over 800 estate agents were fined. If so, then estate agents represented easily the lion’s share of the 880 businesses issued with penalties.

In 2012 a public, searchable register of estate agents was launched by the OFT, and this had 6,742 agency businesses on it. HMRC tells us that as at January this year, 10,236 agents were registered.

If one were to assume that over an unspecified period of time, 19% of 8,000 estate agency were fined, that would be 1,520 businesses being fined a total of £18m.

If we take the 10,236 agents currently registered with HMRC and assume that 19% of them are fined an average of £11,842 at some point in time, then a total of 1,944 agents would be fined a total of £23,020,848. It sounds unlikely, given that it is so much greater than the overall number of fines HMRC has so far dished out.

But will we ever know?

Identity of estate agents fined under anti-money laundering regulations could soon be revealed, HMRC warns

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8 Comments

  1. Property Ear

    I am an agent who expects a fine shortly for not re-registering for AMLR.

    I found the system unworkable so sent a cheque. I had a letter back telling me this form of payment was unacceptable and my cheque was apparently ‘destroyed’ by the office concerned.

    I continued trying on line – impossible without a Government Gateway account, user name and password which were impossible to establish without help.

    I contacted the helpline. An email from Claire requested my telephone number so she could call me to help. She didn’t call. I tried again, yet again no response.

    I tried again just before the deadline of April 1st and the helpline had closed down.

    It is not agents who find themselves in an impossible position to pay who should be fined, it is HMRC for their ridiculous system and failure to respond and advise, having offered to do so.

    I would be very grateful if this complaint and any others you receive may be forwarded to HMRC for their response. I also plan to refer the matter to my MP.

     

     

     

     

     

     

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    1. Bless You

      You owe me £20,000 as well Ears …please send it to : h.r.m.blessu 

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      1. Property Ear

        On it’s way Bless you,

        With so much commission flowing in (unlike PB we actually charge commission) and so few outgoings, we’re throwing it around these days!

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  2. Bless You

    Ummmmm can we just leave them be and stop reminding them..

    90% of time gov’t  are forced to act on stuff they have no real interest in but have to when questioned.

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  3. revilo

    Just maybe they’re starting to listen???

    Dear customer,

    You were due to renew your Money Laundering Regulations supervision registration with HMRC by 31 March 2018.  We sent several message reminders regarding this, so if you have renewed your registration then please ignore this email.

    If you failed to renew by the deadline, then your registration would have been automatically cancelled.

    What steps you should now take 
    We have now updated our online registration process to allow customers whose registration has been cancelled, to re-register on our system.

    To re-register please access your anti money laundering registration account and the “Re-apply” option will appear on your status page. Customers are asked to re-apply as soon as possible.

      

    Yours sincerely,

    Andrew HendersonCustomer Engagement TeamHMRC Anti Money Laundering Supervision

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    1. Property Ear

      Thank you Revilo – we’ll take a deep breath and give it a go!

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    2. Property Ear

      Thanks to HMRC addressing this the way they have, at long last I’ve cracked it BUT –  it’s cost £100 penalty on top of the £130 registration fee.

      Not at all happy about that, especially as HMRC undertook to call me to help, prior to April 1st and didn’t.

      I very much appreciate your post Revilo, thank you.

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      1. revilo

        You are most welcome!

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