The recent report of Purplebricks being fined a massive £266,793 by HMRC for breaching Anti-Money Laundering (AML) is a stark reminder to the industry that having the correct procedures in place is of the utmost importance. This is according to Paul Offley, Compliance Officer at The Guild of Property Professionals, who says that for some independent estate and lettings agents this could have a massive impact not only with financial fines but also with reputational damage.
Organised crime syndicates are known to purchase property in the UK as a means of laundering their money, which is why estate agents need to be vigilant and ensure that they have the right procedures to in place to firstly help eradicate the practice of money laundering through the UK’s property market, and secondly to protect themselves and their business from being linked to criminal activity.
“Being able to demonstrate the correct AML procedures in the event of an unexpected visit from HMRC is crucial and something that every estate agency business should be prepared for. It is important that every estate and lettings agent stays up to date with the latest changes to the regulations and ensures that their business policy is regularly reviewed to ensure it falls in line with the latest requirements. An example of this is the fact that the Fifth Money Laundering Directive (5AMLD) came into play in January this year. Every estate and lettings agent who wishes to avoid a fine and to follow the rules, should be familiar with the processes and requirements and how 5AMLD differs from the previous one,” says Offley.
He adds that to ensure all Guild Members are following the correct procedures, The Guild offers its Members a review which focuses entirely on the office’s AML procedure, with the sole objective to ensure that the business is fully compliant with the Money Laundering Regulations. “If necessary, the review includes a rewrite of the agent’s Money Laundering Policy to ensure that they fall in line with the current regulations. It also includes briefing all office staff to ensure they understand and are following the correct procedures, as well as a check on all systems to ensure they are up to standard and meet regulations. The processes and controls are tested thoroughly to ensure they effective and meet the required standards,” says Offley.
According to Offley, the key is for all agents to familiarise themselves with the procedures and requirements as much as they can and implement processes that will make AML compliance as easy as possible. Money Laundering Officers need to be able to demonstrate that they can discharge their duties. Over the years many estate agencies have been fined for non-compliance and much of this is down to record keeping and recording. So, it is vital estate agents make it a priority and ensure they have everything in place before they get hit in the back pocket,” he concludes.
For more information about the Guild's compliance service visit our Remain Compliant page.