ASK THE EXPERT

A. Unlikely though this might sound, it’s actually all to do with the international drive to try and clamp down on the flow of illegal funds around the world – whether it be the proceeds of organised crime, or finance for international terrorism. And it’s quite a topical issue at the moment, thanks in part to events in Libya and elsewhere. Indeed, the Office of Fair Trading circulated a special information notice about it only last month.

What it amounts to is this: estate agents – along with many other financial institutions and professions such as banks, solicitors, accountants and financial advisors - are now required by law (namely, the Money Laundering Regulations 2007) to check the identity of any new clients, and their ownership of the property in question. The same applies to any buyer with a suitcase stuffed full of used fifties.

In practice, the rules are fairly simple:
• First, we have to confirm your identity – so we need to see an item such as a passport or a driving licence.
• Second, we need to see something official like a council tax or utility bill containing both your name and address. This document must be less than 3 months old. Mobile phone bills aren’t acceptable.

Agents are also required to satisfy themselves that the information is accurate. This process may include verification through authorised third party sources. Why? Because, if the information subsequently turns out to be false, and the money involved in the property is somehow tied up with organised crime or terrorism, then the agent would need to be able to prove that he or she had taken all reasonable steps to check. Otherwise, it could mean a substantial fine or even imprisonment. Needless to say, if the agent does have any suspicions, then these must be reported to the Serious Organised Crime Agency.

Is this yet another example of Big Brother in action, of the state prying even deeper into our lives? Not when you consider what is potentially at stake. However, it’s still one more thing we as agents have to deal with. So, spare us a thought!