Estate agents across the country have been hit by unannounced inspections by HMRC officers through a week-long campaign.

It is part of a crackdown on money laundering in the property industry.

HMRC officers visited 50 estate agents across England after they were suspected of trading without being registered as required under money laundering regulations.

Estate agent

The visits came as HMRC published the latest businesses hit with fines for failing to comply with the regulations. This includes estate agent Countrywide Estate Agents receiving a £215,000 fine.

The visits involved HMRC inspectors questioning the businesses to establish whether they were trading in breach of the regulations. Inspectors then assess whether any further action is required.

HMRC will now take action against the visited businesses who have failed to comply, which can include fines, publication and criminal proceedings.

John Glen, Economic Secretary to the Treasury, said: “The vast majority of estate agents play by the rules and help us to crack down on dirty money. But I have zero tolerance for firms prepared to turn a blind eye to the law. Money laundering regulation exists to help protect honest business, so anyone who flaunts the law should know that swift action will be taken.”

Ben Wallace, Minister for National Security and Economic Crime, said: “Criminals who seek to use this country as a place to launder money should be in no doubt that they have nowhere to hide. Estate agents are a crucial line of defence against them and that’s why they’re under a legal – and moral – obligation to file a report when they spot something amiss.

“It’s wrong to think of money laundering as a victimless crime. Those with dirty cash to clean don’t just sit on it – they reinvest it in serious organised crime, from drug importation to child sexual exploitation, human trafficking and even terrorism.”

Simon York, Director of HMRC’s Fraud Investigation Service, said: “Estate agents need to understand that criminals prey on weaknesses, so it’s vital they take all steps to protect themselves. The money laundering regulations are key to that, but there’s still a minority of agents who ignore their legal obligations.”