The online estate agency Purplebricks has been fined more than £260,000 for breaching laws on money laundering.
HM Revenue & Customs said that it had been guilty of “failures in having the correct policies, controls and procedures, conducting due diligence and timing of verification”. It cannot appeal.
Under 2017 money-laundering rules estate agencies and buying agencies are responsible for carrying out checks on the financial background of their clients to stop money being laundered through the buying and selling of property. HMRC carries out spot checks.
Roarie Scarisbrick, a partner at Property Vision, a buying agency, said: “We are the police now. Whenever we take on a client we need to collect a significant amount of information about them: extensive proof of income, copies of their passports, proof of addresses, the list goes on. HMRC checks can happen at any time. For companies like Purplebricks, which does everything remotely and at speed, that means their whole world slows down. It makes them much less agile.”
A Purplebricks spokesman said that it had improved its practices since the fine. “This is a retrospective and historical fine that dates back to activity in 2018. We have since conducted a full review of our processes and have significantly improved our compliance procedures,” he said.
The company, which is based in Solihull, was founded in 2012 and has no branches. It charges a fixed fee of £999, rising to £1,499 in London, regardless of whether a home is sold.
Under the leadership of its chief executive, Vic Darvey, 47, it is seeking to focus on the British market, where it has a 5.1 per cent share by volume. Mr Darvey said that the company would try to reinvent itself to attract wealthier customers and introduce a new pricing structure in the autumn.
An HMRC spokesman said: “Money laundering funds serious and organised crime and costs the UK economy billions of pounds every year. The money-laundering regulations are a vital line of defence against that.
“We’re here to support businesses in protecting themselves from criminals who would prey on their services. That also means taking action against the minority who fail to meet their legal obligations under the regulations and in doing so invite abuse.”
Yesterday Rightmove, the property platform, said that last month was the busiest for the housing market in at least a decade as sales reached a record £37 billion.