Christian Aid today welcomes the inclusion in the Queen's Speech of government plans for a new public register of who really owns millions of UK companies.
The move will make life much harder for criminals who currently hide their roles in companies used to commit tax evasion, fraud, money laundering and corruption. It also sets a welcome standard for other countries to follow - although crucial details of the register have yet to be finalised.
Barry Johnston, Senior UK Political Advisor at Christian Aid, said: 'The UK's new register is good news for people living in poverty in the UK and poor countries alike, because they pay the price for tax evasion and corruption. The register also sets a critically important lead for the rest of the world.'
The forthcoming register of companies' real - or beneficial - owners is one of the outcomes of the G8 summit meeting which the UK hosted at Lough Erne in Northern Ireland in June 2013.
The UK has since done more than any other G8 country to shed light on who really owns companies registered on its shores - but there remains important work to do, added Mr Johnston.
'There are three key issues the UK still needs to tackle, if it is to lead global change. First, it should ensure the UK register works. In relation to the current proposals, there are concerns that the information about company owners will not be sufficiently verified, which would undermine the whole project. Further checks may need building in,' he said.
'Second, the UK needs to improve the transparency and accountability of UK trusts to prevent money moving from shell companies (firms with no physical existence or staff) into trusts.
'Thirdly, if the UK is to encourage other countries to follow its lead, which it clearly wants to do, then progress needs to be seen in our own backyard. That is, in the UK's tax havens - the Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies - progress here will hugely increase the UK's ability to persuade others to do the right thing.'
The Overseas Territories include the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, Bermuda and Anguilla, while the Crown Dependencies are Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man.
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Notes to editors:
1. Christian Aid works in some of the world's poorest communities in around 50 countries at any one time. We act where there is great need, regardless of religion, helping people to live a full life, free from poverty. We provide urgent, practical and effective assistance in tackling the root causes of poverty as well as its effects.
2. Christian Aid's core belief is that the world can and must be changed so that poverty is ended: this is what we stand for. Everything we do is about ending poverty and injustice: swiftly, effectively, sustainably. Our strategy document Partnership for Change www.christianaid.org.uk/images/partnership-for-change-summary.pdf explains how we set about this task.
3. Christian Aid is a member of the ACT Alliance, a global coalition of more than 130 churches and church-related organisations that work together in humanitarian assistance, advocacy and development. Further details at http://actalliance.org
4. Follow Christian Aid's newswire on Twitter: http://twitter.com/caid_newswire
5. For more information about the work of Christian Aid visit http://www.christianaid.org.uk