Property fraud in commercial property

According to the UK government, fraud accounts for 41% of all crime in the UK.

One of the key findings of the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners’ 2022 edition of the Report to the Nations is that organisations lose an estimated 5% of their revenue to fraud each year. In the difficult economic climate created by the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine, that 5% could be the difference between sink and swim for many businesses in the UK.

After the financial services sector, the property sector is the most vulnerable to fraud. The large sums of money involved in property transactions make the sector particularly appealing to criminals. Failing to deal with fraud can lead to dire consequences for individuals and organisations, with punishments ranging from fines to imprisonment (especially given the new ‘failure to prevent fraud’ offence, which is due to come into force in early 2024). There are also serious and wide-ranging financial and reputational implications. That is why it is vital for surveyors to educate themselves about fraud, and to understand the steps they can take to protect their revenue and reputation.

COVID-19 had an unprecedented impact on the commercial property sector, with remote working patterns causing a significant reduction in demand for commercial office space. In addition, rising inflation and the contraction of the UK economy has added fuel to the fire, albeit the Bank of England is expecting inflation to continue to slow, and be back to normal levels by the end of 2025. The RICS Commercial Property Market Survey, Q3 2023 reports that the UK market remains subdued, with weak lending conditions and a fragile economic outlook.

Fraud in the commercial property sector evolves year-on-year, and therefore keeping up to date on evolving trends is important for your own and your organisation’s protection. Through the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Act 2023, the UK government has created a corporate offence of failure to prevent fraud. The offence will apply to all large corporate bodies and partnerships, i.e. organisations that meet two of the following criteria:

  • more than 250 employees
  • more than £36 million turnover or
  • more than £18 million in total assets across all sectors.

A defence to prosecution mirrors that under the Bribery Act 2010 where an organisation must demonstrate they had reasonable procedures in place to prevent fraud. Government guidance on such reasonable fraud prevention procedures is likely to be published in the first quarter of 2024, with commencement of the offence following shortly after. Therefore, it is advisable to start implementing processes and procedures to prevent fraud early so that employees and other stakeholders are aware of what is expected.It is, therefore, advisable to start implementing processes and procedures to prevent fraud early so that employees and other stakeholders are aware of what is expected.

This section is maintained by Arun Chauhan of Tenet Compliance and Litigation.