Project description

In November the Land Registry published data openly for the first time on corporate and foreign ownership of property in England and Wales. The millions of rows of information contained many potential stories that are vital to readers concerned with their local area. Using expert data journalism skills and harnessing digital tools, I was able to dig out local stories on the biggest offshore property deals, examining the millions of pounds’ worth of real-estate owned by companies registered overseas. This data is of great public interest as a legal loophole means that, while a UK individual or company will have to pay corporation tax when they make money selling commercial real estate, foreign companies will not. It’s estimated that a third of all commercial properties in the UK are owned by offshore companies – which are typically based in tax havens – and closing the loophole could raise between £5bn and £8bn in tax a year. As well as being shared widely on social media, my investigation was used by MP Stella Creasy as part of her campaign to close the legal loophole that means foreign companies don’t have to pay tax on profits made on commercial property in the UK. Please note that despite the joint byline on some of the pieces, the investigation and copy were completed by me alone before being uploaded in local newsrooms.

What makes this project innovative?

When this data was published I was one of the first to mine it, generating stories for many of our local newsrooms with a quick turnaround. The first article was published just two days after the data was released. Meanwhile, the creation of individual videos for many of our newsrooms explained the figures in an easy-to-digest format, and worked well for sharing on social media.

What was the impact of your project? How did you measure it?

As well as being published in the Mirror and Wales Online, the story was picked up in Manchester, Birmingham, Newcastle, and Coventry, to name just a few areas. The wide coverage this investigation received shows how large data sets such as this can be mined efficiently for both national and regional stories, without the need for weeks-long analysis. These stories generated much discussion online, and were also used by Stella Creasy as part of her campaign to close the legal loophole when it comes to corporation tax. This shows the impact data journalism can have on issues that are in the public interest.

Source and methodology

This data was sourced from the Land Registry's first publication of Overseas Companies Ownership Data. Using Google Sheets, I filtered this by 'price paid' to find the most spent on properties in the UK by offshore companies, including the address of the properties, the name of the company that bought them and where that company is registered. By then matching up the district where the property was located with our newsrooms, I was able to show what the biggest offshore property deals were in the areas most relevant to our titles. In this way, I was able to produce many different local versions of the same story, as well as providing a national line. Meanwhile, I got in contact with Stella Creasy to provide context for the data - she was keen to work with me to show the extent of companies that were potentially taking advantage of a tax loophole.

Technologies Used

To sort and analyse the data, I used Google Sheets. In order to create the video, my colleague Mark Magill used Adobe After Effects.

Project members

Mark Magill (video)

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