The Guardian has uncovered a controversial practice in which King Charles III is allegedly benefiting from the deaths of thousands of people in the north-west of England.
The Duchy of Lancaster, a land and property estate that generates substantial profits for the king, is said to have collected tens of millions of pounds through an ancient system related to feudal times.
Under this system, financial assets known as “bona vacantia,” belonging to individuals who died without a will or known next of kin, are gathered by the Duchy of Lancaster. Over the past decade, it has amassed over £60 million from these funds. While the duchy has claimed that it donates these revenues to charities after covering costs, leaked internal documents reportedly reveal a different story.
According to The Guardian, a significant portion of these funds is allegedly being secretly used to finance property renovations owned by the king and rented out for profit. The practice is said to have been codenamed “SA9” in a leaked internal duchy policy from 2020, which permits the use of bona vacantia funds on a wide range of profit-generating properties within the estate. This policy apparently acknowledges that such spending could indirectly benefit the king’s personal income.
The properties identified in other leaked documents as eligible for these funds include townhouses, holiday rentals, rural cottages, agricultural buildings, a former petrol station, and barns, some of which are used for activities like pheasant and partridge shoots. Upgrades reportedly involve roofing, double-glazing, boiler installations, door replacements, and other improvements.
Sources familiar with the duchy’s expenditures allegedly confirmed that these revenues collected from deceased individuals have been directed towards refurbishing the estate’s profitable property portfolio for several years. This diversion of bona vacantia funds is believed to have significantly boosted the king’s income, as he receives substantial profits from the Duchy of Lancaster.
The beneficiaries of these funds, individuals who died in the north-west of England, were predominantly from places like Preston, Manchester, Burnley, Blackburn, Liverpool, Ulverston, and Oldham. Some of them lived in rundown properties or social housing, which stands in contrast to the high-end duchy properties allegedly being upgraded with the money they left behind.
The reported use of bona vacantia funds in this manner has drawn criticism from surviving friends and individuals who view the practice as unethical and shocking. Buckingham Palace has declined to comment, while a spokesperson for the Duchy of Lancaster stated that the king endorsed the continuation of using these funds for the restoration and repair of qualifying buildings, in order to protect and preserve them for future generations.
Both the Duchy of Lancaster and the Duchy of Cornwall, which is now managed by Prince William, have been running professional real estate empires overseeing farmland, hotels, castles, offices, warehouses, shops, and urban properties, without paying corporation tax or capital gains tax.
While both duchies have claimed that the funds are distributed to charities after costs are deducted, The Guardian’s investigation suggests that only a small fraction of these funds have been donated to charitable organisations. The report raises questions about the use of these funds and their impact on the king’s wealth.