Confiscation Orders - Public Accounts Committee Contents

3  Enforcing confiscation orders

10. Three enforcement agencies are responsible for collecting the great majority of confiscation orders once they have been imposed. HM Courts & Tribunals Service is primarily responsible for collecting low-value orders while the Crown Prosecution Service and Serious Fraud Office usually lead on the complex, high-value cases. Enforcement bodies are generally successful in collecting low-value orders but not high-value ones, with an enforcement rate of nearly 90% for orders under £1,000, but just 18% for orders over £1 million.[24] Significantly more value lies in the small number of high orders, with a total of around £1.5 billion of confiscation order debt remaining uncollected.[25]

11. Cost information relating to individual orders does not exist and performance information is basic, focussing only on amounts imposed and collected. For each outstanding order the agencies therefore do not know how much is realistically collectable, how much enforcement activity is costing and how successful their activity is.[26] The National Crime Agency told us that serious and organised criminals make it difficult for the authorities by using complex financial instruments such as hiding money overseas or placing it in the hands of spouses but nevertheless significant improvements are required to the confiscation order system.[27]

12. The agencies could not tell which confiscation orders they should prioritise due to a lack of balanced set of performance and cost information. They also did not know what approaches to enforcement were most successful or cost-effective, and how they were performing against wider policy objectives, including, as the Home Office told us is most important, against the objective of cutting crime.[28] These gaps not only impede enforcement activity, but also wider governance of the process, including accountability and the effective running of the incentive scheme.[29]

13. Some bodies have started to prioritise confiscation cases and work together on those identified as the highest priority. For example, the Crown Prosecution Service and National Crime Agency have identified 59 high priority cases that have not yet been enforced, accounting for 61% of the total value of outstanding Crown Prosecution Service cases.[30] The National Crime Agency, Crown Prosecution Service, Serious Fraud Office and HM Courts & Tribunals Service have together identified another 124 priority cases for additional enforcement action.[31]

14. The efforts of the bodies involved in the confiscation order process[32] are hampered by outdated ICT systems that are not interoperable, leading to errors and time consuming re-keying of information between different systems.[33] For example, an estimated 45 hours a week are wasted by HM Courts & Tribunals Service staff just opening, saving and downloading data into the Confiscation Order Tracking System system.[34] The need for substantial re-keying of data had resulted in data errors, which, together with some incomplete and erroneous information provided by financial investigators and Crown Courts, had acted to slow progress further and reduce enforcement rates.[35]

15. In subsequent written evidence the witnesses told us that a multi-agency group had been established to identify required changes to the Joint Asset Recovery Database (JARD) and that they expected improvements to be in place quickly.[36] HM Courts & Tribunals Service also told us it was working with the Crown Prosecution Service to deliver a completely new shared ICT system within two years[37] at a cost of between £120-£130 million that would be fully interoperable with JARD and police forces' ICT systems.[38]

16. Offenders who do not pay their confiscation orders face a default prison sentence of up to ten years, which follows their imprisonment for the original offence. They must also pay more as the amount outstanding accrues 8% interest. However, many criminals with high-value orders are willing to serve time in prison rather than pay-up and around £490 million is outstanding for offenders who have served or are currently serving default sentences.[39] The Home Office told us they plan to strengthen prison penalties and the recently published Serious and Organised Crime Strategy states that the government will be "substantially strengthening the prison sentences for failing to pay confiscation orders so as to prevent offenders from choosing to serve prison sentences rather than pay confiscation orders".[40] In addition to longer prison sentences there will be less chance of early release.[41] However, the Home Office and the National Crime Agency have not outlined how this will work in practice, how effective this action will be in increasing enforcement rates overall, and its cost-effectiveness when set against inevitably higher resulting prison costs. The Joint Committee on the draft Modern Slavery Bill might include this in their deliberations.[42]

24   Q7, Qq143-145; C&AG's report, paragraph 1.10 and Figure 4. Back

25   C&AG's report, paragraph 1.11 Back

26   Q1, Qq17-20, Q30, Q86, C&AG's report, paragraph 4.6 Back

27   Qq10-11 Back

28   Qq1-8; Qq17-19; C&AG's report, paragraphs 2.10 and 4.6 Back

29   Q50 Back

30   Q54 Back

31   Qq125-126 Back

32   Q49 Back

33   Qq98-99; Qq100-106 Back

34   Qq114-115; C&AG's report, paragraph 4.14 and figure 17 Back

35   Q98; C&AG's report, figure 19 Back

36   Ev 20 Back

37   Qq103-107 Back

38   Q105; Q114; C&AG's report, paragraph 4.14 and Figure 17 Back

39   C&AG's report, paragraph 4.18 Back

40   Q28, Q129; HM Government, Serious and Organised Crime Strategy, Cm 8715, October 2013, page 35 Back

41   Q129 Back

42   Q28, Qq122-124 Back

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Prepared 21 March 2014