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It also issues a warning about the amount of money recovered when orders are made. On the basis of unaudited figures provided by the Home Office, the committee concludes: “Only £190 million of the £1.9 billion confiscation order debt can realistically be collected sending the wrong message to taxpayers, victims and criminals—that crime pays.”
As background, confiscation orders are the main way for the Government to carry out its policy to deprive criminals of their proceeds. Six recommendations to improve the system, made by the previous Public Accounts Committee (PAC) in 2014, were accepted by the Home Office which committed to implement them by the end of 2015. The current PAC rejects a Home Office assertion that five of these recommendations have been implemented, finding “it is clear that many of the specific actions proposed…have not been taken.”
The MPs’ report states the number of confiscation orders imposed has fallen “from an unsatisfactory 6,392 in 2012–13 to 5,839 in 2015–16 when over a hundred times as many offenders were convicted of a crime”. The committee warns a fall in the numbers of experienced financial investigators risks weakening the enforcement of orders, while “poor information on performance and cost” is hindering informed decisions about their use. According to the PAC, the Government has still not been clear “whether disrupting crime or collecting criminals’ assets” is the main objective of such orders, says the Committee.
Among the recommendations in the report, it urges the Home Office to better explain “why so much of the accumulated debt is unlikely to be collected, highlight what is collected against recent confiscation orders, and set out how it is tackling uncollected debt to show that crime does not pay”.
Meg Hillier, Chair of the PAC, said: “Two years have passed since the Government committed to address PAC’s serious concerns about confiscation orders. It has failed to do so in spectacular fashion. The number of orders imposed has fallen and, according to unaudited figures provided by the Home Office, only a tenth of the huge debt owed under such orders is realistically collectable. This sends an appalling message to criminals who stand to benefit from crime—and, equally importantly, to their victims and taxpayers.
“Such relatively meagre returns do nothing to alleviate public concerns about crime, nor to encourage the perception that justice is being done. Taxpayers will question whether devoting limited crime-fighting resources to the use of such orders is money well spent. The lack of clarity in government and law enforcement about how best to use confiscation orders, and to what end, indicates they are right to do so. This vague approach to spending public money is unacceptable and must be addressed by the Home Office urgently. If confiscation orders are to have a meaningful place in the Government’s strategy to combat crime then it must act now to improve and better demonstrate their effectiveness.”
In March 2014 the previous Committee concluded that poor implementation of the confiscation order system had severely hampered its effectiveness.
The Committee’s six recommendations to improve the system were accepted by the Home Office who committed to implement them by the end of 2015. MPs say that they do not accept the Home Office’s assertion that five of the six recommendations have been implemented. MPs say that they are disappointed by the lack of progress in improving the system. While the amount confiscated has increased from £133m in 2012–13 to £175m in 2015–16, the number of confiscation orders imposed has fallen and debt has soared to £1.9 billion. Weaknesses previously identified, such as unclear objectives and ineffective incentives for the many bodies involved in the system and poor performance information, remain.