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Confiscation order overhaul urged

Messenger Newspapers: A total of 490 million is owed by criminals who have served or are serving more time in prison for non-payment, MPs said A total of 490 million is owed by criminals who have served or are serving more time in prison for non-payment, MPs said

Just 26p in every £100 of criminal proceeds was clawed back by authorities last year, an influential group of MPs has found, prompting calls for an overhaul of the enforcement of confiscation orders.

Few attempts to deprive criminals of the proceeds of their crimes are made, the Public Accounts Committee warned, with 6,932 confiscation orders made in 2012/13.

A total of 680,000 offenders were convicted of a crime in that period.

And so-called Mr Bigs, who owe the largest sums, are less likely to see their orders enforced than those who owe smaller amounts, the group of MPs added, with an enforcement rate of nearly 90% for orders under £1,000 compared to 18% for orders over £1 million.

A total of £490 million is owed by criminals who have served or are serving more time in prison for non-payment, suggesting sentences provide little deterrence and sanctions need toughening up, the Committee added.

And while different departments spent £100 million administering confiscation orders, only £133 million was confiscated, it said.

Committee chairwoman Margaret Hodge MP said: " Crime should not pay, but we found too many criminals who are subject to an order to confiscate the proceeds of crime choosing to spend extra time in prison rather than paying up.

"£490 million is owed by criminals who have served or are serving more time in prison for non-payment.

"This suggests these sentences provide little deterrence and that the sanctions are not working and need toughening up.

"The idea behind confiscation orders is to hit criminals where it hurts - in their pockets - so that serious and organised criminals do not profit from the misery of others.

"However, poor implementation has meant not enough confiscation orders are being made and not enough is being done to enforce them once they have been made."

The Home Office leads on confiscation policy, the Committee said, but many other bodies are involved including the police, Crown Prosecution Service and HM Courts and Tribunal Service.

The group of MPs said there is a lack of clarity over who is responsible, with no clear direction and failure to act promptly when dealing with confiscation orders.

Ms Hodge added: " All this shows what a shambles exists and how poor the performance of all the agencies involved is. It is unclear who is responsible and accountable for what.

"There is no sense of urgency and little understanding of what works. Information is not shared across agencies, and out-of-date systems make it difficult to communicate across Government."

Commenting on the report, a government spokesman said: "The UK has one of the world's most effective regimes for ensuring criminals do not profit from crime and over the last three years we have seized more than £477 million of criminal assets - a record amount. We have also frozen assets worth more than £1.5 billion and returned £65 million to victims.

"Our Serious and Organised Crime Strategy sets out how the government will make it even harder for criminals to move, hide and use the proceeds of crime.

"We are also working closely with international partners, including Spain, to drive up the amount we confiscate. And the strategy makes clear we intend to bring forward legislative proposals as soon as Parliamentary time allows to strengthen the sanctions against those who do not pay their confiscation order, including lengthening their prison sentences.

"But we are always looking to improve how we recover criminal assets and continue to work with other departments and agencies to further strengthen our response. We will respond to the committee's recommendations in due course."

Shadow policing minister Jack Dromey said: " For years, we have called for the Government to make sure crime does not pay - instead this report shows they are letting criminals get away with their ill-gotten gains on a grand scale.

"It is disgraceful that crime bosses are being allowed to get away with their victims' cash at a time when the police service is suffering the deepest cuts in generations.

"The Government is guilty of a lamentable failure to go after the proceeds of crime, collecting a mere 0.26% of cash generated by criminal activity. With only 18% of large-scale confiscation orders even being enforced.

"We need tough news laws to prevent the guilty opting to keep the proceeds of crime by taking a short sentence in prison instead.

"Crime's Mr and Mrs Bigs are laughing all the way to the bank and it's time to wipe the smile off their faces. Proceeds of crime need to be confiscated and invested in rebuilding neighbourhood policing, hard hit by the loss of 10,000 officers from the front line, and not in more Spanish villas."

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