ICAEW.com works better with JavaScript enabled.

MPs criticise government in economic crime fight

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 04 Feb 2022

The Treasury Select Committee is calling on the government to set up a single law enforcement agency to tackle the “rapidly growing problem” of economic crime.

In the report Economic Crime, the influential group of MPs said it was “not happy” with current efforts to combat this problem. This year was an opportunity for the government to overhaul its existing Economic Crime Plan, and “push harder and act faster to reduce fraud and economic crime across a range of policy areas”, it added. 

The report said the current approach presented a “bewildering” number of agencies responsible for fighting economic crime and fraud, but there was a lack of real focus and accountability.

It recommended centralising policy responsibility in a single department and ensuring law enforcement agencies were “appropriately resourced” to tackle the scale of the problem.

Launching the report, Rt Hon Mel Stride MP, Chair of the Committee, said: “While the Government have made some progress in this area, we’re today calling on them to push harder and act faster on the growing fraud epidemic. Some of our recommendations, such as legislating against online scam adverts, can be implemented quickly. Others, including crypto regulation and Companies House reform, will require a longer-term approach. Taken together, our proposals give the UK a fighting chance to get back on the front foot and stop these scammers in their tracks”.

Although the committee welcomed reforms to Companies House to stop the UK being used to launder money and conduct economic crime, it criticised the slow pace of reform – especially given that the government identified the problems with UK company structures in 2014.

In its written evidence to the committee, ICAEW said it welcomed reforms to Companies House that will require verification of the identity of directors and those forming companies or filing information on the company’s behalf.

“This will fill a clear gap in the current anti-money laundering regime where the identity of those forming companies that are incorporated without the involvement of regulated service providers are subject to only minimal checks,” ICAEW said.

ICAEW said the government should bring forward the Suspicious Activity Reports’ (SARs) reform programme “at the earliest opportunity”.

“Its objective must be improving the quality of SARs made throughout all parts of the regulated sector, including accountancy,” ICAEW said.

ICAEW said the current regime led to overreporting of SARs by banks and perceived underreporting by professional services.

“By making [SARs reporting] easier for accountants to clearly convey their concerns should go some way to achieving this. We would therefore welcome the introduction of sector specific reporting,” it said.

ICAEW is working with the National Crime Agency and government to seek to improve the quality of SARs and reduce the number of “low-value reports” that are made.

The committee also highlighted its disappointment that the SARs’ reform programme was not yet complete and that no timetable or target date for its completion had yet been published.

“The SARs’ reform programme can only deliver change if the government ensures that the law enforcement agencies have the ongoing capacity and funding to tackle the criminal activity indicated by SARs,” MPs said in the report.

Although ICAEW said it found oversight by the Office for Professional Body Anti-Money Laundering Supervision (OPBAS) to be “robust” it said the “greatest risk” lies among advisers who have designated themselves as ‘accountants’ but do not hold a professional qualification. ICAEW has called for the term ‘accountant’ to be a legally protected designation.

MPs also said they were dissatisfied that OPBAS was “still encountering poor performance from a large proportion of the professional bodies it supervises”. The committee recommended that the review should not “shy away from considering radical reforms, including a move away from the self-regulatory model and the creation of a new supervisory body”, potentially independent of the Financial Conduct Authority.

The government has pledged to set up an Economic Crime Levy to raise money from the regulated sector for money laundering to inject funding into anti-money laundering efforts.

Company reform and economic crime

The Economic Crime Act 2022 became law in March and part two of the bill is incoming. From risks to required changes, we explore key considerations for accountants on the issue.

A fingerprint

Recommended content

Podcast icon
Insights Podcast

Hear a panel of guests dissect the latest headlines and provide expert analysis on the top stories from across the world of business, finance and accountancy.

Find out more
A megaphone
Stay up to date

You can receive email update from ICAEW insights either daily, weekly or monthly, subscribe to whichever works for you.

Sign up
Daily summaries
Three yellow pins planted into a surface in a row
News in brief

Read ICAEW's daily summary of accountancy news from across the mainstream media and broader financing sector.

See more