What is POCA? How proceeds of crime are taken from criminals and where the money goes

Picture from Pixabay
Picture from Pixabay

Police and the Government are very keen to show that crime does not pay.

Here is a brief look at the powers courts and police have to confiscate the ill-gotten gains of criminals:

Related: Sunderland drug dealers ordered to hand back just ONE POUND each - and given a month to pay up!

What are the proceeds of crime?

Any money made as the result of crime, or obtained in connection with an offence, can be recovered by the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (often shortened to POCA).

Confiscation proceedings can be brought after a conviction for drugs, fraud, and other offences where there has been financial gain.

Anything bought with proceeds of crime can also be confiscated - cars, jewellery, even homes.

What is a tainted gift?

It can sometimes be alleged that money has been disposed of by criminals in what is known as a tainted gift.

This can be property or assets are transferred to a wife, husband, partner, or another family member or friend.

If there has been a transaction of this nature then it could be treated as the criminal still having the money or amount even though if they hold no legal right to the property anymore.

Courts will examine and decide whether there was a legitimate reason for the transfer or if it was a way of hiding assets.

Related: 'What is the point?' - readers' criticism for justice system after Sunderland drug dealers ordered to repay £1 each

How are the proceeds of crime reclaimed?

Anyone convicted of a crime can be ordered to pay. The court calculates how much they must hand over, with the threat of prison if they fail to pay.

The police can also seize £1,000 or more in cash on the spot if they have reason to believe someone might have earned it through illegal activity. No criminal conviction is required, but a court would then need to determine whether or not the money was earned from crime and if it should be returned.

What if a criminal can't pay?

The court can be asked to extend the period of time in which a criminal must pay up to maximum of six months, if good reason for an extension is shown.

Offenders can also apply for a "certificate of inadequacy" to alter the amount which must be paid if there is no longer any prospect of raising the sum of money originally ordered.

Where does the money go?

Police can claim back some of the money to invest in policing through an incentive scheme.

When assets rather than cash or confiscated, the Home Office gets half and the police gets half.

In some cases, a judge can also decide to award part of any confiscated money to the victims of crime as compensation. And sometimes money is given to community schemes.

What are the benefits of POCA?

The Proceeds of Crime act aims to discourage crime by removing the incentive, and showing convicted criminals they could be subject to further confiscations if they offend again - ie, showing crime doesn't pay.

It also ensures money earned from crime can't be used to generate more crime, and police argue it reduces the "iconic status" of criminals and crime whereby "negative role models" are seen to have lots of money.

However, some criminals can be very effective in hiding their money overseas, and some choose to spend extra time in prison rather than pay up.