How asset confiscation prevents rehabilitation

This is a guest post by Craig Fletcher of Manchester Metropolitan University who is currently writing his PhD on the impact of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (POCA) on the defendant and their wider families.

Making it so crime doesn’t pay

As criminals become more sophisticated and ‘organised’ in the way they conduct their business and in an ever-increasing global market law enforcement agencies across the world have felt the need to develop, in tandem, ways in which they are able to track, apprehend and prosecute those who break the law. Consequently, anti-money laundering, post-conviction confiscation and civil forfeiture legislation have been introduced and developed in the UK over the past few decades and are being used increasingly against (some of) those criminals that make financial gain through their crimes.

What is POCA?

POCA is the latest piece of legislation available to law enforcement agencies which provides specific powers aimed at depriving criminals of their ‘ill-gotten gains’. This piece of legislation is a synthesis of various provisions that were previously situated across various laws. It has recently been amended by the Serious Crime Act 2015 with the specific aim of making confiscation legislation more punitive. The ideology that underpins the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 is that no criminal should be able to enjoy a luxurious lifestyle via the proceeds of crime, a principle that most people would consider axiomatic.

POCA policy documents discuss a number of objectives that help ‘legitimize’ confiscation practice. They include: to deny criminals the pleasure of their ill-gotten gains; to disrupt criminal enterprise; to deter future criminality; and to reassure the public that crime does not pay (National Audit Office, 2013: 5). The rhetoric that has surrounded the introduction and the continuing development of confiscation legislation has professed to target the ‘Mr Bigs’; those at the top of the criminal hierarchy.

Who does it target?

Over the years confiscation legislation has come under increasing scrutiny due to its failure to catch those at the top; the majority of confiscation orders are for amounts less than £1,000 which hardly conjures up images of ‘Mr Big’. However, instead of addressing its acute deficiencies, politicians and policy makers alike have chosen to make the legislation more punitive and in so doing extending its reach.

The POCA 2002 is a complex piece of legislation that has been ‘loosely’ drafted allowing for a wide interpretation of the legislation that will naturally favour the prosecution. It also straddles both criminal and civil law allowing for a number of provisions that enable it to bypass due process protections widely considered to be key principles of the justice system. Research suggests that confiscation orders are often miscalculated partly because of the pursuit of gross profit as opposed to net profit, its civil burden of proof, it’s ‘criminal lifestyle’ and ‘hidden asset’ assumptions and the wide interpretations of ‘benefit’ and ‘obtain’.

A financial investigator produces a financial statement which outlines the ‘benefit’ that the defendant has made from their crimes alongside an amount which is considered ‘recoverable’. If the defendant’s offence/s meet the ‘criminal lifestyle’ criteria outlined in the legislation, the court may assume all monies and assets going back six years have derived from crime and are liable for confiscation. The responsibility then lies with the defendant to prove the legitimacy of these assets. In reality, accounting for every penny for the past six years typically from the confines of a prison cell and without access to expert legal and accountancy advice makes this a difficult, if not impossible, task.

Real life impact

‘Who cares?’ one might say. Well, failure to satisfy a confiscation order carries a default prison sentence and the amount outstanding continues to accrue interest at 8% which means that for many defendants the amount outstanding moves further out of reach as they are in prison and unable to earn.

Case studies

“Frank” (aged 58) was sentenced to 8 years for his role in a complex fraud.  A year into his sentence, Frank was ordered by the court to pay a £200,000 confiscation order. A year later he was informed that his confiscation order remained unpaid and that it was accruing interest at a rate of £44 a day which had already resulted in a further £14,000 being added to his confiscation. The judge imposed a default custodial sentence of 33 months for non-payment of his confiscation order which Frank was ordered to serve at the end of his original sentence. The letter also reminded him that serving the default sentence does not wipe out the debt which continues to accrue interest.

Despite being a model prisoner and suffering from ill-health, Frank was denied his application to be moved to an open prison on the basis that his substantial confiscation order made him a ‘flight-risk’.

Frank says he he has no assets available to pay his confiscation order (his house was repossessed while he was on remand) and so sees it as a life-sentence that will be with him until he dies. By the time he is released, Frank’s confiscation order will be tens of thousands of pounds higher and he will have very little chance of getting a job as a man in his mid-60s with a serious conviction.



“Jo” was sentenced to eight years for possession of class A drugs. As a mother of five she struggled with the guilt of leaving her children behind, a situation made much worse when a confiscation order was imposed putting the family home at risk. Her relationship broke up and she lost her home which was another major cause of upset to both her and her children:

Who was the punishment aimed at? Was it me? because I was in prison. The people it really damaged was my children.

She describes how having to deal with all of this from the confines of a prison cell riddled with guilt, shame and anger meant that her head was constantly in a place of POCA and self-loathing, not rehabilitation. She describes how the burden of a confiscation order takes its emotional and psychological toll:

It was a crazy figure, who knows where they found that from.  This is what I’m saying, the way in which they compute that figure it’s a science in itself and you have no real ability from a prison cell to dispute it, yeh? Because I really tried and you’re very disadvantaged in that you haven’t got access to the internet and you can’t look at all your expenditure, you can’t look at your bank statements, you can’t remember things, do you understand what I’m saying? And how they compute it, well I was really disconnected from that process because it simply didn’t make any sense’

On release Jo successfully managed to appeal her confiscation order and get it significantly reduced. However, by that point the damage had been done. She had come out of prison traumatised by her experiences, separated from her partner, no job, and desperate to rebuild her relationships with her children.


Many criminals live ‘spend-as-you-go’ lifestyles and so trying to recover money that simply is not there because it has been spent becomes a futile excise that costs the tax-payer substantially in both legal and prison fees, not to mention the disastrous consequences of extending prison sentences on an already over-populated and under resourced prison system. It is also worth remembering that the POCA defendant has already been sentenced to a punishment for the predicate offence leading accusations of ‘double punishment’ and disproportionality.

Furthermore, in order to avoid the activation of the default prison sentence my research discovered that some prisoners consider reoffending in order to raise the necessary funds creating further victims, negating the proposed deterrence objectives.

As with any prison sentence, families and children are the unseen victims of further periods of imprisonment.

In conclusion, until policy makers acknowledge the real impact of POCA, this piece of legislation will continue to do more harm than good.

The principles and objectives of confiscation are worthy but in its over-zealous desire to achieve them the criminal justice system must find more ethical and ‘effective’ ways of doing so that reduce harm as oppose to creating it.


Blog posts in the Criminal Justice category are kindly sponsored by Get the Data which provides Social Impact Analytics to enable organisations to demonstrate their impact on society. GtD has no editorial influence on the contents of this site.

16 thoughts on “How asset confiscation prevents rehabilitation”

  1. Dear Craig Fletcher,
    Re: POCA article.

    I have put your article in my ‘Pocket’ to read completely later.
    I am ‘a victim’ of the establishment (and I am sure there are many) and of the ‘draconian’ law of confiscation and 2002 Proceeds of Crime. (POCA)

    My barrister told me ‘they’ will not get rid of it
    “because they are all making too much money”…..
    ………..Unbelievable, in a civilised country? Is this hidden corruption then?
    This was my first shock.
    I have a dodgy council who, out of malice and greed, tried to steal my house and make me homeless.
    My house was not a Proceed of Crime (and they knew it) it was my father’s legacy, the rest of the purchase was a mortgage for £30,000.
    They found NO other assets (in 4 years), because there were none.

    You might find this a bit strange. Well it is not. All it takes is a corrupt solicitor or a lazy one colluding with the council. She later, after one year, had to withdraw from my case under ‘professional Embarrassment’.
    I was very lucky to have had it stalled at the eleventh hour thanks to God.
    I prayed a lot.

    Although it should have been thrown out of court, it was not. The psycopathic solicitor employed by the council was not going to back off and continued with his perjury. They always pay more attention to the establshment (councils).

    I found one honest solicitor (a firm’s senior partner) who put a lot of time into my case and also got a forensic accountant involved and the so-called ‘criminal amount’ made up by the council was cut by two thirds. As it was, I still had to sell my house after all the sacrifies I made to get the mortgage paid off.
    (14 years later and I still have not had a holiday.)
    It was all there and explained, even though they still took money they should not have (false accounting) hidden in tiny writing. The court was obviously taking for court time and fees over the 4 years. Regardless of innocense/guilt.

    This finished in 2016 and had I lost my job, and am still trying to get over it.
    My case took over 4 years! I had 2 mental breakdowns and now have ME/CFS
    I almost commited suicide. I could have ended up in prison.

    Yes this is possible and does happen. Bullying, intimidation threats & Extortion.

    Is it any wonder that there are so many people in prison now ho may not be guilty of POCA, and committing suicide. Who is here to defend them when the the legal aid has funding been cut? This cruel and is bordering on evil.

    1. Dear SL
      Firstly, thank you for sharing your experiences.
      Sadly, I am not shocked by your story. It is consistent with what many others have told me about their POCA experiences. From loss of legitimately acquired assets, confiscation of pensions, confiscation of inheritance, relationship breakdown, and extended prison sentences to the impact that this has for people in terms of reoffending and mental health. I have heard so many stories that detail people’s pain which for many of them their confiscation experience continues as they are unable to satisfy their orders. My research is on-going so if you want to get involved then please get in touch. I am particularly interested in the toll it took on your health and wellbeing. Only by sharing these experiences, the impact of POCA in reality, can we begin to challenge the official discourse which suggests that it recovers ‘ill-gotten’ gains or targets the ‘Mr Bigs’. Thanks once again for commenting,
      ([email protected])

  2. Dear SL
    Thanks very much for sharing your awful experience. Until Craig got in touch, I didn’t realise that this legislation was being used for so many less serious offenders.
    Best Wishes

  3. It was described to me as designed for serious crime & is actually being abused by the system.

    For example money it was intended from the profits made & assets gained deriving from the sale of drugs.

    They have all the resources they need to throw at it, both money, time, & so called expertise. because they can! The costs to achieve it are disproportionate & genuinely hard earned assets are confiscated, which makes a mockery of the title Preceeds of Crime”. The “criminal” already is at a disadvantage, in prison, difficult to find work & rebuild their life after, also ends up a victim of the systems manipulation of a piece of legislation that it is likely wasnt intended to be used that way.

    This in itself is abuse & criminal.

    1. Hi Anonymous

      Again you raise some very important points. I followed the House of Commons sessions on POCA in 2016 and a number of ‘experts’ were called to provide evidence, some of which acknowledged the gross failures of the system in its current format. However, completely absent from the sessions was the voice of those who are subjected to it a voice that needs to be heard. That’s why this research is so important and its important that we get our voices heard
      Thanks for taking the time to leave a message

  4. Hi Craig,

    Thanks for conducting this important research – it sounds like it sure is needed. I know from working with various prisoners that POCA is very damaging, and often counterproductive in achieving what it says on the tin. The system needs money and so tries to capitalise on those who have capitalised from crime; but then flounders when the figures are unrealisaeable and further sentences are dished out, costing more money?! The system is saturated with pathetic breaches and POCA prisoners instead of the 80,000 ‘dangerous criminals’ the public assume are being held for their protection…

    This double jeopardy and double/quadruple punishments need to stop – it is against human rights surely? The right to be rehabilitated, the right to move on, the right for ones family to remain as innocents, the right to be sorry instead of building esentful feelings towards a system which is not acting as a role model but is instead teaching people to capitalise on misfortune in a relentless fashion, regardless of who it actually hurts – you, me, the public purse, and so on.

    Hopefully your research will continue to educate us on this paradoxical piece of legislation and things will change. Thanks again Craig!

    1. Hi Marie-Claire

      Thank you for your comments

      You raise some fantastically important points that around the philosophy of punishment and proportionality. I think it is irresponsible and criminal that we have a CJS that spends hundreds of millions of pounds of tax payers money each year on services that propose to help offenders reintegrate and live better lives then they have POCA legislation running in parallel that does the opposite. There needs to be some accountability for sure…


  5. Wouter de Zanger

    Thanks for this blog. Much of this also holds true for the Dutch confiscation regime. See for instance the article Petrus van Duyne, François Kristen and I wrote in P.C. van Duyne, J. Harvey, G.A. Antonopoulos, K. von Lampe, A. Maljevic, A. Markovska (eds.), Corruption, Greed and Crime-money. Sleaze and shady economy in Europe and beyond, Oisterwijk: Wolf Legal Publishers 2014, p. 235-266,

  6. I committed a crime very stupidly 11 years ago, I had to go to the doctors today and being referred to the mental health team as I am at risk to myself. My crime even though no excuse for it was caused through many years of trauma and sexual abuse as a child and wanting to keep hold of the love I finally thought I found, I committed fraud and used the money to keep him happy so he didn’t leave me. I went to prison and met many people like me how had bad childhood experiences. On leaving prison they took what I had to give straightaway and then came after me two years later and now once more they turned up 3 months ago with a restriction order on my partners house (he had no knowledge of my past), I had to be named on the house for a joint mortgage application as he had to use my salary to be able to get a mortgage. I never paid anything into his house as he purchased it outright before he even met me. I had to confess and discuss my darkest secrets and he has since suffered depression like me and he attempted suicide but thankfully failed. My past has caused so much pain to him and my kids will also be effected. Still waiting for the next step for CPS, over ten years had passed I’ve started a new life and managed to live supressing my past until now. Once more I am a criminal again all over when I was supposed to be allowed to rehabilitate.

    1. Hi Sarah,
      Firstly, thank you for sharing your personal experiences. I know it can be difficult to speak out about POCA but it is important that the voices of those who are suffering as a direct result of POCA share their experiences because I can assure you that most people do not have any idea of the extent of the state’s confiscation powers or the manner in which they go about their business. Your account correlates with my research findings: that this form of indefinite punishment completely undermines the state’s pretence that they aim to help offenders rehabilitate. I have interviewed scores of people that say exactly the same thing – that because of the on-going oppression of their confiscation order and the difficulties this causes in terms of rehabilitation and developing relationships it is affecting their mental well-being, further marginalising them which in turn further undermines their rehabilitative efforts. Please do not hesitate to get in touch if you want to discuss further – [email protected]
      Best Wishes
      Craig Fletcher

  7. I’m so glad I had found this. I was arrested in 2008 for a conspiracy to convert criminal property at the time I only just turn 19. I was bailed for a few years but in this time had to keep answering to bail. In 2011 I had pleaded guilty to the offence and was sent to prison for 3 years (I got early release with tag). They then came after me for POCA whilst I was serving my sentence. I had never been in trouble like this before and didn’t have a clue what POCA was. To be told that if I don’t get a confiscation order for £1 or give them the money they are asking for I will go back to prison. My heart stopped for a minute and couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Surely this was not true? It was a nightmare I wanted to wake up from. After getting dragged back and forth from prison to attend my POCA hearing I ended up getting a £88k hidden asset confiscation order. I didn’t understand how for the first offence they would say you spent vast amounts of money then in your POCA hearing they say you’ve hidden it. It’s definitely a contradiction. I was advised that if I don’t pay the £88k within so many months I would go back to prison for 20 months (do half). Well I ended up going back to prison as I never had this money they were asking for. I had only come out of my first sentence for 6 months then back I go again. I have never had this money and at the age I committed the crime I lived for the moment. I went on holidays, bought cars, shopped at some of the luxury stores like Gucci and Louis Vuitton. I partied with my friends and took things I shouldn’t be taking but it was the thing to do when your with your friends. My case was a high profile one and was published on the news papers which was a shock!

    I was let down by my solicitors that dealt with the case as I wasn’t advised to provide proof of my spend which I had. I had receipts, car finance agreements etc. Then I had passed my case to a apparently a POCA specialist to look at an appeal whilst I was serving my POCA sentence. He had all my files for over 2 years and got my hopes up. All he wanted was for me to keep signing those legal aid forms. I have now passed it onto someone else and due to see a new council. I can’t afford it and it’s going to cost me £600 to see a new council. Luckily enough for me I have a great family that are helping me out. Why should I be penalised for the rest of my life?

    I’m turning 31 this year and I’m still in this nightmare I can’t wake up from. There’s no excuse for what I did and yes I should be punished for what I did. I was young and naive. I didn’t kill anyone yet it feels that way. At least with someone that had committed murder they would get out and move on with their lives.

    I had so much going for me, I was working towards going to university and I made the biggest mistake ever. I’m currently suffering from depression and anxiety. I would not wish what I’m going through on my worst enemy. If I could turn back the time then I would. I just want to be the old me again – full of life. I feel like there’s no light through the tunnel. I feel like the only way out of this would be to win the lottery, appeal the confiscation or end my life. Writing this has shed a tear but after so many counselling sessions I’ve managed to speak about it.

    My confiscation is accruing interest £19 per day and I’m currently paying £20 a month that does not even touch the sides. Going to pay for this every month at the pay point is a constant reminder of what I did and knowing I can’t get a mortgage or live a normal live again unless the law changes

    I am really interested in your research Craig and if my story can make a change for all the confiscation order suffers out there then I would love to be part of it.

    Thanks and look foward to your response

    1. Firstly, thank you for taking the time to share your POCA experiences – it is an extremely brave thing to do in my opinion. Sadly, your story accords with my research findings in many, many ways.

      1) The time the POCA process takes to finalise in court is punishing in itself for both the defendant and their wider families who are forced to endure both the hardships induced by POCA but also forced to watch as their loved one falls to pieces in their desperate attempt to defend against a piece of legislation that has been loosely drafted to favour the prosecution and by-pass typical due process safeguards.

      2) It is hard to say which is more damaging – having your prison sentence extended whilst still serving the original prison sentence (as this has a detrimental impact on sentence progression, de-categorisation, ROTL eligibility etc) because of POCA or having finished the original sentence and set about reintegrating back into society to then be reincarcerated despite not committing any further offence is something that most people who find themselves in such a position struggle to come to terms with. The findings of my research reveal that the on-going pursuit of confiscation goals inhibits rehabilitative efforts at best and forces people back into crime at worst – a societal self-harm induced by the state.

      3) Hidden asset orders are impossible to defend against – how do you prove that something is not hidden if it in fact isn’t hidden but spent? Again your experiences concurs with my research findings most offenders ‘spend as they go’ meaning that despite making some illegitimate money it is not recoverable by the time of arrest. The courts in pursuing moneys that no longer exist in effect create a life sentence because of the accruing interest on the unpaid amount. As you correctly point out the court is happy to portray the ‘champagne lifestyle’ of a defendant when hearing the court case for the predicate offence yet when it comes to POCA proceedings they are not willing to accept that the money no longer exists allowing them to list it under ‘hidden assets’.

      4) My research also revealed that the level of legal advise provided for POCA cases is way beyond what would be required in order to provide a robust defence. Many legal firms falsely parade themselves as specialising in POCA making promises to clients that they fail to live up to in reality. As a consequence many of my research participants shared how their legal teams would advise them to concentrate on defending the ‘realizable’ figure as the ‘benefit’ figure will just lay on file and doesn’t have consequences in terms of default prison sentences. Although there may be some truth in this the reality is that the ‘benefit’ figure remains in place indefinitely and should you come into any money in the future, regardless of whether it is legitimately acquired (through legitimate work, partner’s legitimate earnings, inheritance etc), then the court is entitled by law to seek to recover the benefit amount at any point in the future. The consequence of knowing this for many of my research participants was that they are forced to live a deceitful life going forward making sure that assets and monies, despite being legitimately acquired, are not traceable. All of which prevents full reintegration back into society, places further and unnecessary strain on relationships and undermines rehabilitation.

      5) The accruing interest again was a theme of concern for my research participants. In many cases the accruing interest meant that their confiscation orders increased in value and subsequently placed paying it off less likely as opposed to more likely as politicians seem to think. The research participants described how the payments they were able to afford on release from prison were typically less than the accruing interest because they were working in low paid employment. In effect the accruing interest makes the POCA sentence a life sentence as you say. More concerning is the fact that for many this interest begins to accrue whilst defendants are in prison and, therefore, unable to earn – so people are leaving prison with ridiculous confiscation orders that they are unable to pay, well paid legitimate opportunities are few and far between and the on-going financial scrutiny imposed by the POCA process places strain on relationships at a time when these relationships need to be nurtured – so why are we not surprised to find out that people ‘chose/forced’ to go back to crime. We also have to remember that more often than not these confiscation orders have been wrongly calculated or grossly inflated in the first place.

      6) Sadly, my research also accords with your experience of POCA induced depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation so much so that I have written a whole chapter just on the psychological impact of POCA. The potential of such outcomes fail to transpire in POCA policy discourse or political rhetoric but this was one of the strongest themes within my research. We know that financial debt is linked to depression, self harm and suicide in general. In the context of POCA this experience is magnified because there is no way out because of the accruing interest – the POCA debt remains indefinite regardless of whether you become a contributing member of society, with the threat of reincarceration lingering in the background. The end result is a sense of helplessness with no perceived way out where some of my research participants spoke about the only way out being suicide. What has gone so wrong with our society and our criminal justice system in particular that this is considered a regrettable but potential outcome of recovering the ‘proceeds of crime’. This doesn’t feel like reparation to me but retributive violence on a scale not seen since corporal punishment was abolished.

      Apologies for the long reply but I felt that your honest account of your experience of POCA deserved a considered response. The only way we will begin to change what is taking place here is by people like you sharing your experiences, experiences that contradict the official accounts of POCA, and begin to challenge this state sponsored violence. Please do not suffer in silence and feel free to private email me if you need to speak about anything.

      Best Wishes

      Craig Fletcher

      1. S.L. Thanks very much for your comment on such a difficult and stressful situation. Craig has been working very hard to raise awareness of POCA which, as you know better than most, is in urgent need of change.

      2. Thanks for such a helpful reply Craig. It has just struck me that would probably be keen to host an article by you on POCA. let me know if you need an introduction. Best wishes Russell

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.