News

Making consent requests less painful

The UK Financial Intelligence Unit (UKFIU) has asked us to provide guidance on how to make consent requests. Consent requests from solicitors have played a key role in investigations relating to a range of crimes.

For many firms the process of submitting a suspicious activity report (SAR) requesting consent can be very stressful. Any unnecessary effort or delays in receiving a decision can be disruptive and costly. However, for law enforcement agencies, the benefits are clear: they provide a rare opportunity to identify and act against criminal activity while it's taking place.

Recent feedback shows that consent requests from solicitors have instigated or supported investigations relating to mortgage fraud, rogue trader activity, fraudulent investment schemes and other crimes. They have also helped identify the disposal of assets by relatives of convicted criminals. Arrests have been made and multi-million pound criminal proceeds confiscated as a result, and where appropriate, these will be paid back to the victims.

The UKFIU recognises the difficulties submitting a consent request can cause. It has analysed requests made over a four-month period to try to identify ways in which the process could run more smoothly.

Across all reporting sectors, three main recurring issues were identified which delayed decisions:

  • The request didn't relate to a relevant prohibited act

  • Additional information was required to make a decision

  • There were difficulties contacting the reporter

Prohibited act

Reporters sometimes requested consent for acts not covered by the regime, such as whether to accept a new client. However, the consent process cannot replace customer due diligence, which remains the responsibility of the regulated business. Consent only provides a defence against money laundering or terrorist financing offences and does not mean the National Crime Agency (NCA) approves of the activity or that the reporter is obliged to carry it out.

Of 952 requests in the sample from the legal sector, 134 (14%) were ultimately considered, either by the UKFIU or the reporter, not to relate to a prohibited act under sections 327, 328 or 329 of the Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA) or offences under sections 15 to 18 of the Terrorism Act (TACT). As a result, these could not be processed as consent requests.

Additional information

Of the 818 legal sector requests actually processed, 269 (33%) required additional information. 190 (23%) did not specify the prohibited act, while others left out why the reporter was suspicious, didn't describe the criminal property or didn't identify the people concerned. Without this information the UKFIU is unable to process the request and make an informed decision.

Contacting the reporter

The UKFIU Consent Team responds to all requests for consent, but had difficulty contacting the reporters of 198 of the 818 legal sector requests which were processed, including 108 (40%) of those which required additional information. Issues included inaccurate or out-of-date contact details on the reporter's SAR Online account, unavailability during normal working hours and no voicemail or alternative contact provided.

Tips

Before submitting a consent request to the UKFIU, reporters should consider the following:

  • Make sure your SAR Online contact details are up to date.

  • If requesting consent, make sure the SAR clearly asks for "consent" in the text and the consent box is ticked.

  • Check the SAR includes the Five essential elements of a consent request.

  • Make sure you or an appointed colleague are contactable for the following seven working days.

The NCA is grateful for the effort put into submitting SARs and the opportunities they present to act against criminals. If potential reporters follow the tips above it should help ensure consent requests are appropriate and useful, help reduce delay and hopefully make the process easier for all concerned.

Five essential elements of a consent request

  1. The information or other matter which gives the grounds for knowledge, suspicion or belief

  2. A description of the property that is known, suspected or believed to be criminal property, terrorist property or derived from terrorist property

  3. A description of the prohibited act for which consent is sought

  4. The identity of the person or persons known or suspected to be involved in money laundering or who committed or attempted to commit an offence under any of sections 15 to 18 of TACT*

  5. The whereabouts of the property that is known or suspected to be criminal property, terrorist property or derived from terrorist property*

*4 and 5 are mandatory if the knowledge or suspicion has come to the reporter in the course of a business in the regulated sector.