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The Assets Recovery Agency was set up without a feasibility study and has failed to achieve its targets for the recovery of criminal assets and for becoming self financing by 2005-06. To date the Agency has spent £65 million and recovered assets worth £23 million. Although the Agency now expects to become self-financing by 2009-10, on current performance it is in danger of missing that target too.

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A report published today by the National Audit Office found that half of all cases the Agency took on in 2003-04 were still ongoing by August 2006; and it has recovered assets in just 52 cases.

The data the Agency collects and uses on cases is incomplete and held across several disparate databases. As a result, the Agency could not conclusively say how many cases had been referred to it. Case management is informal, with no targets for the completion of tasks; and there is no time recording in place to assess the staff resources spent on each case. However, the Agency has met its target for disrupting criminality.

The Agency was created in February 2003 to take the profit out of crime by removing property obtained by criminal activity. It aims to put an end to the champagne lifestyle of certain criminals – as well as tackling the smaller fish – and to reduce the money available for further criminal activity.

Under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, the Agency is also responsible for promoting financial investigation through the training, accreditation and monitoring of Financial Investigators [Notes for Editors 1] both inside and outside the Agency. The National Audit Office found that there was uncertainty about the number and accredited status of the Financial Investigators it has trained.

Of those recorded as trained Financial Investigators, 90 per cent had not completed their Continuous Professional Development (CPD) which they need to do to retain their accreditation. The Agency has exceeded targets in delivering training for staff, and those who attended the courses were positive about them. However, today’s report raises concerns about the targeting of such courses as, once the Agency has completed its training role, 30 per cent of Financial Investigators retire or move on after finishing their training.

In a staff survey conducted in 2006, half of respondents were dissatisfied with their career opportunities at the Agency and between September 2005 and September 2006 a quarter of the staff who had worked for the Agency had left. In some specialist disciplines this figure was higher: in the same year, almost 50 per cent of legal staff and 40 per cent of training and development staff had left.

Last month, the Home Office announced that the casework of the Assets Recovery Agency is to transfer to the Serious Organised Crime Agency, and the training to the National Policing Improvement Agency. The remit will remain unchanged and investigations will continue.

“On current performance, there is a risk that the work of the Assets Recovery Agency will not be self-financing by 2009-10. As a matter of urgency, the Agency must develop robust management information, incorporating specific targets for the completion of the cases it investigates and introduce time-recording to assess the resources devoted to them.

“The Agency has to do more to ensure it fulfils its statutory role of monitoring the accreditation of Financial Investigators both inside and outside the Agency. It must follow up on individuals who have not complied with professional development requirements and, where necessary, remove the accreditation of people who don’t make the grade.”

Sir John Bourn, head of the NAO


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