When complex financial manoeuvring intertwines with criminality, it’s vital that you understand the nuances of the legislation in place. In today’s world, a person’s lifestyle isn’t simply a personal choice they make, but it can also be a possible indicator of hidden criminality as a result of POCA lifestyle offences. But what are POCA lifestyle offences, what do they cover, and are they ethical?

What Are The POCA Foundations? 

The foundations of the Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA) are based around tackling the financial benefits a person can gain from illicit criminal behaviour. The primary benefit of the POCA is to seize assets in order to ensure that crime does not pay. 

POCA can come into play for a wide variety of illegal activities, from money laundering and counterfeiting, to terrorism and arms trafficking. For more information about the Proceeds of Crime Act, read our dedicated blog.

A major part of tracking down people as part of the Proceeds of Crime Act is to look out for so-called ‘lifestyle offences’ which entail checking if somebody’s lifestyle correlates to their expected income. 

Defining ‘POCA Lifestyle Offences’

POCA lifestyle offences relate to individuals who display a lifestyle that appears from the outside to be inconsistent with their reported income. These offences specifically target individuals who are deemed to enjoy a  quality of living that is funded, either in full or partially, by the proceeds of crime. 

Under the Proceeds of Crime Act (or similar legislation) authorities can target an individual leading an extravagant lifestyle inconsistent with their legitimate income. The idea of POCA lifestyle offences is that, if a person is clearly living beyond what is possible given their reported income, and there’s reason to suspect that this may be funded by criminal activity, authorities should be able to scrutinise them and take the appropriate action. 

What is an Unexplained Wealth Order?

A vital tool within the POCA framework that is utilised to address potential lifestyle offences is the Unexplained Wealth Order. An Unexplained Wealth Order is the legal process that empowers law enforcement agencies to ask that an individual explains the origins of their wealth. Failure to comply, or provide a satisfactory explanation, will result in immediate asset seizure. 

One of the greatest strengths of Unexplained Wealth Orders comes when a person attempts to conceal the source of their wealth via common methods like offshore accounts or complex ownership structures. This is because it requires total transparency, and shifts the burden of proof onto the accused. Additionally, the imminent threat of asset seizure often helps to encourage cooperation from all parties. 

The primary process of Unexplained Wealth Orders is as follows: 

  1. Investigation Opened: The process is typically triggered once there is deemed to be a suspicion that a person’s wealth is not aligned with their declared income/legitimate source of funds. 
  2. Court Order: If suspicions seem legitimate, the order will be issued by a court, requiring the individual to provide as detailed an account as possible as to how they acquired their assets. 
  3. The Threshold of Suspicion: Prior to actually applying for an Unexplained Wealth Order, authorities are required to establish a threshold of suspicion. This is usually based on the person’s lifestyle, the value of their assets, or any other possible indications of financial misconduct. 
  4. Legal Consequences: Should the accused fail to comply with their Unexplained Wealth Order, or if the order is deemed to be legitimate, it could lead to the imminent forfeiture of assets. 
  5. Transparency First: Unexplained Wealth Orders aim to significantly improve transparency and accountability in finances and make it much more difficult for illicitly gained assets to be hidden. 

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Examples of a POCA Lifestyle Offence

A lifestyle offence will typically involve a person attempting to live significantly beyond their accepted means. Common examples and mistakes that somebody will make include owning high-value property, driving expensive vehicles, or flaunting opulent lifestyles on social media without any legitimate source of income present. 

The primary examples of POCA lifestyle offences include:

  • Extravagant Spending: Persons who spend extreme sums of money on luxury items without a clear source of income to support such high-end outgoings. 
  • Unexplained Wealth: Possessing a significant asset (or wealth) that cannot be accounted for using any legitimate income or known source of funds/assets could leave a person open to investigation. 
  • Money Laundering: Knowingly disguising the origins of your funds to help support an unlawful lifestyle. 
  • ‘Gambling Winnings’: Attempts to clear your name could leave you more open to action. Any deliberate tax evasion or underreporting of income to help fund a lifestyle could leave a person vulnerable. A common method of this is reporting ‘gambling winnings’.  
  • Tax Oversights: Deliberate tax evasion/underreporting of income in order to live a more glamorous lifestyle. 
  • Association with Known Criminals: Having any ties to organised crime groups or criminal enterprises that generate substantial profits could see you investigated. 

Criticisms of the POCA Lifestyle Offence System 

While POCA lifestyle offences can be a highly effective method of targeting the financial benefits of crime, it is not without controversy. Some critics of the order argue that the process, as it is, not only seriously infringes on an individual’s privacy, but also creates a climate where guilt is assumed until proven otherwise. 

These people feel passionately that there must be a balance between tirelessly pursuing justice and discouraging criminality, and protecting civil liberties.

Inquesta Forensic: Balanced and Measured Support You Can Rely On

In the constant battle between criminals and the British legal system, a forensic accountant can be a secret weapon. While POCA lifestyle offences do generate some controversy, the importance of navigating this legal maze should not be overstated. This is where Inquesta Forensic can emerge as a guiding light. 

A leading forensic accountancy firm, with a dedicated team of specialists in our field, Inquesta stands perfectly placed at the intersection of astute financial acumen and legal prowess. We specialise in unravelling complex financial mysteries that can completely elude the less-trained. 

Our team of specialists are not armed with simply a calculator and a notebook, but with all the latest training and technology to ensure that they can expose the truth. We possess the necessary expertise to navigate the complexities of POCA lifestyle offences and the ensuing investigations with total precision and efficiency. 

We also appreciate the moral conundrum that can arise when dealing in POCA lifestyle offences. This is why we work hard to ensure that every action we undertake is not only 100% legally sound, but completely ethical. 

Ultimately, as we attempt to demystify POCA lifestyle offences, Inquesta Forensic is on hand to act not simply as a spectator, but as a partner in the pursuit of truth and a fair conclusion. Contact a member of our team today to find out more about how we can help you, or to hear more about our varied service.

This article was originally posted at Inquestaforensic.co.uk