Assets Recovery Agency IT systems 'in a mess', warn MPs

The IT systems for the Assets Recovery Agency, set up to claw back assets from criminals, do not include a comprehensive casework database, MPs have revealed.

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The IT systems for the Assets Recovery Agency, set up to claw back assets from criminals, do not include a comprehensive casework database, MPs have revealed.

The ARA was set up in 2003 under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 to recover assets from criminals using new civil recovery powers as well as criminal confiscation and taxation. It is to be disbanded next year, with its powers transferring to the Serious Organised Crime Agency.

But a report by the Commons Public Accounts Committee is strongly critical of the ARA. Committee chair Edward Leigh MP said the ARA had “done a good job in testing through the Courts new powers for recovering the proceeds of crime”, but added that it had “been successful in little else”.

He said: “It was ill-planned and recovered only about a third of its expenditure. Far too few cases were ever referred to it, its management information systems were in a mess, it prioritised cases badly and it underestimated the time it would take to pursue them. The Serious Organised Crime Agency will have to learn from these mistakes. Otherwise few criminals will suffer sleepless nights worrying about losing the proceeds of their crimes.”

The MPs’ report reveals that the ARA has recovered only £23m, compared with expenditure of £65m, and missed its target to be self-financing by 2005–06.

“Management information systems do not include a comprehensive database of cases referred to and being handled by the Agency, nor a time recording system for staff,” the report says.

The cost of pursuing individual cases and the productivity of staff “cannot therefore be easily assessed by management, hindering effective decision making on, for example, the prioritisation of cases and the most effective deployment of staff resources”, it adds.

It urges both the ARA and its successor body to implement systems that can provide reliable and easily accessible information on total caseload activity, prioritisation of work, cost of handling cases, productivity of staff and monitoring of case progression.

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