Investigators are failing to confiscate illegal profits from "Mr Bigs" of the crime world because of outdated IT, MPs have warned. Around £1.5bn remains unpaid by convicted offenders, even though the deadline for returning the money has expired in many cases, an inquiry found.
The failings were most severe in cases involving the most serious criminals, according to the House of Commons public accounts committee (PAC). Much of this "poor performance" by those responsible for recovering the cash can be traced to computer systems that are not interoperable.
The inquiry identified "errors and time wasted re-keying information between systems", the PAC's report says.
It explains "For example, an estimated 45 hours a week is wasted on HM Courts and Tribunals Service's Confiscation Order Tracking System (COTS) alone.
"Data quality is further compromised as financial investigators and Crown Court staff provide incomplete and inaccurate data to enforcement units."
The report recommends that the organisations involved "improve their existing ICT systems and their interoperability, as well as cleanse the data they hold".
And Margaret Hodge, the PAC's Labour chairwoman, said: "Too often the small-time criminal is pursued whilst the big-time criminals get away.
"All this shows what a shambles exists and how poor the performance of all the agencies involved is. It is unclear who is responsible and accountable for what. There is no sense of urgency and little understanding of what works.
"We're talking about big sums here. Poor implementation has meant not enough confiscation orders are being made and not enough is being done to enforce them."
Organisations targeted in the report include the Home Office, Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and National Crime Agency.
But the PAC was told that changes would be made quickly to the Joint Asset Recovery Database (JARD).
HM Courts & Tribunals was working with the CPS to deliver a new ICT system within two years, at a cost of between £120-£130m that would be fully interoperable with JARD and police forces' ICT systems.
Hodge also warned many offenders were "choosing to spend extra time" in prison rather than hand back illicit profits, with £490m owed by criminals who had served. Or were serving. extra time in jail