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Suitable destinations for proceeds of crime cash

Few would question the rationale for claiming back cash from payday loan firms that have broken the law.

But punishing unlawful behaviour by any lender with a simple fine is problematic when the potential profits from criminal or fraudulent behaviour can outweigh the price paid for being caught.

Scotland's Proceeds of Crime Act (Poca) is widely regarded as a robust and effective piece of legislation. Extending it to give police the ability to pursue those convicted of offences under the Consumer Credit Act and ultimately remove their assets gives the authorities an advantage, as it considerably inflates the financial penalty on offer.

Those who prey on the financially desperate will hazard much more when they choose to break the law.

The problem of payday loans has not gone away. Only this week, the TUC warned new Coalition Government welfare reforms could make people easy prey for predatory lenders.

Police Scotland believes organised criminals have made significant inroads into the payday loan market.

Nevertheless, there is a question mark over how desirable it is that funds recouped in this way should be directed to the coffers of Police Scotland. The national police force, and Chief Constable Stephen House, have successfully argued that a proportion of assets seized under Poca should be available to help offset cuts the force is being asked to make to its budget.

Funds raised using Poca have been effectively and popularly used to fund a variety of social projects, including community and youth work, under the Cashback for Communities banner.

A similar principle sees the assets of crooked payday lenders used to help victims, or divert potential customers from other "dodgy" payday lenders.

After all, communities helped by the cashback scheme are very often the same as those in which the majority of financially vulnerable victims live.

Instead, such projects will face threats to their funding if Police Scotland keeps more of the assets that are seized.

Of equal, or probably greater, importance is the issue of how desirable it is for the national force to pursue criminals directly in order to support its own budgets. Incentivising the police to seize people's assets in this way needs debate and is an issue that must be handled with great caution.

Contextual targeting label: 
Finance

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