From 30 September 2017, the Criminal Finances Act 2017 made companies and partnerships criminally liable if they fail to prevent tax evasion by either a member of their staff or an external agent, even where the business was not involved in the act or was unaware of it. A prosecution could lead to both a conviction and unlimited penalties.
Tax evasion was already an offence, but before September2017 it had not been possible to ascribe criminal liability to the company where it occurred.
For a company to be liable under the Act, there must have been:
- Stage one: criminal tax evasion by a taxpayer (either an individual or a company) under existing law.
- Stage two: criminal facilitation of the offence by a representative of the company, as defined by the Accessories and Abettors Act 1861.
- Stage three: the company failed to prevent its representative from committing the criminal act outlined at stage two.
The new rules target deliberate and dishonest behaviour.
A business may avoid criminal liability where it can show that it had implemented reasonable prevention procedures, or where it can show that in the circumstances it would have been unreasonable or unrealistic to have expected it to have had procedures in place. This was very much our approach in implementing our Criminal Finances Act 2017 policy – one of defence.
Our first step was to carry out a detailed risk assessment. We reviewed all of our financial practices and procedures throughout the company. The aim was to review current practices and procedures to minimise any risks, and to put in place appropriate monitoring and training of staff at all levels.
After reviewing any risks, we implemented our Criminal Finances Act 2017 policy. The finance team also undertook fraud prevention training so they are better equipped to spot the tell-tale signs.
In addition, we updated some of our finance policies to bring them into to line with the Criminal Finances Act 2017.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly we have introduced a monthly audit of randomly selected financial transactions. The aim of the audit is to ensure compliance with the Act, to ensure that procedures are being followed correctly and that there is a full and clear end to end audit trail for each financial transaction reviewed. Where necessary, guidance is issued should any shortfalls be found.
Criminal Finances Act 2017 Summary
Far from being a burden, we have actually turned this in to a positive by using the Act as a means to increase our Corporate Governance, through improved procedures, staff training and internal auditing.
One of the Directors of Optima, Kevin is responsible for the day-to-day running of the company. He is also responsible for the company’s Corporate Governance, financial planning and budgetary control, resource planning and our compliance with Health and Safety laws. He is, to say the least, analytical and highly organised. More about Kevin.