The SARs regime

The Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) Regime describes the end-to-end system by which industry spots suspicious activity related to money laundering or terrorist financing and reports this to the UKFIU.

Upon receipt, SARs are logged onto the UKFIU internal SARs database (known as ELMER). The UKFIU analyses the SARs to extract strategic and tactical intelligence, and makes all SARs available to law enforcement agencies (LEAs) for investigation (with the exception of SARs in certain sensitive categories).

LEAs prioritise and make recommendations on consent requests referred to them by the UKFIU. They also check SAR subject details against intelligence databases for relevant additional information. Depending on the outcome of the above, SARs can lead to the instigation of new investigations or enhance existing ones or knowledge of a subject.

There are approximately two million SARs on ELMER. All SARs which populate the database are subject to immediate checks, including those previously entered onto the system where new information may change the nature of a previous SAR – a frequent occurrence.

SARs are retained on ELMER for a period of six years or until proven not to be linked to crime.

A single SAR is often used several times by several different users for different purposes. For example, the information within a SAR may inform Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs (HMRC) about taxation; it may inform local police about fraud or theft, or it may inform a government department about another issue or weakness in a financial product.

The value of SARs

  • SARs provide information and intelligence to law enforcement which is predominantly used in relation to financial crime and money laundering but can also be helpful in relation to other criminal activity.
  • They provide information that assists in ongoing operations such as telephone numbers, addresses, alias identities, companies, investment activity, bank accounts and other assets. For example, information from SARs has assisted in kidnap cases and in locating a convicted escaped paedophile.
  • SARs can help identify organised criminal schemes, for example mortgage and boiler room frauds, enabling detection and prevention activity activity including the issue of alerts to businesses at risk from such activity.
  • Multiple SARs on the same subject or company can identify new targets for operational activity. Information leads to the recovery of the proceeds of crime by assisting in restraint orders, confiscation orders and cash seizures.
  • SARs provide intelligence about criminal methods, contribute to the UK’s understanding of crime and inform strategies to reduce the impact of crime.
  • At a strategic level SARs data can inform policy and direct resources, particularly amongst LEAs.
  • SARs can help establish a geographical picture or pattern of the vulnerability of a particular sector or product, and can be used in the analysis of suspicious activity before and after a specific event e.g. a terrorist incident.

Retention and deletion policy for SARs

Following a consultation with the Information Commissioner, a new retention and deletion policy was introduced for ELMER. The maximum period for which a SAR will be retained on the database is now six years, after which the record is deleted.

In December 2011, all SARs more than six years old were deleted and an ongoing deletion process continues to comply with the policy. In addition all records, where feedback indicates that the suspicious activity (that is subject of the report) is not related to criminality will also be deleted immediately.

This means that where there is no indication within the body of the SAR that there is knowledge or suspicion of money laundering or criminal property, the SAR could be deleted in line with the new policy.

The UKFIU recommends that for all SAR submissions on previously reported subjects, the ELMER reference number and the original suspicion are copied onto the new SAR, along with any additional information which is being reported. This should always be the case in respect of consent requests to speed up the process and ensure that there is sufficient information on which to make the appropriate decision to grant or refuse consent.

Use of the appropriate  pdf Glossary Codes (240 KB) for a submission on a previously reported subject would also assist the process.

Access criteria for SARs end users

The NCA has an 'End User Criteria' which forms the basis for assessing whether an end user organisation can have direct access to SARs material via money.web and ARENA (a search and analysis tool for end users of SARs).

The previous Proceeds of Crime Appendix has been replaced with an 'Organisation Agreement for Direct Access to Suspicious Activity Reports' incorporating the End User Criteria.

This document sets out the objectives, conditions and responsibilities of the NCA and all agencies seeking access to SARs material both at an organisation and individual level. It also provides guidance for the management of SARs information in compliance with disclosure legislation, Home Office Circular 22/2015 and the constraints and acceptable use of SARs material internally and with other partners.

If access is denied or withdrawn, the NCA will still consider whether it is appropriate to action individual search requests from accredited financial investigators for relevant SARs information; where it is judged that the request is justified, proportionate and necessary.



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