Overview of SOC Title

Serious and organised crime is a pervasive and enduring threat, impacting UK citizens, public services, businesses and infrastructure. The National Strategic Assessment of Serious and Organised Crime captures the key and emerging issues throughout 2022 across the threat areas. 

Vulnerable individuals continue to be exploited across a range of threats. Organised crime groups involved in organised immigration crime facilitate the movement of people into the UK in hazardous conditions with no regard for their safety. The exploitation of victims occurs at home and abroad, with offenders trafficking people within the UK and across borders, forcing people into various forms of modern slavery. Globally, serious and organised crime places children at risk of child sexual abuse and exploitation, both in person and online. 

Offenders who engage in serious and organised crime are a risk to the public. The wider impact of the trade in drugs and firearms is felt throughout communities, demonstrating the significant harm caused by this threat and putting greater strain on public services.

The UK economy and its institutions are undermined by criminals laundering their illicit finances to hide their illegal activity, frustrating the efforts of law abiding citizens operating legitimate businesses. The risk to the public and UK institutions from fraud and cyber attacks is evolving, with criminals adopting increasingly complex methods to target and exploit victims.

The war in Ukraine and cost of living pressures have created new opportunities for organised crime groups to exploit economic hardship. Established supply chains and transport routes have been disrupted, increasing the cost of food, metal, oil and gas. It is likely that this will increase the number of potential vulnerable victims and exploitation opportunities across many of the threat areas. 

Organised crime groups regularly rely on criminal supply chains, networks, and specialists to pursue their criminality. This includes the use of concealment specialists to hide illicit commodities such as drugs and firearms in vehicles, money mule networks to launder the proceeds of crime, or financial and legal professionals to hide assets in seemingly legitimate businesses. 

Many organised crime groups are involved in multiple crime types. Communities remain vulnerable to the high-harm impacts of such linked criminal activity; for example, urban street gangs that carry out the majority of firearms discharges also dominate the retail level drugs trade. 

The cross-border nature of serious and organised crime means that crime groups are highly reliant on international supply chains and connectivity, operating enterprises on a global level. This means that there is also significant foreign national involvement in serious and organised crime, bringing challenges to the law enforcement response. This is compounded where such criminal activity emanates from jurisdictions where law enforcement cooperation is limited.

Main Themes

This year the main trends highlighted in the National Strategic Assessment are: 

  • Geopolitical Instability and International Conflict: Organised crime groups exploit vulnerabilities created by international conflict, instability and poverty. The vast majority of serious and organised crime has an international dimension, demonstrated through the increased numbers of irregular migrants entering the UK on small boats, drugs smuggling and firearms supply. 
  • The Cost of Living: Criminals exploit cost of living increases, taking advantage of people’s vulnerability. Challenging economic conditions created pressures on individuals, households and businesses: with organised crime groups using the cost of living as a lure for cyber crime and fraud and exploiting the vulnerable through modern slavery and human trafficking.
  • The Exploitation of Technology: Technology remains a key enabler for serious and organised crime, and is increasingly accessible to offenders. Ransomware remains the greatest cyber crime threat. Criminals use technologies to target the public online, increasingly using social media in particular to identify and communicate with victims. They also use technology to facilitate criminality, including encryption to hide their activities, cryptocurrency for ransoms, and tracking to monitor illicit shipments.
  • Criminal Resilience and Adaptability: Organised crime groups are highly adaptable to the changing environment, with a disregard for legal boundaries. They demonstrated their ability to adapt operating models in response to the EU exit and COVID-19 pandemic restrictions. As restrictions lifted, organised crime groups continued to evolve criminal methods, exploiting international crises and technology, adapting their activity to frustrate law enforcement detection.


As serious and organised crime offending in the UK continues to grow, methods are being developed to refine and improve the estimation of the overall scale of the threat.

In 2021 and 2022, an estimate was given for the number of known individuals engaged in serious and organised crime offending impacting on the UK. This year, the methodology has been repeated and indicates a minimum of 59,000 individuals are involved in serious and organised crime in the UK, excluding child sexual abuse offending. Over 59,000 known SOC nominals

Whilst this number is below previous estimations (minimum 70,000), this does not indicate a decline in serious and organised crime activity in the UK. Instead, this is a result of historic changes in data recording, both within and external to the NCA, which have involved a clearer and higher threshold, and thus produced a more accurate figure.

680,000-830,000 - Estimated number of UK based individuals posing varying degrees of risk to children.Methods have been developed to estimate the ‘hidden’ or unrecorded scale of child sexual abuse and modern slavery and human trafficking (click here to find out more about the methodology used). It is estimated that there are between 680,000 and 830,000 UK based adult offenders who pose varying degrees of risk to children, equivalent to 1.3% to 1.6% of the UK adult population. There is a broad spectrum of child sexual offences, from downloading and sharing indecent images of children to direct contact abuse. Every offender will have varying behaviours and life factors which will intermittently increase or decrease the risk they pose. 

It is estimated that at least 6,000 offenders are involved in the trafficking and exploitation of people in the UK.

Summary of Threat Changes

Table showing summary of change in the threats in 2022. Drugs, Fraud, Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking, Money Laundering, Organised Acquisitive Crime and Organised Immigration Crime have all increased. Child Sexual Abuse, Cyber Crime and Firearms have all shown no change.