UK sanctions regime
This guide to the UK sanctions regime sets out information on the criminal offences under the regime, how to carry out a risk assessment, the sanctions lists and your reporting obligations.
The UK sanctions regime can apply to persons and entities where the UK government has:
- imposed sanctions unilaterally
- implemented sanctions imposed by the United Nations (UN)
The Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018 provides the main legal basis for the UK to impose, update and lift sanctions.
The sanctions regime imposes serious and extensive restrictions on dealing with people who are listed. Under the legislation they’re referred to as “designated persons”.
The law restricts you from:
- receiving payment from or making funds available to persons on the sanctions list
- dealing with their economic resources
- making even legitimate payments to those persons
What you need to know about new sanctions on Russia
With the UK government imposing a tranche of sanctions on Russia in response to the situation in Ukraine, make sure you're up to date with UK sanctions obligations.
This sanctions regime is aimed at encouraging Russia to cease actions destabilising, undermining or threatening the territorial integrity, sovereignty or independence of Ukraine.
The Russia (Sanctions) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 came fully into force on 31 December 2020. They are intended to ensure that sanctions relating to Russia continue to operate effectively.
You should review the following legislation to find out about the amendments made to the regulations:
- Russia (Sanctions) (EU Exit) (Amendment) Regulations 2022, laid on 10 February 2022, which amended the definition of ‘involved person’ in the criteria which give grounds for a person to be designated
- Sanctions (EU Exit) (Miscellaneous Amendments) (No. 2) Regulations 2020
- Sanctions (EU Exit) (Miscellaneous Amendments) (No. 4) Regulations 2020
Persons designated under this regime are included on the UK sanctions list.
SRA guidance on the importance of complying with sanctions
The SRA has published guidance covering:
- financial sanctions
- anti-money laundering
- strategic litigation against public participation (SLAPPs)
- continuing to act for clients
The guidance highlights that the SRA are "commencing a process of spot checks on firms to assess compliance with the financial sanctions regime".
It's important that all firms ensure that they immediately review their policies, controls, procedures and sanctions compliance.
SARs glossary code for sanctioned Russian entities
The UK Financial Intelligence Unit has introduced a suspicious activity reports (SARs) glossary code, XXSNEXX, to use where you suspect activity is:
- consistent with money laundering, and
- linked to entities sanctioned by the UK, EU, US and other overseas jurisdictions as a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine
The Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Act has removed the knowledge test from breach offences.
A breach offence will be committed regardless of whether a person had a reasonable basis of suspicion that they were dealing with a frozen asset. This is a shift to the US Office of Foreign Assets Control model of enforcement.
You must report frozen assets and suspected breaches to the Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation using the compliance reporting form.
Non-voluntary breach disclosures will result in larger monetary penalties.
Indicators of sanctions evasion risk
- Russian clients communicating changes to the beneficial ownership of their private investment companies (PICs) to non-Russian or dual national family members
- Requests to transfer assets between Russian national/dual-national family members
- Use of trust arrangements, with circumstances of transfers calling into question whether the original owner retains indirect control or otherwise could retain a benefit from the assets transferred
- Assets transferred have usually been shares in companies, both UK and overseas, including both minority and controlling stakes in these businesses
- Payments from venture capital and private equity vehicles, many located in offshore jurisdictions or the far east
- Clients seeking to move all their assets to other financial institutions and closing their accounts in London
- Clients domiciled in Russia asking whether they can make transfers to their London account
- Attempts to purchase sanctioned Russian securities, which have drastically fallen in price
- Increased volume of transaction monitoring alerts resulting from Russian and Ukrainian clients making and receiving larger transfers than is typical
- Payments received by UK businesses, often in innovative areas, also with some elements of ownership by Russia nationals
- Payments via a fintech with Russian investor nexus
- Research on private equity/venture capital vehicles and some people with significant control/officers of UK businesses showing individuals connected to Russian industry previously subject to sectoral sanctions and on occasion politically exposed persons (PEPs)
- Russian high net worth individuals who are already on international sanctions lists (but not UK list) and/or who anticipate that they may become a sanctions target, transferring assets to family members and/or close associates such as employees
- Change in address and names for Russian entities one day prior to invasion
- Change of ultimate beneficial owners from Russian to other nationalities
- Circumvention attempts through open account trade-based money laundering (TBML) typology – for example, increase in third-party open account payments
The Terrorist Asset Freezing etc. Act 2010 created a series of criminal offences. It prohibits:
- dealing with the funds of designated persons
- making funds, financial services or economic resources available, directly or indirectly, for the benefit of designated persons
Additionally, you must not knowingly and intentionally participate in activities that would directly or indirectly circumvent these financial restrictions or enable or facilitate the commission of any of the above offences.
You can act for someone who’s on the sanctions list, but you must apply for a licence from the Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation (OFSI) before you start work.
When you carry out your firm’s anti-money laundering (AML) risk assessment, you should consider how likely it is that your clients may be on the sanctions lists.
It’s difficult to categorise the clients that may need to be checked simply by their nationality or country of residence. UK nationals and UK residents can be on the sanctions lists, so you may still be at risk even if you only act for local clients.
The regimes list can help you assess risk but bear in mind there may be some retainers where it’s not immediately apparent that a person or entity may have some connection to a relevant regime.
You cannot limit your risk assessment to the work regulated under the AML regulations. Examples of unregulated work that the sanctions regime may affect include:
- payment of personal injuries settlements
- property settlements following a divorce
You’d also need a licence from OFSI to use legal aid payments for the benefit of a person on the list.
You may apply a risk-based approach to setting up a system that checks your clients against the sanctions lists.
Factors that may increase the risk of a person being on the sanctions list, and so increase the reason for checking the list, include:
- clients or transactions with links to jurisdictions subject to sanctions, even if the clients are based locally
- clients or transactions involving politically exposed persons (PEPs) from jurisdictions subject to sanctions
- clients or transactions involving complex corporate structures in jurisdictions with high terrorist financing risks
- clients who seem unable to receive funds or send funds from a bank account in their name, for no good reason
If your firm has a low general risk of working for clients on the sanctions list, but individual clients have higher risks, you can check directly against the Treasury’s consolidated list by pressing Ctrl+F to do an in-page search.
If a client comes up as a possible sanctions match, you should review all the client identity information you hold against the sanctions list, to make sure you do not have a false positive identification. The UK sanctions list includes information on:
- date of birth
- passport or identity card numbers
- last known address
If your firm has a higher risk of dealing with clients on the sanctions list, you may want to use an e-verifier. These services incorporate the sanctions list into the databases they use to check identity information.
If you have a high risk of dealing with clients on the sanctions list, you should also have processes in place to help you find out whether key beneficial owners, or the intended recipient of funds from a transaction you’re undertaking, are subject to the restrictions.
You can check individual clients against the sanctions lists.
There are also lists of regimes to which financial sanctions have been applied that may provide some assistance in assessing the risk.
Selected sanctions lists
High-risk jurisdictions lists
If you decide you still want to act, you’ll need to apply for a licence from OFSI before proceeding.
- suspend the transaction while you wait for advice from OFSI
- contact OFSI to get a licence to deal with the funds
- consider whether you have a suspicion of money laundering or terrorist financing which requires a report to the National Crime Agency (NCA)
The last point is important because the sanctions regime applies in addition to reporting obligations under anti-money laundering and counter-terrorist financing legislation, including the 2011 regulations. For example you’ll need to consider whether to apply enhanced due diligence measures when dealing with a person or entity from a high-risk third country.
There may be circumstances where a report to the NCA is not required. For example, a person on the sanctions list may be suspected of terrorist involvement but may not have received a benefit from, or been involved in, raising funds for those activities.
The transaction they may be asking you to undertake could have no involvement with their alleged terrorist activities, for example a divorce or personal injury claim.
Even where you’re satisfied you do not need to make a report to the NCA you must not deal with the resources of the designated person without OFSI’s approval.
You can discuss the person’s sanctioned status with them without being concerned about tipping off, as the sanctions list is public information.
OFSI has the power to grant licences exempting certain transactions from the financial restrictions. It considers requests on a case-by-case basis, to make sure there’s no risk of funds being diverted to terrorism.
It has also issued general licences that govern certain situations, such as the use of legal aid payments.
You must contact OFSI even if you decide not to act for a person you know, or have reasonable cause to suspect, is a designated person.
These changes, now found in Schedule 1 of the 2011 Regulations, were introduced by the European Union Financial Sanctions (Amendment of Information Provisions) Regulations 2017.
The requirements apply to all practices, not just those regulated for AML purposes. Under the 2011 Regulations an independent legal professional is defined as “a firm or sole practitioner who by way of business provides legal or notarial services to other persons, when providing such services”.
You’re required to make a report to OFSI if, because of information that has come to you in the course of your practice, you know, or have reasonable cause to suspect, that someone:
- has committed an offence under the financial sanctions and asset freezing regimes or
- is a designated person listed in OFSI’s consolidated list of financial sanctions targets
If you fail to notify OFSI you’re committing a criminal offence. However the obligation only applies in respect of information received by relevant businesses on or after 8 August 2017.
What you must report
You must provide:
- the information or other matter on which your knowledge or suspicion is based
- any information you hold about the relevant person by which they can be identified
- (where relevant) the nature and amount of funds or economic resources you hold for the relevant person
Legal professional privilege
You do not have to report privileged information.
However, you’ll need to state clearly whether privilege applies and what information it applies to. Blanket statements of privilege could be challenged.
Resources to help you and your firm comply
Anti-money laundering helpline
Our anti-money laundering helpline offers support on anti-money laundering issues, including sanctions and high-risk jurisdictions lists.
Call: 020 7320 9544
Opening hours: 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday
Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) resources