At Reeds, we have specialist account freezing order solicitors who can provide guidance, support and assistance to those facing bank or building society accounts being frozen by investigatory bodies under the Proceeds of Crime Act. As one of the UK’s most highly-regarded, successful, and busy criminal and regulatory law firms, our Barristers and Solicitors have a wealth of experience in the setting aside and variation of Account Freezing Orders (AFOs). The Legal 500 2023 describes us as:

“A seriously professional and well respected outfit which has maintained a bespoke service at all levels and provides exceptional quality notwithstanding its recent expansion. Proper players in crime across the country.”

“Reeds has strength and experience across the board. They are well set up for the difficult task of criminal litigation in a digital age and always adopt the most thorough of approaches.”

AFOs allow authorised law enforcement agencies to seek the freezing, and following an investigation, possible forfeiture of monies or funds held in bank and building society accounts that are derived from criminal proceeds or are intended by any person for use in unlawful conduct. If your personal or business accounts are made subject to a freezing order, you must instruct an experienced legal team immediately.

Reeds Solicitors CAN help Defend You

Few white-collar crime law firms can match our experience, intelligence, and sheer tenacity when it comes to getting results for our clients. Our expert understanding of criminal law, particularly the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (POCA), and applications made ex-parte (without notice) means that we can robustly advise and represent you and do everything possible to protect the best interests of you, your family, and your business.

We are also able to provide help for related issues to the Chinese community. Our solicitor Andy Lee can assist Cantonese speaking clients with any matter relating to Account Freezing Orders or Proceeds of Crime Act concerns.

Below are some of the most frequent questions we are asked regarding AFOs.

What is an Account Freezing Order?

The Criminal Finances Act 2017 was enacted to tackle money laundering and corruption and recover the proceeds of crime and counter-terrorist financing. It inserted several provisions into POCA, including those allowing certain authorities to apply to the Court for an Unexplained Wealth Order (UWO) and AFOs.

Before the Criminal Finances Act 2017, the power to seize and forfeit cash derived from criminal activity was limited by the narrow definition of ‘cash’ provided by section 289(6) of POCA, namely:

  1. notes and coins in any currency,
  2. postal orders,
  3. cheques of any kind, including travellers’ cheques,
  4. bankers’ drafts,
  5. bearer bonds and bearer shares,

found at any place in the United Kingdom.

The Criminal Finances Act 2017 extended this power to cover cash held in banks and building society accounts.

If an AFO is granted, funds can be frozen for up to two years whilst their source is investigated. If there turns out to be sufficient evidence that the cash was obtained through ‘unlawful conduct’ (see below) an application for forfeiture of the monies can be made to the Court.

How is an AFO obtained?

A senior officer of a relevant agency which includes regional police forces, the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), HMRC, and the National Crime Agency (NCA) may apply to the Magistrates’ Court for an AFO if they are satisfied that:

  1. The money is recoverable property, i.e. it has been obtained through unlawful conduct, or
  2. It is intended by any person for use in unlawful conduct.

The bank or building society account subject to the application must contain no less than £1,000 in funds. The applicant cannot meet this requirement by totalling up the amount held in separate accounts, each account subject to the application must have a minimum of £1,000 available.

The applicant does not have to prove criminal conduct has occurred to be granted an AFO.

Can a Freezing Order be made without notice?

Most people are taken completely by surprise when they discover their bank or building society account has been frozen. This is because, in most cases, the application is made without notice (ex-parte).

Section 303Z1(4) of POCA provides that an application for an Account Freezing Order may be made without notice “if the circumstances of the case are such that notice of the application would prejudice the taking of any steps under this Chapter to forfeit money that is recoverable property or intended by any person for use in unlawful conduct.”

How long can Account Freezing Orders last?

The Magistrates’ Court can grant an AFO for up to two years, however, in practice, we have found that the average length of an initial AFO is six to twelve months with accounts connected to foreign jurisdictions being subjected to a twelve-month freeze.

Can I get an Account Freezing Order removed?

To get an AFO removed, you can ask your account holder to write to the relevant body to ask that they voluntarily withdraw the AFO. If they refuse, the bank or building society can apply to the Court to have the AFO discharged.

You can also apply to have the AFO varied. An AFO prohibits anyone from making withdrawals or payments to the account subject to the Order. Section 303Z1(4) of POCA provides exclusions from the general prohibition which can be granted to allow a person or business to meet everyday living expenses and/or carry on a trade, business, or occupation. Reasonable legal expenses can also count as an exclusion.

How an Account Freezing Order Solicitor can help

Our Criminal Defence Solicitors have extensive experience in POCA and several members of our team have been recognised as top of their field by the Legal 500 2023:

Oxford-based partners Stuart Matthews (Head of Private Crime) and Julian Richards (Head of Complex Crime) are both named as leading individuals in the South East of England. The Legal 500 writes that “Stuart Matthews displays outstanding empathy” who “manages to deliver realistic advice based on good judgment in private crime and protest work”.

Julian Richards has been recognised as “a standout tactician in serious crime, rightly enjoys an excellent reputation and is sought out for the most serious and complex cases.”

Andy Lee is a solicitor-advocate based in our Bristol office. He is also frequently instructed to defend those facing issues relating to serious fraud including Proceeds of Crime Act matters. He has been recognised by the Legal 500 as a ‘Rising Star’ for three years running (2021 – 2023). The Legal 500 comment that Andy is “thorough, intuitive whilst remaining realistic and practical”. They further state that “he is a first-class litigator and confident in his negotiating skills.”

Andy is able to converse with his clients in Cantonese, and many of his clients come from the Chinese community across the UK. All his clients benefit from his ability to quickly identify the issues in their case and help them to understand this very complex area of law.


Account Freezing Orders are draconian in nature and can wreak havoc on your professional and personal life. If you discover you have had the funds in your bank or building society account frozen, please contact us immediately for legal advice and representation.

For information about how we can assist you, please call 0333 240 7373. Alternatively, click here to provide us with your details, and one of the team will contact you as soon as possible.

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