Current UK Law
Unlike the EU, the UK government has taken a more cautious approach to the regulation of cryptoassets, preferring to wait for the market to mature before introducing comprehensive legislation and authorisation requirements for different aspects of the sector and technologies.
As mentioned above, the UK does not currently have a cryptoasset authorisation regime. The first major laws to be enacted for the sector have been for financial promotions of cryptoassets under financial promotions rules and anti-money laundering regulations:
- The Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 (FSMA 2000): This act regulates financial services in the UK and the new financial promotion regime for cryptoassets is within this framework.
- The Money Laundering, Terrorist Financing and Transfer of Funds (Information on the Payer) Regulations 2017 (MLRs):
- These regulations require UK cryptoasset firms to register with the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and to implement anti-money laundering (AML) and counter-terrorist financing (CTF) measures.
- From 1 September 2023, cryptoasset businesses in the UK are required to collect, verify, and share information about cryptoasset transfers under the Travel Rule. This rule mirrors the requirements for fiat transactions in the banking and payments sector. However, it has proven difficult for the industry to implement a widely agreed information layer for compliance purposes.
- The Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (POCA): This act can be used to prosecute individuals who use cryptoassets to launder money or finance terrorism.
- The Financial Services and Markets Act 2023 (FSMA 2023): This introduces wide-ranging changes to the UK regulatory framework and further separates the UK from the EU financial services regime that it retained in the immediate aftermath of Brexit.
- FSMA 2023 also permits a new Designated Activities Regime (DAR):
- Giving new rule-making powers to the FCA and also, novelly, to HM Treasury.
- The DAR allows for existing financial services regulation to be modified to accommodate new designated activities that are not considered to fit within FSMA 2000 and the UK Regulated Activities Order.
- The DAR will initially cover activities relating to financial markets exchanges, instruments, products and investments currently provided for in retained EU law.
- DAR is likely to be used for cryptoasset activities that cannot be put within existing (or suitably modified) financial promotion, payments, e-money, investment and other regulated activities.
Proposed UK Authorisation Regime for Cryptoasset Service Providers
The UK government is currently considering several proposals to strengthen the regulation of cryptoassets, including:
- A licensing regime for cryptoasset firms: This would require all cryptoasset firms to obtain a license from the FCA:
“An amendment to the RAO power, Section 22(4) of FSMA, made through the FS&M Bill affirms the use of the RAO power for the financial services regulation of cryptoassets. This clarifies that persons (natural or legal) who are carrying out certain activities involving cryptoassets “by way of business” would be performing regulated activities and therefore require authorisation under Part 4A of FSMA. It would also mean that the FCA’s general rule making powers would be available, allowing the FCA to design regulatory regimes for newly added activities.”
UK: Calls for Evidence Cryptoassets & Stablecoins
(See Summary below)
- The current intention is not to include all cryptoassets within the definition of ‘financial instruments’ for MiFID purposes (although they are treated as specified investments for financial promotion purposes). Instead, HM Treasury is expected to use the new DAR regime powers to regulate (or prohibit) certain cryptoasset activities where they do not fall within the existing financial services regulatory perimeter.
The FCA’s Perimeter Guidance for Cryptoassets (PS 19/22) sets out more detail on the different types of cryptoassets and their interactions with the existing financial services regulatory perimeter.
In a separate article, we will summarise the current state of play for the proposed Digital Pound by the Bank of England.
Summary following the UK Cryptoasset Consultation
Principles for Regulations