UK Crypto Regulation – An Easy Explanation

UK Crypto Regulation – An Easy Explanation

13 min read

The whisper of regulation has long echoed through the corridors of the crypto world, often met with a mix of dread and anticipation. For some, the very word ‘regulation’ feels like a heavy chain ready to shackle the free-spirited essence of cryptocurrencies. For others, it’s a much-needed anchor in the choppy seas of a market known for its volatility. But here’s a thought: what if these regulations, these rules of the game, are not just inevitable but could be the very thing that steadies the ship and safeguards the future of crypto?

In the UK, the crypto industry is standing at a crossroads. The UK government, keen on maintaining financial stability and consumer protection, is poised to weave a tapestry of regulations that could redefine the landscape of crypto assets. It’s a move that’s sparking conversations in every corner of the crypto sector, from the offices of crypto companies to the screens of individual traders.

But let’s clear the air. Talking about regulation doesn’t have to be a dreary affair filled with jargon and legalese. Instead, think of it as unraveling a mystery novel, where each page turned brings clarity and understanding. Whether you’re knee-deep in crypto asset transactions or just dipping your toes into digital currencies, knowing the rules of the road is essential.

So, let’s embark on this journey together. We will look at the UK crypto regulations, the past, present, and future. And who knows, by the end, we might just find that these regulations are not the villain of the story, but its unsung hero, poised to usher in a new era of stability and trust in the crypto universe.

Ready to turn the page? Let us begin our exploration of UK crypto regulations, ensuring you’re well-equipped for the twists and turns of this fascinating narrative.


Who Are the Main Regulators in the UK

uk crypto regulation

In the UK, the regulation of cryptocurrencies is a collaborative effort involving multiple regulatory bodies, each with specific roles and responsibilities to ensure a balance between innovation and consumer protection.


The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA)

The FCA is the main watchdog overseeing the crypto sector in the UK. Under the regulations updated in January 2020, the FCA oversees businesses engaged in crypto-related activities, ensuring they adhere to anti-money laundering (AML) and counter-terrorist financing (CTF) regulations.


His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC)

HMRC’s role is primarily tax-related, ensuring individuals and businesses report and pay taxes accurately on their crypto transactions. It provides guidance on the tax treatment of various crypto activities, including buying, selling, mining, and exchanging cryptocurrencies.


Other Regulators and Their Roles

While the FCA and HMRC are key players, the regulatory environment also involves other entities:


HM Treasury

It’s involved in policymaking and has been instrumental in proposing regulatory reforms, especially in the context of adapting existing frameworks to include crypto regulations.


The Bank of England

It has a stake in maintaining financial stability and has been exploring the potential of a central bank digital currency (CBDC). The Bank of England’s involvement is particularly significant when it comes to systemic payment systems that might use digital settlement assets, which are under consideration for regulatory oversight.

The FCA maintains a register of crypto asset firms under UK money laundering regulations, and it regulates providers to implement AML/CFT policies. The role of these regulators is to ensure a safe and stable crypto environment that supports innovation while protecting consumers and the integrity of the financial system.

The regulatory landscape in the UK is evolving, with a focus on incorporating the regulation of crypto assets into existing frameworks and adapting as the market develops. As these changes unfold, it’s crucial for participants in the crypto market to stay informed and compliant with the new regulations set forth by these authorities.


Crypto Assets in the UK

As we explore the landscape of UK crypto regulations, it’s crucial to understand the very essence of what we’re dealing with; crypto assets.

Since 2018, the Crypto Assets Taskforce, composed of HM Treasury (HMT), the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), and the Bank of England (BoE), has been at the helm, steering the UK’s approach to crypto assets and distributed ledger technology (DLT) within the financial services sector. Their mission? To transform the UK into a global hub for crypto asset technology and investment.

In pursuit of this vision, HMT unveiled a consultation paper in February 2023, seeking insights on a future financial services regulatory regime for crypto assets. This move underlines the UK’s dual ambition: to foster growth, innovation, and competition in the crypto industry while simultaneously safeguarding UK consumers and ensuring the stability and integrity of the market.

But what exactly is a “crypto asset”? While there’s no globally accepted definition, the UK’s Financial Services and Markets Act (FSMA 2023), which received Royal Assent on 29 June 2023, offers a clear picture:

A crypto asset is “Any cryptographically secured digital representation of value or contractual rights that (a) can be transferred, stored or traded electronically, and (b) uses technology supporting the recording or storage of data (which may include distributed ledger technology).

This definition echoes the one found in the Money Laundering, Terrorist Financing and Transfer of Funds (Information on the Payer) Regulations 2017, but with an expanded scope to encompass a wider range of underlying technology.

Exploring further, the UK categorizes crypto assets into four broad types:


Security Tokens

These are like traditional investments, offering rights like ownership, repayment, or a share in future profits. They can be transferable securities or financial instruments, making them a focal point for regulatory scrutiny.


Exchange Tokens

These are the poster children of cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin and Litecoin. They are not issued by a central authority but serve as a means of exchange or investment. They facilitate transactions and storing value.


Utility Tokens

These tokens grant digital access to specific services or applications. They are the backstage passes to the digital realm, offering functionality rather than ownership or payment features.


Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs)

Each NFT (Non-Fungible Tokens) is unique, often representing digital ownership of a singular asset like digital art. They’re collectibles, each with its own distinct story and value.

It’s worth noting that some crypto assets might also fit within the definition of e-money under the E-Money Regulations 2011. The FCA’s Perimeter Guidance for Crypto assets offers further clarification on the nuances of these classifications.

The UK’s approach to crypto regulation is one of balance and foresight. It’s a delicate dance between nurturing innovation and maintaining the robustness of financial systems, all while ensuring that the consumers and market participants are well-protected and informed. As we proceed, keep in mind that each type of crypto asset plays a vital role in the unfolding narrative of the UK’s regulatory odyssey.


Crypto Asset Regulation in the UK

Beyond specific rules targeting money laundering, the UK hasn’t had a regulatory regime for crypto assets. Instead, they’ve been looking at crypto through the prism of existing regulatory framework and financial laws. Activities or investments relating to crypto assets are only captured in cases that fall within the scope captured by the Financial Services and Markets Act (FSMA), the Electronic Money Regulations, and the Payment Services Regulations. Although activities relating to security tokens are already under tight regulatory watch, most digital assets and activities are unregulated.

The UK’s strategy for regulating crypto assets is opting to integrate them into already established frameworks rather than creating new ones from scratch. This includes the Financial Promotions regime, the Regulated Activities regime, and the new Designated Activities regime. It’s a move that sets the UK apart from its European counterparts.

So, how’s the change happening? It’s all in the definitions. FSMA’s been tweaked to ensure that crypto assets are now clearly included under ‘regulated activities’ and ‘financial promotions’. It’s a subtle yet powerful shift, tying back to FSMA’s expanded definition of what a ‘crypto asset’ is.

In early 2023, the HM Treasury put out a call for evidence, opening the floor for a conversation on how to shape the future of financial services regulation for crypto assets. This call for evidence maps out the UK’s game plan, splitting it into key areas like

  • reforming the Financial Promotions regime
  • adapting regulations for stablecoins used for payments (Phase 1)
  • adapting regulations for high-value crypto assets (Phase 2)

It’s a balancing act, focusing on areas that present both risk and opportunity. And it’s not just a matter of now, but also of the future, with the UK poised to adapt as the markets evolve.


UK Crypto Regulation Reforms

FSMA 2023 brings crypto assets squarely within the purview of “regulated activities,” meaning that managing, arranging deals in, and promoting crypto assets now require adherence to the FSMA 2000’s general prohibition unless authorized or exempt. This change has far-reaching implications for anyone involved in crypto.

The Act also introduces a broader definition of “investment” to include crypto assets, thus extending the restrictions on financial promotions to cover the promotion of crypto assets. This move aims to enhance consumer protection by ensuring that communications about crypto investments meet rigorous standards.


Financial Promotions

In 2023, the UK is stepping up its game by extending the financial promotions perimeter specifically to encompass crypto assets. This means any firm, no matter where it’s based, that’s marketing crypto assets to UK consumers will have to adhere to strict standards. The primary goal? To ensure that all promotions related to crypto assets are transparent, fair, and not misleading.

This move is part of a broader effort to bring clarity and integrity to the crypto market, aiming to build trust and stability in a landscape that’s often been likened to the Wild West. It is a clear signal that the UK is serious about making the crypto market a safe space for consumers and investors alike.

Here is a detailed guide on Firms’ preparation to comply with the cryptoasset financial promotions regime by the FCA


Fiat-Backed Stablecoins Used for Payments – Phase 1

The Bank of England and the FCA are shaping a collaborative regulatory approach for stablecoins, emphasizing their potential to streamline retail payments while acknowledging the associated financial stability risks. Their current discourse invites industry insights, reflecting an openness to public opinion and expert feedback on how to safely integrate these digital assets into the UK’s payment landscape.

Under the spotlight are digital settlement assets (DSAs), which include stablecoins pegged to fiat currencies. The UK’s legislative developments are poised to extend the Bank of England’s regulatory reach to payment systems that leverage DSAs, encompassing issuers and wallet providers within its domain. This move is about more than just oversight; it’s about fostering safe innovation in the payment systems that might soon integrate DSAs as a cornerstone of their operations.

The government’s plan to bring the issuance and custody of fiat-backed stablecoins into the regulatory fold signifies a proactive stance. Activities from the issuance to the redemption of stablecoins, as well as the facilitation of payment transactions with them, are set to be meticulously regulated. The overarching aim here is clear: to ensure that these stablecoins, particularly when they serve as payment instruments, maintain high standards of reliability and consumer protection.

This vigilant approach reflects a broader commitment to a comprehensive crypto asset regulatory framework in the UK, with feedback on these proposed measures being sought until February 6, 2024. As this process unfolds, it is evident that the UK is seeking to establish a balance between innovation in the financial sector and the steadfast safeguarding of its financial system’s integrity.


High-Priority Crypto assets – Phase 2

Phase 2 casts a wider regulatory net, targeting areas associated with higher risks or significant growth opportunities. This phase is all about bringing a broader spectrum of crypto asset activities under regulation, from trading to investment. It’s a significant leap from Phase 1, potentially requiring a wide array of market participants to obtain authorization to continue their activities.

The indicative list of activities for regulation in Phase 2 includes:

  • issuing crypto assets
  • operating trading venues for crypto asset exchanges
  • dealing in or arranging crypto asset transactions
  • operating lending platforms for crypto assets
  • and safeguarding or administering crypto assets other than fiat-backed stablecoins.

This phase marks a proactive step towards safeguarding consumers and ensuring a stable and transparent crypto market, aligning with the UK’s aim to foster a thriving, well-regulated crypto ecosystem.


Future Phases – Medium-Priority Crypto assets:

Future phases will address medium-priority crypto assets, with the specifics hinging on how the market evolves. These phases will delve into areas not covered by the initial phases, such as post-trade activities, advice and management related to crypto assets, and the intricacies of mining, validating transactions, or operating nodes on blockchain networks.

This forward-looking approach is about staying nimble and responsive, ensuring that as the crypto world grows and changes, the regulatory framework adapts accordingly. It is about striking a balance between fostering innovation and maintaining a secure, trustworthy market.


Implications for Stakeholders

The enactment of FSMA 2023 has profound implications for all stakeholders in the crypto space. Crypto companies and individuals engaging in crypto-related activities must carefully assess whether their assets and activities fall under the new statutory definitions and regulations. Compliance is paramount to avoid penalties and maintain market confidence.

For consumers and users of crypto assets, the new legislation underscores the importance of engaging with compliant service providers. In a market where trust is paramount, adherence to the latest regulations is a strong indicator of a provider’s commitment to integrity and stability.

As the UK’s regulatory landscape continues to evolve, staying informed and adaptable is crucial for navigating the complexities of the crypto market.


Frequently Asked Questions

Are Cryptocurrencies regulated in the UK?

While direct regulation of cryptocurrencies themselves is limited, the UK does enforce regulations concerning anti-money laundering (AML) and countering the financing of terrorism (CFT) for crypto asset firms. The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) ensures these firms adhere to stringent procedures to prevent financial crimes.


Is Bitcoin legal in the UK in 2023?

Bitcoin, along with other cryptocurrencies, enjoys a legal status in the UK. The Financial Services and Markets Act 2023, enacted in June, lays the groundwork for treating certain activities involving cryptocurrencies as regulated financial activities.


What is the UK crypto ‘Travel Rule’?

The ‘Travel Rule’, effective from 1 September 2023, is part of the UK’s commitment to align with global standards for AML and CFT. It mandates that crypto asset businesses in the UK collect, verify, and share specific information regarding transactions, particularly when transferring crypto assets, to ensure transparency and security in financial dealings.



The information in this article is provided for educational and informational purposes only. While we strive to provide timely and accurate information, we cannot guarantee that all information is accurate as of the date it is received or will continue to be accurate in the future.

CoinPayments inc does not provide trading, financial, investment, or any other type of advice through this content. Readers are advised to seek the advice of a qualified professional before making any decision or taking any action that may affect their financial situation or that of their business.


Stay informed with our Bi-Weekly Pulse for the latest crypto and blockchain news.

Get access to the week’s most interesting reads, stats and find out about the most recent trends in the cryptocurrency market.