Under wartime legislation, the UK Government confiscated assets in British territory owned by residents of enemy countries. This took under the provisions of the Trading with the Enemy Act 1939 (c89), an Act intended to prohibit commercial or financial dealings with the enemy, and to preserve enemy assets in the UK in order to prevent the enemy from benefiting from them. The enemy countries included Nazi Germany and its allies, as well as countries under Nazi occupation. After the war, the assets of the occupied countries were released from British Government control, but the assets of the 'belligerent' countries were distributed to British creditors whose assets had been confiscated by the enemy countries. An exception was made for victims of Nazi persecution and soon after the war; Nazi victims or their heirs could claim the return of their assets.
In Spring 1997, following public concern that there were still many assets belonging to victims that had not been returned, the British Government conducted research into the history of the administration of Enemy Property. Searches were made in the surviving records in the TWE (Trading With the Enemy) series, originally created by the Treasury and the Board of Trade. One result of this research was the compilation of a database of the assets seized from residents of belligerent enemy countries.
The UK Government saw the situation as an injustice that had to be addressed and, in June 1998, commissioned Lord Archer of Sandwell to advise on the design of a suitable compensation scheme. In December 1998, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry announced the compensation scheme administered by an independent Enemy Property Compensation Advisory Panel. Shortly after its formation, this Panel was known as the Enemy Property Claims Assessment Panel (EPCAP).
EPCAP launched the Enemy Property Payments Scheme in April 1999 under the Chairmanship of Lord Archer of Sandwell, sitting with two teams of assessors who were expert in finance and ethnic minority issues. The initial period for submission of claims ended on 30th September 1999. Each claim was then considered by EPCAP. Claims could be made in respect of any property in the UK confiscated by Her Majesty's Government under British legislation on enemy property or trading with the enemy if not already returned, and compensation not already been paid to cover its full value. The Government undertook to pay compensation on the basis of wartime values increased by the change in the retail prices index. Compensation was to be paid to victims of Nazi persecution who owned such property when it was confiscated, and to others who could demonstrate that they were likely to have been the beneficial owner of such property if it had not been confiscated, if they or the original owner suffered Nazi persecution.
On 8th July 2004, the Minister Patricia Hewitt announced the closure of the Enemy Property Payment Scheme. At that time, the Panel reported that 220,000 separate items were confiscated and either sold or returned to the original owners. They had received a total of 1,121 claims, of which 377 were successful. Payments made under the Scheme amounted to £16.2 million. There remained but 22 cases outstanding; and only one item (a gilt bracelet and diamond tie-pin) unclaimed. Following continued interest in the scheme it became clear that its formal closure would have to be deferred and claims will still be considered in exceptional circumstances.