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What are my options if goods are seized by Border Force or HMRC?

View profile for Cameron Stubbs
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What are my options if goods are seized by Border Force or HMRC?

Goods can be seized by HMRC or Border Force under Section 139 of the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979 when there has been a breach of customs law, for example, if the goods being imported are misdeclared. Once seized, the owner of the goods will be sent a “Notice of Seizure”, explaining what has been seized and the grounds for the seizure. The owner then has two options to recover their goods, condemnation proceedings through the Magistrates Court, or restoration.

Condemnation proceedings

Condemnation proceedings allow the owner to challenge the legal grounds for the seizure. For example, if HMRC seized a shipping container on the grounds that the wrong commodity codes were used to declare the goods, the owner may commence condemnation proceedings if they believe the commodity codes used were in fact correct. Proceedings are started by the owner or their representative serving a Notice of Claim with either HMRC or Border Force. A Magistrates Court hearing will then be arranged to hear legal arguments on the legality of the seizure. Owners of seized goods should be mindful that the deadline to serve a Notice of Claim for condemnation proceedings, is one calendar month from the date of seizure.


Alternatively, if the owner of the seized goods accepts that there were legal grounds for the seizure, they may pursue a request for restoration. All requests for restoration will be considered on their own merit and HMRC/Border Force will agree to restore seized goods to the owners where there are exceptional circumstances. Owners of seized goods should note that unlike condemnation proceedings, restoration is not a court process, and instead written submissions are sent to HMRC/Border Force for consideration. It should also be noted that any request for restoration is expected within one calendar month of the seizure.

Statutory review

If a restoration request is refused, the owner of the seized goods can submit further written representations, requesting an officer not previously involved in the case conduct a review of the decision not to restore the goods. The reviewing officer can either cancel, confirm, or vary the original restoration decision. Owners of seized goods should note that the time limit to submit a request for a statutory review is 45 days from the date of the restoration decision.

Appeal to First-tier Tribunal

Finally, if after a statutory review, Border Force/HMRC still refuse to agree to restoration, the owner of the seized goods can appeal to the First-Tier Tribunal (Tax chamber). An appeal must be lodged within 30 days of the review decision.

About Stephensons

Stephensons has a team of specialist regulatory lawyers who provide advice and representation to business owners and individuals, nationally and internationally, in relation to the seizure of goods by Border Force and HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

Our lawyers regularly deal with all aspects of the seizure process and can assist you with the following matters:

  • Liaising with Border Force or HMRC regarding the seized items
  • Providing advice on the legality of seizure, and whether to challenge it
  • Drafting a notice of claim
  • Representation at condemnation proceedings
  • Advice regarding a restoration application
  • Drafting a restoration application and submitting with supporting evidence
  • Challenging restoration conditions
  • Reviewing and advising regarding refusal to restore decisions
  • Preparing applications for requesting a review of a decision
  • Providing advice regarding a refusal to restore at the review stage representation at the appeal stage before the First Tier (Tax) Tribunal

Our lawyers have notable experience assisting clients who have had the following goods seized:

  • Commercial shipping containers
  • Vehicles
  • Aircraft
  • High value watches
  • Jewellery
  • Gold
  • Cigarettes and tobacco
  • Alcohol, including commercial imports of wine and gin

What our clients say

“Excellent service by Cameron who helped us fully as our container was held by HMRC customs. After 1 letter to HMRC our container was released. Thank you very much for your help.” – View from a satisfied client.

“I had two imported consignments seized by HMRC within a short interval of a month. I spoke to Cameron from Stephensons LLP and he seems to understand the process. I engaged their service for restoration and the two consignments were restored.

Communication: was excellent, the always update on the status .

Customer relations: excellent

Overall: excellent service” – View from a satisfied client.