Items seized by Border Force or HMRC FAQs
Why are items/goods seized?
Border Force or HMRC has the right to seize any items/goods in the UK if duty has not been properly paid, if the items are restricted or banned in the UK or if customs laws or regulations have been broken. Goods and vehicles can be seized under section 139 of the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979.
The process of challenging a seizure is the same whether it is Border Force or HMRC who have seized the items. It is important to check who has seized the goods and where you need to write to at the outset.
Who are HM Customs & Excise?
In 2005 HM Customs & Excise merged with the Inland Revenue to form HM Revenue and Customs, or HMRC. If the seizure of your goods relates to payment of duty it will normally be dealt with by HMRC.
Border Force is a law enforcement section of the Home Office. They secure the UK border and carry out customs controls for goods and other items entering the UK. Items seized for reasons other than payment of tax or duty will usually be dealt with by Border Force.
What happens when items are seized?
If you are present at the time of the seizure you will be handed a ‘seizure information notice’ and the reason for the seizure should be explained to you. If you or your agent is not present you will be sent a notice of seizure. The notice should confirm who carried out the seizure, the reason and legal grounds for it and a list of the items seized. It will also confirm how you can challenge the seizure or request restoration of the goods. The seized goods will be stored until legal proceedings have concluded; you may be charged a storage fee until the issue has been resolved.
You need to carefully review the seizure notice as there will be a timeframe to provide a response. If that deadline is missed the authorities may decide not to consider your correspondence.
What are the options when goods have been seized?
There are different options depending on whether you believe the seizure was legitimate. If you know the seizure was legal and you do not want the items back no action is necessary. The items will be disposed of.
Challenge a Border Force or HMRC seizure – what are condemnation proceedings?
If you do not believe the seizure was correct we can challenge it. The owner can challenge the legality of the seizure by sending a notice of claim within one calendar month of the date of the seizure. A notice of claim asks HMRC or Border Force to initiate ‘condemnation proceedings’; these proceedings will decide whether something was lawfully seized.
When you challenge the legality of a seizure a court hearing will take place. At the hearing HMRC or Border Force must prove the seizure was lawful. It may be possible to demonstrate that the seizure was not legal when you can show that all relevant duty has been paid on the goods or that the goods are not prohibited or restricted. This will depend on the circumstances of your case. We can discuss this with you if you wish to challenge the seizure.
Whether you believe the seizure was lawful or not you can still write to Border Force or HMRC asking for the items back. This process is called restoration.
What is a restoration application?
A restoration application is a request to return the seized goods or items to their rightful owner.
There is a general policy not to return seized goods in certain circumstances. However, all requests will be considered. You can make an application even when you accept the seizure was lawful.
A restoration application must be made in writing, and should set out the reasons why the item or goods should be restored to you. We can assist in formulating strong arguments, supported by relevant case law and other documentary evidence.
What is the time limit to apply for restoration?
Border Force or HMRC will expect to receive a request for restoration within one calendar month of the date of seizure or the date on the notice of seizure.
Although there is no legal time limit for making a restoration application the authorities will dispose of certain items if they are not claimed within a certain time frame. This can be as little as 45 days after the seizure so it is therefore important to urgently seek advice.
The authorities may agree to restoration absolutely, or upon agreement of certain conditions. If an application is refused we can ask for a review.
Requesting a review of a decision
If an application is refused or you do not accept the conditions offered we can request a review. A request for a review should be received by HMRC or Border Force within 45 days of the refusal letter.
If you are outside the 45 day time limit you may still be able to request a review, but a reasonable excuse for the delay must be provided. Please contact us to discuss if you are unsure whether you have a reasonable excuse.
The review will be carried out by an impartial officer not previously involved in the case.
The request for a review should set out the reasons why the decision was incorrect and again, should include any supporting evidence.
The officer reviewing can confirm, vary or cancel the decision. They can also change the conditions offered for restoration.
Can I appeal if restoration is still refused?
If restoration is still refused we can appeal to a Tribunal within 30 days of the review decision. The appeal grounds and supporting documents will be sent to the First Tier Tribunal (Tax) for consideration. The appeal process is a complex and lengthy process, resulting in an appeal hearing, but making an application can be worthwhile when the item that has been seized is particularly valuable and grounds of appeal with merit have been identified.
It is important to consult a solicitor at the earliest stage possible to ensure you have the best chance of your items being returned.
For any extra information please call us on 0203 816 9274 or complete our online enquiry form and we will contact you directly.