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Seizures by Border Force & HMRC - recovering items

Stephensons has a team of specialist regulatory lawyers who provide advice and representation to businesses and individuals, nationally and internationally, in relation to the seizure of goods by UK Border Force and HM Revenue and Customs. Stephensons work closely with clients, specialist customs agents and specialist shipping agents to ensure clients have the best chance of having their goods returned.

HMRC have the power to seize goods and vehicles, under Section 139 of the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979. If an individual or business has goods seized by HMRC or Border Force, and want them to return the goods, in accordance with Notice 12A, they have three options:

1. Challenge the legality of the seizure, through condemnation proceedings in the Magistrates’ Court

2. Write to HMRC or Border Force asking them to return the goods, even if accepting the seizure itself was legal, through a process known as restoration

3. Pursue both of the above routes at the same time

However, it is important to note that options 1 and 2 are entirely separate processes and individuals and businesses should seek legal advice before pursuing option 3 due to potential cost implications.

If you would like to speak to a member of our team in relation to recovering an item seized by Border Force and the HMRC please call us on 01616 966 229 or complete our online enquiry form and we will contact you directly.

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Challenge a Border Force or HMRC seizure

Condemnation proceedings

As set out in Notice 12A, 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 sending a ‘Notice of Claim’ to the authority who have seized the goods, 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.


If the owner of the seized goods accepts that there were legal grounds for the seizure, they may pursue a request for restoration. The restoration process is set out in Notice 12A. 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.

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.

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.

How our solicitors can help

We have experience in assisting clients with:

  • Alcohol and tobacco importing
  • Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) – appeals regarding the importation of restricted goods
  • Border Force penalties
  • Border Force seizures
  • Cites – importing banned animal products and other products
  • Coding, duty and VAT issues
  • Condemnation proceedings
  • Customs duties and Inland Revenue matters
  • Detentions, stoppages and seizure of goods by the UK Border Force
  • Evasion of import
  • Excise duty assessments and appeals
  • Fraud 
  • Gold bullion seizure
  • HMRC raids and investigations
  • Judicial reviews (including claims for the urgent release of goods and damages for unlawful detentions, and injunctions)
  • Money laundering issues
  • Restoration claims
  • Seizure information notices
  • Shipments seized by customs
  • Supply or import Nitrous Oxide
  • Watches seized by customs
  • UK/EC Customs duties & VAT issues
  • Cash Seizure under Proceeds of Crime Act 2002

We can also assist with:

  • Advising under Section 77 of the Customs & Excise Management Act 1979
  • Medical Regulatory Health Authority –  including cannabis and CBD importing of medicinal products into the UK.

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

Who our solicitors help

We act for clients across a wide range of industries, and have successfully secured the restoration of goods and other items including:

  • Shipping containers sent to the UK from Asia, Europe and Africa
  • Private and commercial vehicles
  • Aircraft
  • High value jewellery, including luxury and vintage watches from brands including Rolex and Bremont
  • Antiquities
  • Commercial imports of wine and alcohol

What our client’s say?

“I had two imported consignments seized by HMRC within a short interval of a month. I spoke to Cameron from Stephensons LLP and he seemed to understand the process. I engaged their service for restoration and the two consignments were restored. Communication: was excellent, they always updated on the status. Customer relations: excellent. Overall: excellent service” - View from a satisfied client

"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

Border Force & HMRC recovery case studies

Stephensons were instructed in relation to the seizure of a container of commercial goods imported from China due to the declaration of the incorrect commodity codes for the items. Restoration had been refused and Stephensons were instructed to submit an application for a statutory review of the decision. Following our submission, the items were restored on the condition of a payment of a small restoration fee.

Stephensons were instructed in relation to a seizure of privately owned aircraft due to a breach of international restrictions. After lodging an appeal against the seizure with the First-tier Tribunal (Tax Chamber) we launched a simultaneous, fresh application for restoration and were able to negotiate the release of the aircraft.

Stephensons were instructed in relation to the seizure of a passenger coach found to be concealing a significant amount of cigarettes. Representations were advanced on behalf of the commercial owners; the application for restoration was successful and the coach restored.

Stephensons were instructed in relation to a case involving the seizure of antiquities which were found to be mislabeled and incorrectly valued. There were also concerns as to the origin of the items. We were able to successfully demonstrate legitimate ownership and secure the restoration of the items to their owner.

Stephensons were instructed in relation to the Seizure of a luxury and rare watch, featured in a Hollywood movie due to the import requiring a permit under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). An application for restoration was made, along with a suggestion that the watch be restored without the offending watch strap. An agreement was reached and the watch was restored.

Stephensons were instructed to act for an international client, a company producing wine and gin, who had imported a shipping container from France containing 17,886 bottles of wine and gin, to be distributed to and sold by UK supermarkets. The value of the goods was approximately €93,000. The goods were seized by Border force after it transpired that the company had not paid the required duties prior to shipping the goods to the UK. Stephensons lodged submissions to UK Border Force highlighting that the company was of good character and that full duties were paid within one week of the goods being seized.  Following consideration of Stephensons’ submissions, UK Border Force agreed to restoration, without charge.

Border Force & HMRC item recovery 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 dispute the legality of the seizure, you should pursue condemnation proceedings. However, if you know the seizure was legal but still want to recover the goods, you would request restoration of the seized goods.

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.  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. A restoration request is also expected within one calendar month from the date on the notice of seizure, so it is therefore important to urgently seek advice.

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. 

What if we use incorrect commodity codes?

Incorrect commodity codes allocated to commercial imports can lead to concerns regarding incorrect payment of duty/VAT on those goods.

The process of identifying appropriate commodity codes can be complex and time consuming, particularly if you are importing a high volume of diverse goods. However, failure to use the correct code, even if this was following the advice of a third party agent, can lead to seizure of the items.

If mistakes have been made it is important to take steps to correct those mistakes and to provide a full explanation at the earliest opportunity.

Contact our Border Force & HMRC solicitors

It is important to consult a specialist 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 01616 966 229  or complete our online enquiry form and we will contact you directly.

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Shipping container seized by Border Force or HMRC? These are your options

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

Read more

Luxury watch seized by Border Force or HMRC? These are your options

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

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