|HMRC Reference:Notice 12A (September 2013)||View Change History|
This notice cancels and replaces Notice 12A (September 2011). It supersedes all previous editions.
Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs
The physical act of HMRC or Border Force taking possession of a thing which they believe to be liable to forfeiture under the Customs and Excise Acts.
The legal act that transfers ownership of a seized thing to HMRC or Border Force. It can happen by order of a court or passage of time (if there is no appeal)
Seizure Information Notice
A Seizure Information Notice is handed to you or your agent if one of you is present when HMRC or Border Force seizes something from you. It lists the goods that have been seized.
Notice of Seizure
If neither you nor your agent is present when HMRC or Border Force seizes something from you, a Notice of Seizure will be sent to you or your agent listing the goods seized
Notice of Claim
A letter formally challenging the seizure of something by HMRC or Border Force. A Notice of Claim must be sent to HMRC or Border Force within one calendar month of the date of seizure, or Notice of Seizure, or legal ownership of the seized thing passes automatically to HMRC or Border Force.
The legal term for the court process, started by a Notice of Claim, which decides whether seized goods are liable to forfeiture and, therefore, if a seizure by HMRC or Border Force was lawful. Condemnation proceedings establish whether or not legal ownership of the seized thing will pass to HMRC or Border Force, or go back to you.
A process that HMRC or Border Force can use to return a seized thing to its owner, often for a fee.
This Notice 12A gives important advice and information about what to do if you have had something seized by HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) or Border Force. It applies to the seizure of things, such as goods and vehicles, under section 139 of the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979. It does not apply to seizures carried out under any other law.
Details of the things seized from you will be listed on one of the following:
The information in this Notice 12A covers seizures by HMRC and Border Force because the process is the same even though they are separate government organisations. However, it gives different contact details for HMRC and Border Force. It is important that you contact the correct organisation, depending on who seized something from you, so your case can be dealt with promptly.
Seizures of cash under the Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA) 2002 and seizures made under section 19 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE) are not covered by information in this Notice 12A. If your cash or goods have been seized under either of these Acts, your receipt or notice of seizure for that will include details about what you can do if you do not agree with the seizure.
If you need general advice or more copies of information Notices, you should phone the HMRC helpline on 0300 200 3700 between 8am and 8pm, Monday to Friday. This applies whether your goods were seized by HMRC or by Border Force.
If you have hearing difficulties, a Textphone service is available on 0300 200 3700.
If you would like to speak to someone in Welsh, please phone 0300 200 1900 between 8am and 6pm, Monday to Friday.
All calls are charged at the local rate within the UK. Charges may be different for mobile phones.
Information about seizure and restoration is also available on the HMRC and GOV.UK websites. Go to www.hmrc.gov.uk or www.gov.uk/customs-seizures-and-penalties.
If you have had something seized by HMRC or Border Force and you do not accept there was a legal right to seize it and/or you want them to consider returning it, you have three options. You can:
(a) challenge the legality of the seizure by sending a Notice of Claim to HMRC or Border Force (See Section 3 below) or
(b) write to HMRC or Border Force asking for the thing to be returned to you even if you accept it was seized legally. This is called restoration. (See Section 4 below) or
(c) do both of the above at the same time by challenging the legality of the seizure and asking for the seized thing to be returned in the meantime. (See Sections 3 and 4).
It is important to understand that challenging the legality of the seizure (a) and asking for restoration (b) are two completely separate processes. The legality of a seizure is a decision that is usually for the magistrates’ courts (or in Scotland the sheriff’s court) in condemnation proceedings. Restoration is decided by HMRC or Border Force but if you do not agree with their decision, you can appeal against it at a tribunal. Both processes are explained in more detail in Sections 3 and 4 of this Notice 12A. If you choose option (c), the two processes will be dealt with at the same time but in separate ways. They cannot be combined because magistrates’ courts and tribunals have different areas of authority.
In addition to the information in this Notice 12A, you may wish to obtain legal advice. You may have to pay for this. You can also consult your local Citizens’ Advice Bureau (CAB). The CAB should be able to offer you general advice on what you can do but they are unable to assist with specific cases. Details of your local CAB are in the phone directory or on their website at www.citizensadvice.org.uk.
If HMRC or Border Force has seized your vehicle, you should try to take as much of your personal property from it as you can at the time, particularly any high-value items. You should tell the seizing officer about any property you are unable to take so it can be recorded. Smaller items will be placed in a sealed bag. You will not be allowed to take any seized things or items of property that are being held as evidence in respect of any criminal proceedings.
If, at a later date, you want to arrange for the collection of any property you could not take with you at the time, you should write to the address shown on the Seizure Information Notice or on the Notice of Seizure. Your letter must arrive within 45 days of the date of seizure and you should mark it ‘Personal Property’. You must collect your personal property within a reasonable period.
If you are present at the time of seizure HMRC or Border Force will, whenever possible, give you copies then of any documents they take from you at that time. If they did not do that or you were not present at the time of seizure, you can apply for copies by writing to the address on the Seizure Information Notice or on the Notice of Seizure.
If you believe something should not have been seized, you can challenge the legality of the seizure. That will lead to a court hearing where HMRC or Border Force has to prove the seizure was lawful.
You may believe that HMRC or Border Force had no legal right to seize something because, for example:
Any person can challenge the legality of the seizure but the person who does that (or their solicitor) will be required to swear on oath at court that they owned the thing at the time of seizure. As the owner you may ask someone else to send a Notice of Claim for you but it must include your signed authority for them to act on your behalf. All challenges to seizure made by Border Force must include an authority form. Failure to provide a signed authority may cause delay in Border Force giving you a decision. There is a template authority form at the end of this Notice 12A.
Where some of the seized things are owned by different people, each person who wants to challenge the seizure of their items must send a Notice of Claim to HMRC or Border Force within the time limit.
If you want to write a joint letter each person must:
You can challenge a seizure by sending a Notice of Claim to HMRC or Border Force, depending on who made the seizure, setting out the reasons for your challenge.
When sending a Notice of Claim, we recommend that you
In legal terms, by making a Notice of Claim you are asking HMRC or Border Force to start court action known as condemnation proceedings. These proceedings decide whether something was seized lawfully by HMRC or Border Force and if ownership should pass to them. The proceedings do not involve court action against any person to decide if they are guilty of an offence in relation to seized things, such as smuggling.
An example Notice of Claim letter is at paragraph 3.16 of this Notice 12A. You may use it to challenge the seizure or, if you prefer, you may write your challenge in your own words. The format of your claim will not affect how your case is treated but you must include:
Your Notice of Claim should only list the things whose seizure you want to challenge. You should be as specific as possible, including quantities where possible such as the weight of rolling tobacco, number of cigarettes, litres of beer, wine or spirits and brand names. If you have had several things seized and you accept the seizure of some items was lawful, do not include those on your Notice of Claim.
Your case will be dealt with more quickly if it is clear from the start what you are asking us to do.
Yes. HMRC or Border Force must receive your Notice of Claim within one calendar month of the date of seizure shown on the Seizure Information Notice or the date shown on the Notice of Seizure. If HMRC or Border Force does not receive a Notice of Claim within the time limit, you will not be able to challenge the legality of the seizure.
The time limit is set by the law and there is no provision for late challenges. This means that unless the legality of a seizure is challenged within one calendar month time limit, you will automatically lose ownership of the seized thing. There is no other way to challenge the legality of a seizure.
One calendar month is defined as the corresponding date on which the goods were seized in the following month, irrespective of how many dates are in the month. For example, if the seizure occurred on the 10th day of the month you have to submit your claim by the 10th day of the following month.
It is important that you send your Notice of Claim to the correct address. If you send it elsewhere, there could be a delay in HMRC or Border Force dealing with your challenge against a seizure.
If your things were seized by Border Force, for example on arrival in the UK at a port or airport or at an import postal hub, you should send your Notice of Claim to:
National Post Seizure Unit
If your things were seized by HMRC, you should send your Notice of Claim to:
HM Revenue & Customs
Appeals and Reviews Team S0777
PO Box 29992
For both HMRC and Border Force claims please send as much information as you can so your Notice of Claim is referred to the correct person to deal with your case. It is particularly important that you write in English wherever possible and include any case reference numbers on the Notice of Seizure or Seizure Information Notice as these will help identify the goods and ensure your Notice of Claim is directed to the correct place.
If you live outside the United Kingdom or the Isle of Man you must provide additional information as well as sending a Notice of Claim. You must also send HMRC or Border Force the name and address of a solicitor in the UK instructed to act on your behalf and to accept the service of legal documents. You should complete an Agent Authority Form with the solicitor’s details as this will formally advise us that the solicitor is authorised to act on your behalf. You must do this within the one calendar month time limit for sending a Notice of Claim.
When HMRC or Border Force receives a Notice of Claim, they apply to the appropriate court for condemnation proceedings, which is the process for dealing with a claim against seizure. HMRC or Border Force will apply to the court as soon as possible, in most cases within six months, in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland. The court then sends you details of when and where the hearing will take place, usually the court nearest to where the things were seized.
The type of court and the document you receive with details of the hearing varies, depending on where in the UK the goods were seized. Condemnation proceedings for things seized in:
You will be asked to confirm on oath that you owned the thing at the time it was seized. HMRC or Border Force will present their evidence showing why they think the thing should have been seized and you will be able to tell the court why you disagree. The Magistrate then decides whether HMRC or Border Force was right to make the seizure.
No. Challenging the legality of a seizure is a civil process, mainly to establish whether something was seized lawfully by HMRC or Border Force. A Notice of Claim will trigger HMRC or Border Force to start court proceedings to decide if seizure was lawful. Those proceedings only decide what should happen to seized things. They do not decide any action against a person in relation to seized things so you will not get a criminal record just because the court decides HMRC or Border Force was right to seize something.
No. You do not have to be legally represented at condemnation proceedings unless you live outside the UK (see paragraph 3.6 of this Notice 12A). However, you may want to instruct a solicitor to act on your behalf. This is usually at your own expense.
HMRC and Border Force can explain the options available to you but they are not able to provide you with legal advice. It is for you to make a decision on whether you wish to challenge the legality of the seizure and/or seek restoration. If you need more information about what to do next, beyond what is available in this Notice 12A, you should consider consulting a solicitor.
Challenging the legality of a seizure can take several months from when you send HMRC or Border Force your Notice of Claim to when it is heard in court. The court hearing itself usually lasts less than a day.
If criminal proceedings have been started, the civil process of condemnation will be adjourned until the conclusion of any criminal action.
If the court decides in your favour, the seized thing will be returned to you. If HMRC or Border Force has already disposed of the seized thing, the owner of the goods has the right to request compensation in one of three ways;
1. An amount equal to the sum paid by him or her for the goods in question
2. An amount equal to the proceeds of sale (where HMRC or Border Force have sold the goods in question)
3. An amount equal to the market value of the goods at the time of seizure
The market value of the goods at the time of seizure may, for example, be the price you paid for them abroad. Alternatively, it might be an amount agreed by HMRC or Border Force and the owner of the goods. If HMRC or Border Force and the owner of seized goods cannot agree on the market value of seized goods, the value may be decided by an independent referee appointed by the Lord Chancellor.
Additional compensation (perhaps for costs, travel expenses, interest, etc) would only be considered in exceptional cases, such as where it can be shown that HMRC or Border Force has wrongfully interfered with the goods in question.
If the court finds in favour of HMRC or Border Force, it will make an order forfeiting the seized thing to them. The court may also order you to pay their costs.
Yes. You can withdraw your challenge against the seizure at any stage by writing to HMRC or Border Force but you may still have to pay some of their costs if the case is well advanced. If you decide to withdraw your challenge, it is important that you write to HMRC or Border Force as soon as possible.
If you withdraw your challenge, you are accepting the seizure was lawful and the seized things will be condemned. It will not affect any request for restoration (see Section 4 below) but you will not be able to challenge the legality of the seizure as part of a request for restoration. Similarly, if you later appeal against a duty assessment or wrongdoing penalty issued to you after a seizure of excise goods, you will not be able to do that on the grounds that excise duty was not payable on them or had already been paid unless you have challenged the legality of the seizure by submitting a Notice of Claim.
You may use this letter if you want to challenge the seizure of your things (Section 3 of this Notice 12A.) This includes cases where you claim excise goods were for your ‘own use’.
HMRC and Border Force’s general policy is not to return seized excise goods (such as alcohol or tobacco products), vehicles used for commercial smuggling or anything that is prohibited (such as illegal drugs, offensive weapons or endangered plant and animal species). However, they will consider all requests for the return of seized things and take all relevant facts into account.
The process of returning a seized thing to someone is called restoration. HMRC and Border Force normally only restore a thing to its rightful owner but they will take arrangements with third parties into consideration.
If you want goods returned because you believe they should not have been seized in the first place, perhaps because you claim excise goods are for your ‘own use’, the only avenue open to you is to challenge the legality of the seizure by sending a Notice of Claim (see Section 3). You cannot use the restoration process for this.
You can ask HMRC or Border Force to consider returning the seized thing even if:
Your goods will not be restored if your reason for that request is that things were not legally seized or, in the case of excise goods, they were imported for your 'own use'. You should challenge the legality of the seizure instead bearing in mind the one month time limit for doing that (Section 3of this Notice 12A).
You should ask for restoration of a seized thing in writing. An example of a restoration request letter is at paragraph 4.16 of this Notice 12A. If you prefer to write in your own words, you must make it clear that you want the seized thing or things restored to you.
When posting a letter to HMRC or Border Force, you should get proof of posting and keep it for your own records.
To help HMRC or Border Force deal with your request quickly, your letter should:
HMRC or Border Force will normally acknowledge your letter within 10 working days of receiving it.
It is important that you send your request for restoration to the appropriate office shown below to avoid any delay in dealing with it.
If the goods were seized by Border Force, perhaps for example on arrival in the UK at a port or airport or at an import postal hub, you should write to:
National Post Seizure Unit
If the goods were seized by HMRC, you should write to the HMRC office whose details are shown on the Notice of Seizure or Seizure Information Notice. Exceptionally, where no details are shown on the Notices, you should write to:
HM Revenue & Customs
Appeals and Reviews Team S0777
PO Box 29992
When you are writing to either HMRC or Border Force, you should include any case reference numbers on the Notice of Seizure or Seizure Information Notice that will help identify the goods and ensure your restoration request is directed to the correct place.
There is no time limit in law although HMRC or Border Force usually expects to receive a request for restoration of a seized thing within one calendar month of the date of seizure or the date on the Notice of Seizure. See also paragraph 4.6 below about when HMRC and Border Force dispose of seized things.
HMRC and Border Force will dispose of perishable goods (including tobacco, beer and all food products) as quickly as possible. They usually begin disposing of non-perishable things (such as vehicles and spirits) 45 days after the date of seizure unless the legality of the seizure is challenged or they receive a restoration request. In those cases they usually keep the goods until the challenge or restoration is decided.
We will normally dispose of vehicles if storage costs are likely to exceed the value of the vehicle and where a restoration request has been considered and refused, whether or not you have asked for a review (see paragraph 4.8).
If the seized thing has been destroyed, HMRC or Border Force cannot restore it to you but they will usually offer you an appropriate payment instead. This may be an amount equal to the sum paid by you for the goods in question or an amount equal to the proceeds of sale (where HMRC or Border Force have sold the goods in question) or an amount equal to the market value of the goods at the time of seizure and not including any additional compensation (for costs, travel expenses, interest, etc).
When HMRC or Border Force receives a request for restoration, they consider all the facts and decide either to offer or refuse restoration.
If they offer to restore a seized thing, it will normally be on payment of a fee, which will vary depending on the specific circumstances. They may also ask you to pay any duty and/or VAT due. If you accept the offer and comply with any conditions related to it, the seized thing can be returned to you.
If you accept the restoration offer and take back possession of the seized thing but you are unhappy with the fee you paid, you can ask for a review of the restoration decision (see paragraph 4.8).
If you do not agree with HMRC’s or Border Force’s restoration decision, you can ask for it to be reviewed by an officer not previously involved in the matter (see paragraph 4.9). The letter giving you the restoration decision will tell you how to ask for a review. If you ask for a review, you should clearly set out the reasons why you disagree with the decision and include any supporting evidence.
An impartial Review Officer, who was not involved in the decision on the restoration of the seized thing, will consider your case and go over all documents relating to it. They may contact you to clarify points or to ask for further information.
The Review Officer can confirm, vary or cancel the original decision. If the decision to be reviewed involves a restoration fee, the Review Officer may increase or decrease the fee or vary the decision to non-restoration or cancel the original decision. He or she will write to you to tell you the outcome of the review and what to do if you disagree with it.
Your letter asking for a review should be received by HMRC or Border Force within 45 days of the date of the restoration decision letter, whether it is a request for a review of the decision to refuse restoration or of the restoration conditions, such as the decision to charge a fee.
HMRC or Border Force then have up to 45 days from the date they receive your letter to carry out a review and tell you the outcome.
If you ask for a review after the 45-day time limit has expired, it will not be accepted unless you can give a ‘reasonable excuse’. So if your review request is outside the time limit, you should explain why it is late when making your request. If appropriate, you should include proof of postage.
If HMRC or Border Force does not agree that the reasons why your review request was late amount to a ‘reasonable excuse’, you can appeal to an independent tribunal against their refusal (see paragraph 4.12). You should make that appeal within 30 days of the date of the refusal letter.
If you disagree with the Review Officer’s decision you have the right to appeal to a tribunal within 30 days of the review conclusion. The tribunal is independent of HMRC and Border Force. You should send your appeal against the Review Officer’s decision to the Tribunals Service and not to HMRC or Border Force. You must include a copy of the original restoration decision by HMRC or Border Force and a copy of the Review Officer’s letter notifying you of the outcome of their review.
You can find more information about the Tribunals Service, including how to appeal to the tribunal, details of procedures leading up to a tribunal hearing, what happens at the hearing and how costs are treated, by visiting the Tribunals Service website (www.tribunals.gov.uk/tax) or by phoning 0845 223 8080 between 8:30am and 5pm.
No. If you do not agree with HMRC’s or Border Force’s restoration decision you must first ask them to review their original decision. You can only appeal to the tribunal about decisions involving restoration when the review has been completed.
Yes. You can send a Notice of Claim challenging the legality of the seizure to HMRC or Border Force (see Section 3 above) and still ask for restoration of seized things. You can then ask for a review of the restoration decision before condemnation proceedings take place in court. If you are not satisfied with the outcome of the review of the restoration decision, you may then appeal to the tribunal.
HMRC or Border Force usually asks for a tribunal hearing to be postponed until condemnation proceedings have taken place. This is because challenging the legality of a seizure and reviewing a restoration decision are two separate things that cannot be dealt with at the same hearing. In particular, if you challenge the legality of a seizure and are successful, it may mean a tribunal hearing to decide restoration is no longer necessary.
The legality of a seizure is decided by the Magistrates’ Court at condemnation proceedings. An appeal against HMRC's or Border Force's decision about restoration is decided at a tribunal hearing. The tribunal has no authority to decide whether a seizure is lawful so that part is usually dealt with first by the Magistrates’ Court.
This does not infringe your human rights because you have clear ways to challenge the legality of the seizure and to ask for restoration. It is just that they are separate procedures that must be dealt with in different places.
You may use this letter if you want seized things returned to you (Section 4 of this Notice 12A).
Your Charter explains what you can expect from us and what we expect from you. For more information go to Your Charter.
If you have any comments or suggestions to make about this Notice 12A, please write to:
HM Revenue & Customs
Excise and Customs Law Team
100 Parliament Street
Please do not send your Notice of Claim or Request for Restoration to this address because the Law Team cannot deal with them and it will cause delay in dealing with your case. They should be sent to the appropriate address shown in paragraph 3.5 (Notices of Claim) or 4.4 (Requests for Restoration).
If you are unhappy with the way HMRC or Border Force has handled your case (because of delays or mistakes, for example) please tell the person or office you have been dealing with. If they are unable to sort things out, ask for your feedback to be referred to the appropriate Complaints Team.
To avoid incorrect routing of feedback and delays this can cause, you should refer immediately any complaints about how you were treated or an officer’s professional conduct using the links below. You should ensure you send your feedback to HMRC or Border Force, depending on who dealt with your case, because each can only deal with complaints about their own organisation.
You can access this Notice 12A and others mentioned in it on the HMRC website at www.hmrc.gov.uk.
You can get paper copies of other information Notices by phoning the VAT, Excise and Customs Helpline on 0300 200 3700.
You can contact the Border Force National Post Seizure Unit by writing to:
National Post Seizure Unit
UK Border Force
or by fax on 01752 765816.
You can contact the HMRC Post Seizure Unit by phone on 03000 588703 or by fax on 03000 588968. The phone is not manned but there is an answerphone on all day, every day and someone will get back to you within one working day.
Please note - HMRC cannot assist you with Border Force queries and vice versa. You should, therefore, ensure you contact the correct Post Seizure Unit as otherwise there may be a delay until your query is dealt with. When you contact them, you should quote the reference number on any documentation supplied to you.
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