An HMRC enforcement officer will carry an identity card on a field force visit to identify them as a representative of the tax authority. They may work for a private company that has been contracted by HMRC, but they must have an HMRC enforcement officer ID in order to legally conduct a field force visit.
Licensed HMRC enforcement officers may have the right to force entry into commercial premises, but only if they have been authorised by a Justice of the Peace. If premises are partly or fully residential, their entry rights are limited to the normal routes. Access may also be limited depending on the type of debt they are collecting and whether children live in the property.
Normally, a creditor would need a court order in order to seize control of a debtor’s property in order to satisfy a debt. However, HMRC has unique powers that allow them to arrive at business premises unannounced, without a court order, in order to start the process of seizing business assets to repay debts.
Enforcement officers cannot simply turn up to your property unannounced and begin removing property immediately. They must allow you seven days to pay the debt from the moment the enforcement notice is delivered. At this stage, enforcement officers can make a Control of Goods Agreement, which includes a list of assets owned by your company that can be seized and sold at a public auction in order to satisfy the debt
You will be asked to sign the agreement, at which point you will have a further seven-day period to pay the debt before HMRC can start to seize any goods. During this period, HMRC controls any assets identified in the Control of Goods Agreement and you have no right to sell or move any of these goods included in the agreement – to do so would constitute a criminal offence under these circumstances.
If you refuse to sign the agreement, the enforcement officer can arrange for goods to be removed from the premises immediately.
Seizure of goods
If you do not satisfy your HMRC debt within the seven day period after you have signed the Control of Goods Agreement, HMRC enforcement officers may enter your business’ premises in order to remove any goods included in the agreement. You have no right to refuse access, and if you try to do so, officers can call the police for support in carrying out their duties.
HMRC enforcement officers have the authority to seize goods with equivalent value to the combined value of the debt and the cost of enforcement. Goods sold at public auction may fail to command their full market value, and enforcement officers may take more assets from your premises, exceeding the value of the debt, in order to account for a potential shortfall in the price they achieve.
During enforcement proceedings, HMRC officers can only take goods that are owned by the business. Items that belong to a third party, or those that are subject to hire purchase or lease agreements (usually vehicles), cannot be taken to cover a debt.
If you have any questions about the rights HMRC enforcement officers can exercise, or your rights as a business owner, contact the team at Company Insolvency Advice. We have many years of experience in dealing with HMRC field force visits and guiding businesses through enforcement proceedings, so we can give you advice that will help to support your business.