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HMRC internal manual

Compliance Handbook

Information & Inspection Powers: Overview: Covert surveillance

The guidance at CH20000 onwards covers information and inspection powers under Schedule 36 FA 2008. Note that information gathering is outside Schedule 36 and is governed by other legislation instead.

Specifically, note that Schedule 36 does not cover covert surveillance. This page outlines where you must look for guidance if your compliance work may involve covert surveillance.

Covert surveillance in compliance work

Covert surveillance may include ‘drive-bys’ or test purchases of goods or services.

  • Drive-bys and walk pasts may be conducted with the intention of establishing the size and likely value of a person’s house or other assets.
  • Test purchases of goods or services may, for example, be carried out in order to substantially contribute to the effective working of a compliance check in order to provide relevant information which could not be obtained in any other way.

Where an officer is intending to carry out such activity, before the planned activity proceeds they will need to obtain agreement from an authorised officer, see CH260100, and consider whether

  • the activity should be reported as surveillance that does not require authorisation under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA), see CH257000, or
  • the activity constitutes surveillance as defined in RIPA 2000(This content has been withheld because of exemptions in the Freedom of Information Act 2000) .

How HRA applies to covert surveillance

The Human Rights Act incorporates the provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law.

Article 8 HRA, states that every-one has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.

Privacy can extend to a person’s business activities and business premises.

Article 8 is a qualified right, so in certain circumstances public authorities can interfere with the private and family life of an individual. Interference must be in accordance with the law and have a legitimate aim - the economic well being of the country.

There must be a good reason for such interference and the level of interference must be proportionate.

These conditions would be met if,

  • the activity is necessary for an officer to carry out their investigation effectively, and
  • there is no other way to obtain the information,
  • there may be loss of revenue to the treasury,
  • other checks are undertaken before covert checks are considered,
  • there is minimal interference on a worst case scenario with no or only low level personal information obtained

CRCA 2005/SS5&9