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HMRC internal manual

Compliance Handbook

How to do a compliance check: information powers: rules that apply to all notices: specifying information or documents in a notice

Your information notice must identify as clearly as possible the information or documents you require.

You should specify identifiable documents if you can. A specified request would be: ‘…your letter to XX Bank Ltd dated 24 July 2011’.

If you cannot specify, you should describe as clearly and narrowly as possible the documents. For example, ‘sales invoices for the period from 1 April 2015 to 30 June 2015 inclusive’. If you cannot specify the exact documents required, you should where possible specify the period in respect of which the information or documents are required.

A description should also limit the types of document requested, where possible. For example, in checking a business return you might use a phrase such as business records in your notice rather than one with a wider meaning such as all documents. All documents might raise doubts about the excessive scope of the notice. On the other hand, the word record clearly does not include, for example, correspondence. If correspondence is reasonably required, your notice should refer to it specifically.

A description of particular record types can be further narrowed by reference to the subject matter. For example, ‘…all correspondence between you and XX Bank Ltd in connection with your purchase of shares in YY Ltd in July 2011’.

A request for all documents may sometimes be justifiable, for example, in relation to particular avoidance transactions. In this type of case you can still narrow your wording, for example by specifying the transactions about which you are seeking all documents, but this should not be to such a degree that the effect of the notice is impeded.

It may be necessary to use broader descriptions in order to ensure that all the information or documents needed are covered by the notice. It is useful to be as specific as possible before ending with a more general phrase. For example, you might ask for ‘The purchase agreement, bank transaction records and all other records relating to…’.

If you ask a person to produce an electronic record held on a computer, it may be sufficient for the person to produce a printed copy of it, see CH23360. You can, if you have reasonable grounds to do so, make a request in writing to the person to produce the original electronic document or an electronic copy. You do this by requiring the document to be in such form as is reasonably specified or described in the notice. See CH229900 about copies of documents.

Where appropriate, there is nothing to stop you calling the intended recipient and asking how best to narrow down the description in the notice.

You must take great care and exercise discretion when preparing an information notice. Any description must be genuinely directed to the purpose for which the notice is given. You should limit a general description to exclude as much irrelevant material as you can and ensure your request is written in a simple language, without using jargon that the recipient may not understand.