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HMRC internal manual

Compliance Handbook

Information & Inspection Powers: Information Notices: The notice: Meaning of 'describe'

Describing information or documents in a notice gives it a wider scope than one requiring specific information or documents.

It may be necessary to use general 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 ….”.

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 and be in simple, jargon-free language. You should limit a general description to exclude as much irrelevant material as you can.

An assurance has been given in Parliament that information powers will not be used for speculative enquiries.

Moreover, quite apart from the express statutory restrictions which wide descriptions might infringe, a notice may be found to be invalid if its requirements are unreasonably burdensome. For this reason, you must think carefully about the scope of any descriptions you use in the notice.

You may find it difficult to find the appropriate description for the information or documents you require. There is nothing to stop you speaking to the intended recipient and asking how best to narrow down the description in the notice, if doing so will not undermine its effectiveness.

You should seek advice from Central Policy, Tax Administration Advice if you cannot resolve any difficulty in formulating a suitable description of the information or documents that you require.