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HMRC internal manual

Customs Civil Penalties Guidance

Reasonable excuse: reliance on a third party

Where a trader has asked somebody else to do something on their behalf, the trader is responsible for making sure that the third party carries out the task. They cannot claim they had a reasonable excuse because the task was the third party’s responsibility and that third party failed to complete it.

The only exception is if the person can show us that they themselves took reasonable care to make sure that the third party completed the job asked of them. Please remember that an employee is not a third party. See CCPG11120 for examples of where a third party might be responsible.

We expect the trader to take reasonable care to make sure that they contact the third party promptly, explain what is required of them, set deadlines for the work required and make regular checks on progress, reminding where appropriate.

We expect the person to be able to explain

  • what action they took, and
  • normally, but not always, the reason why things went wrong.

If the person does all this, but, because of what the third party does or does not do, they are liable to a penalty for a contravention, they may have a reasonable excuse.

Remember, there is no statutory definition of ‘reasonable’ or ‘unreasonable’. Each case must be judged on its own merits in view of the person’s abilities and circumstances.

S27(2) FA03