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HMRC internal manual

Customs Civil Penalties Guidance

Options for addressing a contravention: issue a warning letter

One of the approaches available to us when we find a contravention of customs provisions is to issue a warning letter to the trader. In most cases we do not issue a penalty notice without first having issued a warning letter.

A warning letter tells the trader

  • that they have contravened a customs provision,
  • that we don’t propose to charge a penalty on this occasion but
  • that we will charge a penalty if they make a broadly similar contravention within the next two years, and
  • what we expect the trader to do so that they don’t make a similar contravention in future.

A broadly similar contravention is one that contravenes similar provisions to those covered by the warning letter.

A warning letter has a lifespan of two years; the warning lapses where compliance is satisfactory throughout the two year period from the date of issue. Where compliance is unsatisfactory after that time, any further action starts afresh with a new warning letter, unless it is appropriate to go direct to a penalty, see CCPG23550.

If we issue a penalty notice it also serves as a warning letter and starts a fresh two year period.

See CCPG26000 for detailed guidance on

  • the points to consider in deciding whether a warning letter is appropriate, and
  • the actions to take to issue a warning letter.

You must complete a Customs Penalty Action Checklist (CPAC) for any decision you make about a contravention. You must have your decision agreed by your manager.