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HMRC internal manual

Customs Civil Penalties Guidance

Warning letter: considering whether to issue a warning letter: checking whether we are within time limits for a warning letter

There are two time limits for issuing a warning letter or a penalty notice. Both of these have to be satisfied.

A Civil Penalty Warning Letter (CPWL) must be issued within

  • three years after the contravention took place, and
  • two years after HMRC have sufficient evidence of facts to issue it.

So there are two dates for the compliance officer to establish

  • When did the contravention take place?
  • When did we have sufficient evidence of facts to issue a warning letter?

These dates are self-explanatory. If you have found an incorrect import declaration, the date the contravention took place is the date declared on the Customs Declaration for Import or Export. If you have given a trader a period of time to, for example, produce documents, the date of the contravention is the first day after the time you allowed in your written request.

The date when you have sufficient evidence is when you have the last piece of information you need in order to decide whether there is a contravention.

Once you have identified these two dates for the contravention, you can consider whether we are within the time limits to issue a warning letter.

You should be mindful of these time limits to make sure that you complete any CCP action in good time.

The Authorising officer and CRM should be mindful of these time limits so that there remains enough time to carry out any necessary action.

If either of the time limits has been passed, we cannot issue a warning letter for that contravention. Instead you must issue a letter of written instruction setting out the detail of the contraventions identified and the corrective steps the trader must take to improve compliance.

All decisions must be recorded on the Customs Penalty Action Checklist (CPAC) and agreed by an authorising officer.