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HMRC internal manual

Debt Management and Banking Manual

Customer contact: Outdoor calls: Directed surveillance

General pointers

The term ‘directed surveillance’ includes activities deliberately designed to obtain information about the private or family life of a particular customer. Directed surveillance is

  • done without the knowledge of that customer
  • has the potential to ‘invade’ a customer’s privacy.

Detailed guidance about direct surveillance and other related matters is set out at RIPA3100 but in general terms you should remember that where you make calls whose primary purpose of debts or returns they are not classified as directed surveillance.

You should also remember that directed surveillance is not an appropriate definition of an activity where you

  • act openly as an officer of HMRC
  • conduct observations of a general nature such as walking down a street
  • make calls with the sole intention of recording the registration of vehicles parked outside a customers house or business premises
  • make discreet enquiries of or interview neighbours and other third parties. Tracing customers in the pursuit of debt or returns is a necessary and acceptable activity provided that the current guidance and confidentiality safeguards are followed.
  • use information provided by a third party (for example ‘Equifax’)
  • use information which is in the public domain such as the Internet
  • record observations about the activities of customers provided the circumstances in which the opportunity arose could not have been foreseen.

Authorisation procedures

Where you are considering or asked to undertake directed surveillance activities you will need to obtain the required authorisation. The authorisation procedures (RIPA3120) state that the authorisation officer must be at least senior officer grade. Where an officer of the appropriate grade is not available you should discuss with your higher debt manager what arrangements need to be made to facilitate such authorisation.

When and when not to obtain authorisation

You will need authorisation where, exceptionally, your call is to be made for the prime purpose of covertly obtaining information (for example about ‘lifestyle’ or assets).

You will not need authorisation where the prime purpose of your call is to pursue debts and returns.