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HMRC internal manual

Debt Management and Banking Manual

Customer contact and data security: contact with third parties: outdoor calls: responsible person

If the customer is not seen but you are satisfied that you are dealing with a responsible person (see below), you may levy distraint following the usual procedures (DMBM655760).

Otherwise you should confirm that the address is that of the customer before proceeding further. You can do so by questioning whoever is in the premises or neighbouring premises.

A ‘responsible person’

Limited companies

In the case of limited companies it is generally an officer of the company in accordance with DMBM655750.

Individuals and partnerships

It is difficult to give a concise definition of a responsible person. It is generally someone who can confirm ownership of assets and is in a position to discuss the customer’s business or financial affairs and, preferably, is able to make payment. It depends on the individual relationship between them and the customer and it is often down to the judgement of the Field Force collector as to whether you can continue.

If the person can answer satisfactorily whether goods are owned and paid for, they can sign a walking possession agreement even if they cannot make payment. You should, of course, make further contact with someone who can make payment and countersign the walking possession as soon as possible after the levy and in any event within 24 hours. So you should confirm the correct telephone number whenever possible.

It is unlikely that ordinary employees, for example a shop assistant or a waiter can accept any responsibility in a distraint action but it is quite acceptable for a customer’s spouse or partner to take responsibility.

A spouse or partner is a 3rd party as far as the customers tax affairs are concerned and it is often helpful to telephone the defaulter and obtain his authority for his spouse or partner to sign the WPA.

However, you are not discussing the customer’s tax affairs but asking about ownership of the goods. The Field Force collector’s experience and judgement should tell them how much the spouse or partner knows about the customer’s business.

If you are in any doubt leave a copy of the signed WPA, in a sealed envelope addressed to the customer and obtain their counter signature as soon as possible. A spouse or partner’s ability to sign a WP as a ‘responsible person’ should not be seen in any other context than distraint.