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HMRC internal manual

Debt Management and Banking Manual

From
HM Revenue & Customs
Updated
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Enforcement action: distraint: introduction to distraint: the Office Manager’s responsibility for distraint

It is essential that every effort is made in distraint work to avoid actions which could give rise to public criticism or complaint, or infringe human rights. Therefore, the office manager (usually a higher debt management officer) is personally responsible for the proper conduct of distraint cases.

The office manager should:

  • make sure that officers engaged on distraint work (debt managers usually called distraint officers):

    • are fully aware of the responsible nature of the work
    • are competent in their duties
    • have a general understanding of all heads of tax etc
    • are familiar with the distraint selection criteria
    • are familiar with procedures leading up to distraint
    • have successfully undertaken the appropriate training courses
    • hold an HMRC identity card
    • are aware of their authority to distrain if it is challenged
    • understand that they are immediately to report to the higher debt manager in cases of doubt or difficulty
    • are aware of the appropriate contact numbers of the Enforcement Technical Team (Debt Management Bradford) if urgent support or advice is required
  • examine each case immediately before a distraint call and satisfy themselves that this is the correct action and the appropriate selection criteria has been applied (this may be delegated to the distraint officer)
  • decide whether or not the distraint officer should be accompanied by a bailiff (DMBM655480)
  • ensure the distraint officer carries out a risk assessment for each case before the visit; the safety of officers engaged in distraint work should be paramount (DMBM510350)
  • review the call reports and give personal direction on the future conduct of each case (including responsibility for deciding the next course of action where a levy did not take place)
  • satisfy himself that distraint was carried out correctly, in particular:

    • where a levy took place, were all the right effects seized to provide a good return in the event of a sale by auction?
    • did the distraint officer visit all parts of the premises (and any other premises at which the debtor has goods)?
    • are the effects described clearly so that the auctioneer will be able easily to identify them and their location? (photographs can help here).

In all cases the higher debt manager should:

  • ensure standard operational procedure was followed fully and properly
  • consider if there is a training or coaching need and, if so, how to address it
  • arrange to monitor removals and sales so as to assess the auctioneers’ performance
  • contact the auctioneer if exceptionally you have not received a progress report within 6 weeks of handing the case over (DMBM656110)
  • review those cases selectively where distraint has not been levied (where nobody was seen the distraint officer may retain the case papers for further action).