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HMRC internal manual

Debt Management and Banking Manual

Enforcement action: distraint: general considerations: goods you cannot seize

You should not seize:

  • goods which do not wholly belong to the defaulter, for example:

    • goods which belong jointly with a third party where the debt is due from one party only
    • goods in which the defaulter has a life interest only
    • individual assets for a joint debt (unless particular legislation, such as SDLT, makes the debt a joint and several one in which case seize jointly owned goods first, then individually owned goods)
    • goods subject to hire purchase, conditional sale, lease agreement (DMBM655240)
    • goods subject to retention of title (DMBM655250)
    • goods hired out to a defaulter
    • goods hired out by a defaulter that are not on the defaulter’s premises (you cannot enter a third party’s premises to seize goods, as this could lead to an action for trespass against HMRC)
    • goods which are leased or subject to a ‘sale or return’ agreement
    • goods subject to a fixed charge in favour of a third party such as a Bank, as security for a loan, debenture or mortgage
    • goods subject to a genuine Bill of Sale (but where the debtor is still using the asset, such as a vehicle, and claims it is owned by a 3rd party ensure the Bill of Sale is registered [DMBM656050])
    • goods already seized by another creditor. But if there are sufficient unseized goods, levy distraint on them
  • certain ‘tools of trade’ unless there are no other distrainable effects. See DMBM655150 for the precise circumstances in which tools of trade can be distrained.
  • fixtures and fittings (DMBM655120) which cannot be removed without damaging the fabric of the building (an example of this is a car lift which is bolted and concreted into the building)
  • perishable goods which cannot be restored in the same condition as when seized, for example fruit, vegetables or dairy products
  • furniture, household equipment and provisions necessary to satisfy the basic domestic needs of the defaulter and their family (you must leave at least one table and enough chairs). This does not include equipment such as stereo equipment, televisions, video recorders but does include:

    • a cooker (or microwave oven where this is the defaulter’s only means of cooking)
    • a fridge
    • a washing machine
    • beds, bedding and clothing of the defaulter and their family
  • livestock or growing crops
  • loose money (coins or notes) as this cannot be positively identified for removal purposes nor can it be sold at public auction. You may however levy distraint on collections of notes or coins or a locked cash box with contents
  • meters, fittings and other apparatus which belong to the gas, electricity or water authorities
  • safety equipment such as a fire extinguisher, fire blanket, safety gate, or fire guard.

See also DMBM655140.